Cuyahoga College Learns from the Ritz

Customer Service
Customer Service
After attending Ritz-Carlton's Legendary Service training, a small Ohio college makes rapid-fire customer service changes.

When Gillian McKnight-Tutein completed the Ritz-Carlton's Legendary Service training in December 2006, she didn't waste a moment. She immediately started making changes to the way the college delivers its services to students.

The district director of training and development at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, OH, heeded the words of her instructor Jeff Hargett, corporate director of learning, content, and delivery for the Ritz-Carlton. He said, "As a leader you have to pretend to be a customer. Walk in the door, what do you see, and go from there."

That's exactly what McKnight-Tutein did when she returned to Cleveland over a year ago, and as a result launched One College Care, an employee and process transformation initiative that aims to provide consistent and personalized service college-wide, from financial aid to the book centers.

McKnight-Tutein didn't just start ordering changes without first getting to the root of the problems. She and her training team first spent time in the departments students interact with most: admissions and records, the business office, and student financial aid. The team studied things like the environment and length of lines. The observation period also included student focus groups in which students were questioned about the professionalism of employees, whether individuals felt empowered to ask questions, as well as whether the service met their expectations.

"We learned a lot," she says. "We realized this wouldn't be justone event. We needed to figure out operations and management-wise how to deal with the fixes. Once we looked at the data, we found out that we're not doing so bad, but we're not doing so hot either."

In response to that challenge her team created TOPS, a melded approach to tackle the training, operations, and performance portions of the One College Care initiative. "We were really inspired to come back and make a difference," she says. "Colleges aren't known for customer service; they're known for classes. But students' success begins long before that, when individuals start looking for classes."

After showing the data from the observation period to the front-line employees in the three departments, said "this doesn't speak to what our mission is and how we want to portray ourselves." So, McKnight-Tutein's team set up a certification process for front-line employees to become certified customer care reps. The process included several training components. The first one involved a"back-to-basics training, in which Ritz-Carlton's Hargett came to the college to meet with three departments for a day. He taught them how to create "wow" moments and went back to the foundation of customer service, such as delivering friendly greetings.

Also, the managers and directors have been undergoing training for customer care coaching in which they're taught how to manage to the performance standards now in place, such as recognizing good behavior, managing the day-to-day operations, and listening to individuals to set them up for success.

Operationally, the One College Care team took the feedback and observations and operationalized the changes to improve the processes. For example, to cut down on long lines in some departments, the team developed a referral form that includes the situation, name of person who sent the student to that department, and the name of the person the student needs to see. "We think about it like a doctor's office. Now it's less frustrating for the individual who gets the student who says, 'I don't know who sent me and the student doesn't have to worry about standing in line and being frustrated," McKnight-Tutein explains.

In the student financial aid office, for example, one frustrating process was that students were given general timelines as to when they'll receive certain paperwork. Instead the Student Financial Association developed an FAQ form that alerts employees as to how long a portion of the process takes. It's shared with all the offices, even the contact center and the admissions and records group, so that everyone operates on the same page. Another fix was asking employees to wear name tags. "I know a lot of this sounds simple, but the thing is they weren't being done on a consistent level because we had so many different locations and reporting structures," she says.

The performance component of TOPS is a matter of each department setting standards for their own areas. "We looked at the front line staff and said, 'What are the things you are going to impact and what are your levels of excellence?"

The program has been so successful that employees from other departments are calling the training office and asking when they can start the program, McKnight-Tutein says. Now the college is entering phase two, which will include another go-around with the same focus, but to new stakeholders including the book centers, the assessment centers, and the front-line staff for the deans. "I learned from Legendary Service that it's the consistency that's important," she says. "If we want to be excellent, we can't do it every once in a while or on a specific campus or with one person. It has to be a holistic solution and everyone has to be on board with itthat's what we're trying to model now."