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Business Officer Magazine
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Happy Campuses

Customer service—served Disney style—was the main course at NACUBO’s 2005 Student Financial Services conference.

By Anne Gross and Jeffrey N. Shields

In the Disney film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a live actor bumps a lamp, casting swinging shadows on the animated Roger Rabbit. Producing this special effect of a shadow fading in and out required hundreds of illustrations per second to create a “realistic” animation for viewers. The Disney Company now uses the phrase “bump the lamp” as shorthand for paying close attention to each detail and taking the extra step to meet the needs of customers and exceed their expectations.

Jon Dodd, executive vice president of Tuition Management Systems, the lead sponsor of the event, introduced Zmorenski to the 400 attendees who were treated to the hospitality of the “Happiest Place on Earth” and arguably one of the greatest customer service providers in the world. A behind-the-scenes look at The Walt Disney Company via Disney Institute offered an inspiring backdrop for engaging conference participants in considering how they can enlist staff to improve service to students and create a happy campus climate.

Guestology 101

As Zmorenski explained, Disney’s theory of guestology entails not only knowing your guests (demographics) but also understanding them (psychographics). The company’s keen customer awareness results from its ongoing customer satisfaction surveying that feeds a continuous improvement cycle. Disney guestology challenges employees to consider customers’ wants, emotions, and stereotypes as well as their needs.

When tasked with applying Disney guestology concepts to serving college and university students and parents within a student financial services framework, participants responded with these customer service observations.

  • Needs of students and parents include clear and concise information that is timely and accurate, step-by-step instructions about what they must do and when, flexibility, and 24/7 easy access.
  • Wants of students and parents may include better financial aid packages, payment alternatives, counseling, a correct answer the first time they ask a question, seamless technology, and no waiting.
  • Emotions of students and parents can run the gamut—from the pride of being a first-generation college student to gratitude and relief when problems are solved to frustration and anxiety when things don’t go well.
  • Stereotypes that students and parents may hold that can influence their reactions to your institution include perceptions that students are merely numbers, college is too expensive, others are getting more aid, and the institution loves paperwork.

For Disney, excellent service ultimately involves enhancing the positive while overcoming negative stereotypes. The underlying goal of Disney’s guestology is to develop a service theme—an inspirational and motivational tool used to set short- and long-term service goals that respond to customers’ wants, emotions, and stereotypes while delivering their needs.

Affecting the Policy Climate

David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, offered a stirring call to action during NACUBO’s Student Financial Services conference. He urged business officer involvement in formulating a campus response to what he outlined as a challenging political climate for higher education. Warren delineated proposals in President Bush’s budget that would increase the maximum Pell grant but eliminate all funding for the GEAR UP, Talent Search, Upward Bound, LEAP, and Perkins Loan programs. Additionally, under the president’s plan, colleges and universities would have to return to the federal government money already in their Perkins revolving loan funds. Warren also provided context for the long-awaited reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which may include provisions intended to limit increases in tuition.

Warren specifically urged business officers to:

  • Assess the financial and academic impact of these proposed changes on your campus.
  • Act quickly, since the blueprint for federal budget cuts to student aid programs is being created now.
  • Get to know the staff of your representatives and senators. Invite them to visit your campus, or visit them in Washington, D.C.
  • Follow up. Contact your members of Congress regularly about the progress of legislation.

For more information about the FY06 budget proposals, see the Washington Watch department in this issue.

Disney’s own service theme is: “To create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages everywhere.” The question posed to conference participants: What service theme would communicate the desired impact of your institution’s student financial services staff in serving students?

In Five or Fewer Words

In conjunction with developing a service theme, what three to five words describe the customer service standards that your institution’s staff members deliver to students on a daily basis? In the final portion of the opening program, conference attendees worked in small groups by type of institution to consider the importance of standards that can set the criteria for quality decisions and provide a measure for service on campus. Among the descriptors participants identified as potential standards for student financial services operations: courtesy, efficiency, confidentiality, attentiveness, and accuracy.

After an institution identifies its key service standards, it then must define, prioritize, and communicate them, explained Zmorenski. For Disney, if guests aren’t safe, nothing else really matters. That’s why safety is always the first of its service standard priorities, followed by courtesy, efficiency, and show. Prioritizing your standards equips staff with a decision-making filter to handle each customer service situation.

As an example, Zmorenski shared how employee initiative, directed by broadly held service standards, solved a vexing parking issue for Disney guests. Many guests who arrive at Disney’s parks leave their cars early in the morning and return late at night tired from a long day only to forget where they parked. Despite numerous signs designating section and row numbers and repeated reminders to guests to record their locations, incidents of lost cars continued to plague the parks.

Disney asked its frontline personnel for a solution. Staff began tracking when the various lots filled during the course of a morning. Then when guests inquired about where their cars might be, a staff member could simply ask, “What time did you arrive this morning?” By knowing when particular rows were filled, staff could direct guests to the areas where their cars were likely parked. In this case, Disney developed a customer service solution guided by the company’s standards of courtesy and efficiency. The result: a concluding experience for Disney guests that did not entail searching aimlessly for their cars.

Student-Centered Service

Sessions throughout the remainder of the conference reinforced the customer service theme, with a direct focus on understanding and meeting student needs. Faculty members David Glezerman of Temple University, Dennis DeSantis of University of Pittsburgh, and Kevin Roberts of Abilene Christian University shared tips on creating a culture of customer service on campus. Of utmost importance: involving staff in setting customer service standards and goals.

Susan Knox, author of Financial Basics: A Money Management Guide for Students, offered her ideas for how colleges and universities can help students better manage personal finances. For instance, surveying students to pinpoint their greatest financial concerns can help your institution tailor its services to address specific needs. Other actions that project a proactive role include compiling and distributing tips about money management, offering a seminar on personal finances at your new-student orientation, encouraging the inclusion of personal finance columns in your campus newspaper, and establishing a library collection of books and other resources focused on personal finance for students.

Be Our Guest Next Year
Don’t miss out on the 2006 Student Financial Services conference. Mark your calendar now for the March 5–7 event in New Orleans.

Bringing the conference to a lively close, Mark Taylor provided insights on the nature of the current generation of college students, a group he calls Generation NeXt. Taylor, director of guidance at the University of Arkansas–Beebe, describes this generation of students as “the predictable product of our consumer-driven postmodern society.” According to Taylor, one characteristic that separates NeXt from its generational predecessor X is increased parental involvement. Other identifying characteristics include a sense of entitlement, an orientation toward education as entertainment, a concern about safety, and a certain cynicism. Among Taylor’s suggestions for how institutions can adapt to better serve today’s students: be clear, consistent, and firm about campus rules and regulations; recognize trust and safety issues; offer many opportunities for interpersonal involvement; and maintain your technological sophistication for these hardwired youth.

Author Bios Anne Gross is vice president for regulatory affairs and Jeffrey N. Shields is vice president, community and member services, at NACUBO.
E-mail anne.gross@nacubo.org; jeff.shields@nacubo.org