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Continuing education student receiving help from two staff members at the CCE Information Center.

Staff members in the CCE Information Center provide assistance in person, by phone, and by e-mail to well over 6,000 students and learners each month.

Great front-door service for continuing education at the U

A service philosophy lays the foundation

By Sarah Kolasa

From Brief, September 1, 2004

"We all do our PART." That's the service philosophy of the University's College of Continuing Education (CCE).

PART stands for service that is professional, attentive, reliable, and trustworthy. With more than 10,000 students to serve each year--about 4,000 in degree or certificate programs and 6,000 taking workshops and other non-credit options--great service is essential to CCE's success.

To support its service philosophy, CCE created an Information Center last December to ensure that high-quality, consistent customer service is given to students, other U departments, and instructors. Eleven center staff members work at locations in Wesbrook Hall in Minneapolis and Coffey Hall in St. Paul. They also staff a reception desk for CCE's Degree and Credit Programs.

All together, Information Center staff respond to well over 6,000 inquiries each month, including phone calls, e-mail messages, and noncredit registration. They support CCE's Degree and Credit Programs, continuing professional education (which oversees conferences, workshops, seminars, and short courses), personal enrichment programs (which include the Compleat Scholar, Great Conversations, Split Rock Arts, and Curiosity Camp programs), and career planning services.

In the Information Center, learner representatives provide broad-based knowledge of college-wide offerings. This means that current and prospective students and learners get accurate, timely information in a seamless way. They assist students in the exploratory process and help match their educational goals with CCE and University resources.

"Learners now have a front door to the College of Continuing Education through the new Information Center," says Rick Marsden, director of CCE's Degree and Credit Programs.

The first step: a service philosophy

Providing great customer service often starts with establishing and supporting a service philosophy. This is what happened in CCE.

A service philosophy is a statement or guiding principle that conveys general beliefs, concepts, values, and attitudes of an organization, and it directs the way service is delivered. It can encompass many different dimensions of customer service delivery and lay a foundation for expectations. Service philosophies give focus, direction, and vision to an organization, unit, or department.

CCE's service philosophy was announced in April 2003 to

The PART philosophy unifies the college and directs the way that service should be provided. Within CCE, individual departments may develop standards and measurable expectations of service quality to guide specific aspects of service delivery.

CCE's Information Center was formed to develop an entry point for both credit and non-credit programs. Making it a reality involved creating a vision and infrastructure, putting a greater focus on student recruitment, and improving the customer experience and service delivery.

Setting service standards

Once the new unit was developed and staff team hired, the foundation for great customer service was laid through training, resources, team development, and exploration of CCE's service philosophy by developing service standards.

Standards were developed around key processes: phone interactions, reception/walk-in service, fulfillment of information requests, e-mail interactions, and registration requests and processes. Around each major process, standards addressed each area of the service philosophy--professional, attentive, reliable, and trustworthy service.


More about service philosophies and standards

--Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service, by Ron Zemke and Chip Bell

--Training and consulting services for forming service philosophies and standards are available through the Center for Human Resource Development. See http://training.finop.umn.edu /SERVICESITE/SIP1.html.

For example, with a centralized information center for all CCE units, people now can call one number and get complete, accurate information, answered live. Standards for length of time to answer the phone and for greetings were established to support professional and attentive service. Reliability is ensured through regular Information Center staff meetings for training, getting updated information, and working toward future goals. Resources, such as a frequently asked question log, help to provide up-to-date, accurate information for answering questions.

As a second example, fulfillment of information requests that come in by e-mail or phone are entered into the data system within 24 hours. Standards help assure that service is consistent and that team members have a shared understanding and vision of how service will be provided.

In the fulfillment-of-information-materials process, a hand process moved to a streamlined Web-based system to support reliable and trustworthy service. This essentially eliminated processing errors and reduced the time between customer request and fulfillment. Standards developed to support this process include length of time between request and entry into the Web-based system, length of time from request to fulfillment, and fulfillment error rate.

To promote accountability, individuals were assigned to lead teams that developed measurement tools for each standard.

"Staff are empowered to develop and own ideas for improvement in customer service and business processes, to facilitate communication and problem solving, and to determine key metrics for measurement," says Information Center director Anne Daly.

Systems and processes are also evaluated for effectiveness. The result is changes to serve customers better according to the service philosophy.

Continual improvement

The team's commitment and efforts have not gone unnoticed. Customers appreciate live answers to phone calls, the unified staff, and the move toward seamless customer service delivery. Other departments have noticed that the new Information Center team is successfully supporting the strategic goals and service philosophy of the CCE.

The team continues to set goals for improving services to students. It aims to provide additional options for learner self service, expand service hours, and work with University partners to improve the learner experience, according to Daly.

The IC team's ongoing commitment is demonstrated by continued refinement of measures it uses to support its standards, a commitment to teamwork, and continued training.

One goal is to build and use a customer recruitment model with a framework for customer-driven processes. To meet this objective, the team will examine opportunities they have to work together to market programs, offer options and alternatives to students and potential students, and help students make decisions that further their learning and careers.

Sarah Kolasa is a training coordinator for Training Services in the Center for Human Resource Development, Twin Cities campus.

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