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Developing a Distinct and Differentiated Experience Delivered through Employees to Define the Institution

Andrew McMillan used to work for John Lewis, where in 2000 he sent a report to the chairman saying that their customer experience wasn’t as good as it should be because it wasn’t consistent enough.  He was then put in charge of customer service and led the company to its current high reputation.   Nowadays he is a consultant on improving customer experience and he treated us to a high-level view of his philosophy.

Andrew has never given a training course on customer service because he argues that it is a matter of behaviour and ethos rather than training.  The institution has to value the service it gives; value the staff who give this service; and use these values to guide the institution’s recruitment, retention and reward policies.  He emphasised the point about valuing staff; if your staff do not feel valued, your customers will pick up this feeling themselves.

This presentation did not go into many details, focusing instead on the core ethos and illustrating this with several entertaining (and occasionally cheesy) video clips.  However, Andrew did make clear that the commitment to the customer experience has to be more than lip service.  If staff do not have sufficient training in the actual services on offer, if the services themselves are poor, if the support channels are unhelpful, nice words will be seen as the empty promises they are.

A good customer experience requires the actual product or service; the service channel (how easy are you to access?); clear processes (how easy are you to engage with?); and positive engagement (how did it feel?).  Leaders need to follow six steps to put this in place:  Define what you want; Measure what you deliver; Communicate the plan; Lead by example; Reward & recognise desired behaviours; Recruit and induct staff accordingly.

Although Andrew has recently worked with some universities, he didn’t attune his presentation much to the HE sector.  He did point out that the lessons could be applied either to the reputation of the university as a whole or to the reputation of the IT division within the larger institution.  One question from the audience asked how much scope middle management could have to drive such an initiative if it did not have active support from senior management.  Andrew replied that it is possible to instigate this sort of policy for your own section and that might inspire other parts of the institution but that this would be hard.

I was really enthused by this talk.  At the same time, once you look beyond the videos and adverts, it is clear that a proper commitment to customer experience is a mammoth undertaking.

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