College can be tough enough for traditional students. For those enrolled at community colleges, who often have less academic preparation and face added pressures from having to work to pay for school, the pathway to success can be even more daunting.
“In the community college system, we have open access, which means that any student who desires to come to us can,” says Patty Erjavec, president of Pueblo Community College (Colo.). “But keeping those students is a challenge, and graduating those students is a challenge.”
Under such circumstances, the most innocuous obstacle can be enough to cause a student to throw up his hands and walk away. At PCC, those obstacles were found more and more in customer service areas, with students complaining about long lines at offices and lengthy stretches on hold just to get basic questions answered.
“It’s easy for them to give up,” Erjavec notes. “Part of our job is to make sure our students find value in going that extra mile to get their education and to complete it.”
Worried that frustrated students would be driven away for good, PCC dispatched administrators to an offsite management training program, where they researched how other institutions were dealing with similar issues and learned best practices in higher education customer service. They returned to campus and formed a multidisciplinary team that developed and established a new unit to address these most fundamental of concerns.
Eliminating long lines and lengthy hold times turned a student body happier ... and, administrators hope, more likely to complete their degree.
Pueblo’s Customer Solutions Center consolidated the work of many student-facing areas into a single place where answers could be provided quickly and efficiently. From paying their tuition to getting answers to financial aid questions to registering for classes, students have a one-stop option to handle the nitty-gritty administrative details in a more timely fashion than ever before.
“We developed the Customer Solution Center as a means to improve customer service, better serve our students, and make sure that their first experience at Pueblo Community College is a healthy, positive experience,” Erjavec says. “They are kind of an intermediary, if you will, a front line to answering students’ questions.”
Administrative departments report accomplishing more because they deal with far fewer pop-ins and phone calls from students. And the students seem happier, with 85 percent calling themselves “satisfied” or “highly satisfied” in customer service surveys conducted not long after the fall 2011 semester got underway.
Pueblo has big plans for the CSC, according to Erjavec, who reports that the increased emphasis on customer service is being applied not only to new and current students, but also to those who may have been driven away by prior bad experiences.
One example of enhanced service is this: “Since school has started, the Customer Solutions Center has now called every student that was enrolled in the spring who didn’t graduate and who did not return,” she says, “so that we can identify why a student didn’t return and what we can be doing, what steps we can take, to get them back here.”