CXO Leadership

Using great customer service to create a safe learning environment

Using great customer service to create a safe learning environment

As the pandemic set in, everyone had to work through chaos. Organizations had to pivot to deliver their products and services in a safe way, usually remotely. This increased reliance on technology. I lead the IT organization at Chapman University in Southern California. Universities had to shift from the traditional model of in-person, in-classroom teaching and hands-on research to a remote environment.

At Chapman, we announced the move to remote teaching on March 10, a Tuesday shortly before our Spring Break. Over just a few days, we moved all classes, literally thousands of them, online. A week or so later, all staff began to work remotely. It goes without saying that it was a fluid and busy time. We were not a particularly remote-enabled workforce, yet we were able to move everything online in just a matter of days. I often think – if the President of the university had come to us during “normal” times and asked us to move our workforce to remote, it would have been minimally an 18-month project, if we could have gotten it accomplished at all. But necessity forces creativity.

IT was really in the eye of the storm through this crisis. We had to support the campus through a stressful time – enabling our students, faculty, and staff to operate this strange world. People were pushed to use technology tools they had never dreamed of, and IT folks had to guide them through this. During this time, when people are stressed and tempers are short, you might think that the IT team might have borne the brunt of everyone’s frustration, but ironically, we had the opposite experience. On a daily basis, my email inbox was literally flooded with notes of appreciation from people all over the organization. Why did this happen? Because people appreciate great customer service, and we made customer service our top priority.

So how did we approach customer service? Some steps are outlined below

    1. We didn’t wait until the crisis to focus on customer service. My team had an intentional effort to build a customer service mindset many years before the pandemic, led by our Director of Customer Service, Michelle Sypinero, and Associate Director Barron Williams. Through training and constant feedback, they had already developed a great customer service organization, and had built great relationships with our colleagues across campus. That served us well throughout the crisis.
    2. As our colleagues began to work and teach remotely, the volume of support increased dramatically. We responded by adding more resources to front line support. Our organization comprises about 80 people, working in various IT functions: networking, data analysis, application development, etc. We immediately put almost all projects on hold and redirected those people to support. Our network engineers, data warehouse architects, programmer/analysts, and others all supported our students, faculty, and staff directly in this new environment. We increased our hours of support. This meant we avoided having long wait times or slow response for our end users.
    3. We really leveraged modern collaboration tools to provide great support. Using Microsoft Teams, we quickly implemented soft phones and queues, allowing our team to work remotely also. We created teams and sites to share information among team members. We had virtual daily stand-up meetings to check in on issues. This collaborative and open approach to teamwork meant that our staff had all the information they needed to provide great customer service.
    4. This was a stressful time for the team, so it was really important for the leaders in the organization to take care of team members. One critical tool in taking care of people is gratitude. It was extremely important for the team to hear how much they were appreciated. I implemented a “gratitude channel.” Every time I received a compliment about a staff member, I posted it publicly in my channel. We were also fortunate that the university implemented a spot award program, which I took advantage of. This allowed me to publicly recognize and thank dozens of staff. I believe the two most important words in the workplace are “thank you” and it was even more important to use them during the crisis.

Great customer service made this transition easier for us. Working on customer service before the crisis facilitated that, so I encourage CIOs to make customer service a priority at all times.

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Helen Norris

Helen Norris, Chief Information Officer, Chapman University

Helen Norris is the Chief Information Officer at Chapman University. She has almost 30 years’ experience working in IT including several years in the private sector in a variety of industries including advertising and consumer products. M... More   View all posts


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