The number one reason why an initiative focused on creating a culture of Service Excellence is not as successful in a college/university as it could be is: Senior Leadership Commitment. There is an old fable about a Pig and a Chicken walking down the road.
The Chicken says: “Hey Pig, I was thinking we should open a restaurant!”
Pig replies: “Hmm, maybe, what would we call it?”
The Chicken responds: “How about ‘ham-n-eggs’?”
The Pig thinks for a moment and says: “No thanks. I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved.”
There are several factors that may convince senior leadership to start an initiative to weave Service Excellence into the culture. The biggest factor is usually related to the financial viability. Low retention and graduation rates cost institutions millions of dollars in lost revenue and unnecessary high costs. Providing better service to students improves upon their experience which helps to increase the chances they will stay. Another big factor is the branding and image affiliated with the college/university. Alumni, community support, and donor giving is directly related to the level of service the institution provides. Everyone wants to feel pride and prestige in their association with a college/university.
Once Senior Leadership decides to begin an implementation of Service Excellence, they must be like the Pig though, they must be committed, not like the Chicken and just involved. Getting the buy-in of faculty, front line staff, and administration is predicated on how serious they all believe the Senior Leadership is serious. Is it just another box to be checked off? Is it something that looks good to say on the website? Is it satisfying the whim of a Board member?
For a higher ed institution to truly implement a culture of Service Excellence, it must put systems and processes in place that allows everyone to consistently deliver on excellent service. They must hire service-oriented faculty and staff. They must train everyone on what Service Excellence looks like to each job position and how to do it. They must give recognition when behaviors exemplify Service Excellence to reinforce the change. They must be willing to remove roadblocks and barriers that get in the way. Many times one of the biggest barriers is “but that’s the way its always been done here.” And, they must be willing to hold everyone accountable.
So, how can Senior Leadership genuinely show their Commitment?
1. Be visible and talk about the importance of Service Excellence at every opportunity. The president, the provost, all the vice-presidents and directors must continuously bring Service Excellence into their conversations and meetings.
2. Lead the implementation for the first 18 months. Then turn the implementation over to the next level, but keep some holdover of Senior Leadership on the Service Excellence Team.