Onboard Training to Increase Customer Satisfaction

Joel Reeves, Assistant Vice Chancellor & CIO, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
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Joel Reeves, Assistant Vice Chancellor & CIO, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Do you want to be a successful provider of technology services? Increase your customer satisfaction? Then you need to remember it is as much about the people as it is the hardware and software.

There is obviously a baseline of services required to operate at the enterprise level, including network, systems, and applications. There are a multitude of technology stacks, organizational methodologies, and implementation methods from which to choose, but, at the end of the day, if you want to be successful, you must invest in your staff and make sure your customer base can get answers in a timely fashion.

Even the performance of those who can buy the best technology will suffer if they do not invest in the people needed to provide knowledgeable support. There are many intuitive solutions, but every campus is a unique environment and the central technology team should have the answers about how the available technology can assist the average user or student.

At the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the primary way we gauge our success is through our annual customer survey. We use a survey tool know as Tech Qual to gather customer feedback every year. Last spring, our performance met or exceeded our campus’s required service levels on all thirteen core areas identified by Tech Qual. Another valuable metric is to compare our Adequacy Gap (perceived performance minus required service level) calculation to that of our High Research university peers. Despite having higher minimum expectations (more demanding customers) in twelve of the thirteen core categories, our Adequacy Gap exceeded those of our peers in all thirteen categories. All in all, this feedback affirmed that we have had a productive year.

Having an objective measure of success in hand, I then used another commonly available resource to evaluate our financial investments. Using the Educause Core Data Service for 2014, I found that our expenditures are equal or lower than our peer institutions in eight out of ten domains. Of the two domains where we exceeded our peers’ investment, one was communications (including telephone and network). We were most interested to find that we have a higher level of investment in the domain of IT Support Services. Through savings and reallocations, we have dedicated even more resources in our front line help desk and desktop support groups. These additional investments in IT Support Services have resulted in a higher level of customer satisfaction.

There are a number of ways to invest in people. The first is providing for training to develop the depth of your technical staff. Whether your model is “cloud everything” or open source, homegrown everything or the “hybrid” model in between, staff need to have the talent and skills to operate the systems and ensure their reliability and availability. Funding training to keep staff skills up to date is a solid investment that will continue to pay off down the road. Along with monetary investments in training, it’s important to invest the time needed for technical staff to document how things work and how to resolve common issues and other problems for use of the front-line help desk. Getting the answers in the hands of people who can work with the typical end user will increase morale of the front-line staff and increase your customer satisfaction. The time and resources needed to develop documentation should be built in to every project and not considered an optional step.

In following up with our helpdesk management, staff members shared with me the amount of time (that investment again) they dedicate to on boarding full-time and student employees. We have eight full-time staff and ten undergraduate students staffing our central helpdesk. In 2014– 15, they answered over 50,000 requests and were able to resolve 85 percent of the issues on first call or a return call. Only 15 percent of all calls had to go to a level-two developer or administrator, allowing those resources to focus on new development initiatives. Our on boarding documents are divided into chapters like a textbook, and we have developed quizzes on the chapters that we deliver and grade through our enterprise LMS. Current staff reviews, the quizzes and provide additional insight into the areas of weakness for all new hires. We benefit from getting new staff up to speed, but this exercise also helps keep our existing staff members’ knowledge current.

Our onboard training includes shadowing of current staff during regular shifts so the new hires get exposure to how to manage calls, retrieve information, and deal with unhappy customers. Everyone who is hired goes through this iterative training for six weeks before they are assigned a shift on the phone. As we have built the local knowledge base over time, we have incorporated even more phone and customer etiquette into our training content. This is important because younger employees have a significant lack of experience in talking on the telephone. We make additional investments of time by sending out periodic quizzes to all staff and grading them, to look for areas where we can improve core knowledge. Our helpdesk only escalates 15 percent of the calls we get to level-two support within our unit, which gives our level-two staff more time to work on projects. That is another measure of our success.

A variety of Investments are required to be successful, and we all have to work within our department’s budgets. Every solution evaluated and implemented should include the right amount of professional development, the time and effort to document how the solution integrates into your environment. And ensure that front-line support has the knowledge and tools to answer the end users questions.

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