The Good Service Conundrum

Last week I was trolling around looking for something related to the City Colleges and I came across the Yelp ratings for the colleges (Kennedy King, Malcolm XWright, and Harold Washington are the only ones I could find with ratings).

Just in case you’re thinking something like, “I don’t know why we’re doing a new routine for registration; the old way worked great for me!” you might want to take a few minutes and read through the reviews posted about HW on Yelp. Not surprising (to me), they are uniformly complimentary of teachers (the same was true for the reviews of the other colleges for the most part), with a few snipes at the (fellow) students, particularly those who are unprepared and/or disruptive. By far, though, the harshest and most vitriolic reviews were directed at the college staff, which is an absolute puzzle to me.

For anyone who was around in 2005, this is not exactly news. One of the most definitive and actionable findings of the Assessment Committee came from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) in that year, which showed that students were pretty highly engaged with their classes and instructors and strongly dissatisfied with the school’s services, leading to an overall dissatisfaction with the school despite the appearance of valuable and satisfying academic experiences. Those findings, corroborated by a later “Customer Service” survey and surveys done during registration led to all kinds of changes including a year or two’s worth of meetings about how to change registration (which led to clear, even if incremental, improvements), a reorganization of Student Services, and a big “customer service” initiative (all documented in the NCA Self Study).

What you might not know is that in 2009, HW students retook the CCSSE. HW scores were even better than in 2005 with respect to the Academic Student Engagement (HW was ranked significantly better than our peers in Illinois and even nationally in multiple categories that correlate to student success), and, though students were still less satisfied overall than average, they were less dissatisfied than they’d been in 2005. Still, they were a long way from singing the praises of the institution.

That might not seem like a puzzle to you, but in all honesty, it has been YEARS since I’ve seen a staff member be openly rude or even unhelpful to a student. Now, I’ve seen faculty be both of those things, and I’ve probably been guilty of each myself on more than one occasion, but time and again–during registration, waiting to turn in paperwork to the registrar, walking through offices, etc., etc., I’ve only seen our staff be patient, friendly, accommodating, and  helpful to students, almost without exception. Yet the bad reviews pour in.

I just don’t see it, though. Am I missing it? It’s possible, I suppose, but I know people who work in nearly every single office in the college, and I like ’em. I find it hard to believe that all these nice, dedicated, funny people turn into monsters when I’m not looking.

But then over the weekend, I started thinking, again, about Don’s presentation on Friday, and his conclusion from the One-on-Ones that “we need to fix our core processes,” and wondered if the student dissatisfaction isn’t with the process more than the persons but vented on the persons because they are more easily identifiable. I wonder whether, if our process is better, students will have the impression that they were better served, and conclude that the people were nicer and more helpful?

Anyway, I’ll be curious to see if the new version of registration makes some more headway than the other new versions could. If you get the chance, tell the rest of us how the new version is working…