Welcoming Students into Our Coug Family!
Department: Division of Student Affairs
By Megan Harre, Assistant Director of WSU Center For Fraternity and Sorority Life and
Nicholas Hudson, Assistant Director of WSU Center For Fraternity and Sorority Life
As we welcome nearly 4500 new students into our Coug family, it is important to reflect what type of environment we as student affairs professionals create. The initial transition to campus can be a shock compared to what students are used to. New students are encountering things for the first time: new emotions, experiences, friendships as they transition to Cougs. Our role as student affairs professionals is to engage students in a transformative university experience which prepares them for success at WSU and after graduation.
What should effective customer service at WSU look like? Turban, Lee, King, and Chung (2002) argue, “Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction—that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer’s expectation” (p. 87). Real customer service must involve more than a department or a handful of individuals, it has to be all of us. Providing a true student service-centered environment is everyone’s job. Adapted from Maue’s customer service recommendations, here are some best practices in welcoming students into our Coug family (Maue, 2015).
Be your authentic self to help others feel comfortable.
Authenticity is how we can convey genuineness to others. Exhibiting your authentic professional self in front of students helps break the ice and develops meaningful relationships which otherwise may not exist in a strictly professional environment. This goes both ways, as we need to welcome students’ authentic selves as well. We should ask them about their lived histories and their experiences so far as Cougs. Connecting with students and creating spaces where they feel comfortable, requires more than the proverbial “Hi, how are you doing today?” We need to engage with students at a deeper level to ensure they feel welcome. Ask them how they are settling into their new residence hall or how their classes are going. Talk about what organizations they have joined. This will help students feel at home here at WSU!
Understand the student mindset.
If we are to create a transformative university experience, we need to think like students again and ask ourselves what they would want their transformative experience to be like. We need to place ourselves in their shoes and really begin to think like them. What do they care about? What are their fears? What do they want from us? Understanding their perspective allows you to turn the focus from you to them. It helps you understand what needs to be in your approach and what does not, and which staff members need to be cross-trained on what topics. It allows you to put less emphasis on the things that matter to WSU (such as the number of buildings we have) and more emphasis on the things that matter to our students (such as Cougar Football Saturdays, the new Spark building on campus, or the fun hammocks outside of the CUB).
Become knowledgeable about WSU.
We tend to segment and “hand off” different parts of the student journey from prospective student to enrolled student to alumna. This makes sense, because different staff members handle a different part of this journey such as financial aid, orientation or mental health. The problem is that this fragmentation leads to disjointed experiences for our students. We need to look at all of the student experience – across all interactions – to help ensure consistency as students pass from one department to another.
Fragmentation of the student journey doesn’t only result in inconsistent experiences. As WSU tends to be siloed, we are often unable to answer students’ questions without directing them to another office. Think about a student with a question about her tuition bill. Does she need to go to the financial aid office? Student accounts? Somewhere else? Often she’ll be sent from one office to another to another in search of the answer to her question. While your department may not handle said concern, we need to assist students when they come to us. Instead of directing the student from your department to another, walk your student through the process and offer to walk with them to that particular department! It can be difficult navigating campus and anything we can do to eliminate student confusion will greatly benefit our new students. Introduce the student to someone specific in the department so they can know a friendly face in the future. Making connections will greatly benefit their WSU experience!
Be genuine and communicate well.
While our students and parents are resourceful, understanding complex organizations, such as WSU, can often be a little intimidating. One of the biggest problems with communicating with students is that as student affairs professionals we tend to utilize organization-specific communication, complete with jargon, buzzwords, and overly stuffy language. If we have the ability to break down communication barriers and help students advocate for themselves, we have engaged students in a transformative university experience. Edit your communication to keep an eye for simple language and short words. Do not use acronyms, as they can be confusing and intimidating. When speaking with students and family, listen to what they are stating and asking for, while responding to their concerns with genuine care and a smile. Students will thank you and feel more at ease!
Own the problem.
One of our biggest pet peeves is the experience of being handed off from one person to another. Students do not like this either. As staff, we need to own the problem rather than handing it off to someone else. It is also important that if we do not know the answer to a student question, that we do not provide incorrect information or tell the student that we do not know. We should work with the student to guide them through their questions. This will ensure that we are knowledgeable about more than our office and can answer general answers for our students. Not only will students and their parents be happier, it will also help with cross-training staff, as they have to learn about other areas in order to solve the problem.
Maue, D. (2015, September 15). Customer service is not a four letter word. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/call-action-marketing-and-communications-higher-education/customer-service-not-four-letter.
Turban, E., Lee J., King D., & Chung, H. (2002). Electronic commerce: A managerial perspective (International ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall International.