California State University San Marcos

Getting Serious about Customer Service

The ability to deliver exemplary customer service doesn’t just magically happen. Katy Rees, associate vice president of administration at California State University San Marcos, knew she needed to ensure that her team had a strategy and a plan to execute the level of service they wanted to deliver. “We could have just given it lip service, but we wanted to take this initiative seriously,” Rees explained. “I knew we needed a common vision and language of service to provide direction and guide behaviors. The Legendary Service training program from The Ken Blanchard Companies gave us all the tools and skills we needed.”

The university’s finance and administrative services (FAS) division comprises budget, finance, human resources, payroll, planning, procurement, parking, police, facilities, sustainability, risk management, and others—basically, the infrastructure of the business. For more than fifteen years, they have focused on quality improvement through a strategic planning process that identifies the core skills staff members need and then delivers training to address those needs.

“We are the financial and administrative services division of the university—service is at the core of what we do. We had delivered leadership training to managers, but not to all employees. We realized everyone needed customer service training so that we would have a unified vision of service and operate under the same principles. So we made Legendary Service training mandatory for all 225 employees,” Rees continued.

Making training mandatory isn’t always a popular move, but in this case it is working. “We are passionate about this training and we wanted everyone to understand its importance,” said Rees. “There were a few questions at first about why we were requiring people to be trained; but as they attended the class, they realized we were making an investment in each person and in the successful future of the university. Now we are all aligned with a common goal. Employees realize it doesn’t matter what role they play in the organization—they can always make an impact. They are proud to know that what they do matters. Whether it’s landscaping, painting a wall, or making parking available—it takes every person to make the whole place work.”

Rolling Out the Training

The Legendary Service program has two different workshops, each focusing on a specific audience—the one-day workshop is for employees and the half-day workshop is for managers. The manager-only session is designed to help leaders understand their role in not only implementing the company’s service culture but also supporting the employees as they serve the customers. Both workshops use the ICARE acronym to teach the concepts:

  • Ideal Service—meeting customer needs on a day-to-day basis by acting on the belief that service is important
  • Culture of Service—fostering an environment that focuses on serving the customer
  • Attentiveness—knowing customers and their preferences
  • Responsiveness—demonstrating a genuine willingness to serve customers and fulfill their needs
  • Empowerment—taking the initiative to implement the service vision

When delivering Legendary Service became one of the division’s five top strategic goals for the next five years, they kicked off the initiative with a keynote to introduce the concept of why service is critical to business success. They also gave a copy of the book Legendary Service: The Key is to Care to everyone who attended. Managers completed the course first so they could support their employees as they attended the classes. To embed the philosophy and sustain the learning, each department developed goals tied to the strategic objective. Rees explains: “Some departments started at the basic level of developing their ICARE model. They identified their customers, their standards of service, and what they needed to improve on for the optimal customer experience.

“Creating this culture of service won’t happen overnight. We realize it is a journey, so we support the initiative continually by communicating through posters, signs, and the employee newsletter. We’ve even created two service awards as part of our annual employee recognition program. One recognizes a person who displays all the behaviors of delivering Legendary Service, and another recognizes a leader who mentors the service model.”

Results Along the Way

Every department has developed SMART goals for the year so that they can measure results throughout the initiative. And the university has taken measurement one step further than the annual customer survey that is conducted internally: an outside firm measures and compares the level of service of California State University San Marcos with other universities to see how they rank. “The results have been great. We are showing improvement—and we score higher in almost every department when compared to other universities. This has been very intentional, and it is paying off,” Rees said.

Cal State San Marcos’ FAS Division is now in the second year of a five-year plan to build a culture of customer service. They have been methodical about sustaining the initiative by creating a plan to support the strategic goal, training people in the skills they need, having them define their personal goals that tie directly to the strategic goal, and embedding what has been learned into everyday life at the university. They offered their leaders access to the Blanchard podcasts, newsletters, the corporate website, lunchtime learning sessions, and posters that graphically represent the ideals to continually reinforce the vision and mission of service.

“One of the really wonderful things is how fully people have embraced this plan. Our vision is coming to life. Now everyone has the same vision of service and has defined specific behaviors to support that vision. Those behaviors become guidelines for getting work accomplished each day,” Rees explained. Delivering Legendary Service has become part of how people operate every day instead of something they do in addition to their regular jobs. Exceeding customer expectations is now a part of the culture of service at California State University San Marcos.

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