Customer Services initiative improves service

University officials said they believe a customer service initiative launched last semester has been effective so far in combating student complaints.

GW began its program – which introduced Colonial Mail and the online housing lottery, among other initiatives – to ease student frustration with everyday tasks.

“The perception is always that GW has not been a caring place, it’s difficult to circumvent the bureaucracy and it hasn’t been a user-friendly institution, historically,” said Robert Chernak, senior vice president for student and academic support services.

Chernak said part of community service is technology and part is “sensitizing staff of what the expectations are for dealing with students, parents, alumni and faculty.” A program in the works is an online system that will aid students with class scheduling and planning.

Several employee review policies are in place, including a “secret shopper” program.

Taina Shields, chairperson of the committee to celebrate customer service, said the shopper program occurs in about 30 departments under the umbrella of the Office of the Executive Vice President and Treasurer.

“We recruited both undergraduate and graduate students which go to the offices and score (employees) on professionalism and appearance,” Shields said. “We tell the departments they’re going to be secret shopped (because) if you think anyone who calls or walks in is going to be rating you, you’re keeping that in the back of your mind.”

Employees had the chance to improve their customer service skills last week when GW held training sessions for staff. About 200 people from various University departments attended sessions and several who did not attend asked to borrow the video used. GW offers training for staff throughout the year.

Wednesday marked GW’s second customer service celebration, which included a ceremony featuring administrators and awards for people and departments that excelled in customer service, along with training.

“We’re trying to create a (24-hour, seven day a week) service culture for the students because they are the primary demands,” said Executive Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz at the ceremony. “We are trying to train people not to send students somewhere else when they can’t help them. Instead they should try to help them in any way they can first.”

Chernak said an important part of the customer service initiative is looking at the downfalls of each department and seeing what can be done to fix them.

“(The Office of) Financial Aid added more phone lines, for example,” he said. “This cuts down on some frustration of people not being able to get through. Student can now track their packages online, which cuts down on traffic and releases staff to deal with other issues.”

Chernak said while GW’s customer service is not perfect, he has noticed improvement since the initiative began.

“The number of complaints I get are much less frequent now than when I first came 15 years ago, and even better than a year ago,” he said.

Several students said they have noticed customer service improvements since last year.

“The (J Street) workers are more approachable and everyone on J Street has a friendlier tone,” junior Maggie Baker said. “Some of them actually take the time to ask how I’m doing.”

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