A reader sent me this link to a blog post by someone who thinks that every employee on a state university campus should be well trained in sales and hospitality services. With such training, when unexpectedly encountering a person who may or may not be the parent of a potential applicant to the university, state university employees can go into recruitment mode, using tried-and-true methods that any competent salesperson would know.
In fact, according to the blog post, everyone the blogger in question met on the campus of Iowa State University was polite and tried to help him in some way. They just didn't help him in exactly the way he wanted to be helped, using the specific language a real salesperson would use.
According to the blog post, here are some of the things that campus workers are supposed to do when encountering someone who might be the parent of a potential applicant to the university, including those people who are lying about being such a parent, like the blogger in question:
1. Say hi! Smile! You are an employee of a state university, and therefore part of your job is to recruit students. Oh sure, you can spend your time on teaching, research, or whatever else you think your job entails blah blah blah, but that's no substitute for a big smile and a hello. It's even better if your smile and greeting appear reasonably sincere, something best accomplished if you can somehow banish from your mind the phrase "helicopter parent".
2. After the friendly hello/smile, ask an open-ended question. Do not ask: Can I help you? or Can I help you find something? when you see an unknown adult who might be the parent of a potential applicant wandering around your campus building. Those are unfriendly questions that demonstrate your ignorance of sales techniques.
OMG, I am so glad to know this now. Sometimes when I am working in my office or walking the halls of my campus building, doing some task that fills the gaps in time between when I can go into sales/recruitment mode for my university, a person unknown to me will walk into my office or appear lost and confused in the hall, and I will say something like "Can I help you?" or "Are you looking for something (or someone)?" Out of total ignorance, I have definitely asked questions like that before. Of course, most of the time the person is looking for something specific, but apparently there is a huge huge difference between "Can I help you?" (an unfriendly yes/no question) and "What can I help you with today?" (a sales-friendly question that is more open-ended).
3. Engage these strangers in conversation. Ask them questions about themselves, their children, where they live, why they are here on campus. Never mind that you probably have 57 things that need doing right now. This is not about you. Knock down walls between you and them.
4. Thank the person you just met. I am so glad that I learned about this one because this, also, would not have occurred to me. Now I am revealed to myself and others as a selfish, self-absorbed lout. I would have expected that the person asking me for information and interrupting my day would thank me, but no, this is not about me me me.
5. Get the hypothetical parent's contact information. Once again, ask them for information about themselves. Do I really need to say this again? This is not about you or even, apparently, about your university.
At this point, I feel the need to make an abject confession about an example of a personal sales FAIL. A few years ago, a man and his son looked into my office, I asked if I could help them (FAIL!), and the man said that his son was interested in Science, so they were just looking around. I asked them if they had any questions (FAIL!), and they both had some. They were pretty good questions, and I spent a few minutes answering them. The father asked me about my research, so I told them a bit about that. I gave the kid a geeky little science gizmo thing that I had lying around my office in great abundance, and this seemed to thrill him. They thanked me for my time, the information, and the gift (FAIL for them!), and went away without my asking them for their names (FAIL!) or contact information (FAIL!).
Now, despite the great effort and perhaps physical pain this will cause me, I am going to attempt to make some sarcasm-free comments about the general issue of the role of university employees in interacting with non-academic citizens who wander onto campus for real or mendacious purposes. I shall address these comments to people who might share the views of the blogger who visited Iowa State, if there are any:
It is bizarre to expect that all campus employees should follow the same rules for sales that might be used by, say, a car salesman. We are not selling cars. Try not to be so judgmental and oversensitive. Give people a break if they don't conform to your strange ideas about exactly how they should be asking you if they can help you.
Employees at a state university work for you in the same indirect way that public school teachers or police officers or garbage collectors work for you and everyone in the community; all of us collectively benefit the community by doing our jobs, but you do not get to take up our time whenever and however you want, especially if you don't really understand the purpose of our jobs.
Example: Administrative assistants who sit at the front lines of department offices are extremely busy people. Part of their job is to help visitors who wander by the office, and there are an extraordinary number who do wander by. Not all of these visitors are polite or able to explain what they want.
If you do happen to drop by a department office with a question, you can expect a polite response, but you cannot expect that a lot of time and energy will suddenly be diverted to helping you. Administrative assistants can direct you to a source of information that will answer your question; it is bizarre to be offended if this source of information is a website, and no, you don't get to use a computer in a department office even if you are pretending to be the parent of a potential applicant.
Here's a thought exercise: Imagine that you wander into a department office, posing as the parent of a potential applicant to the university, and you walk up to the administrative assistant's desk. In the last half hour, this person has had their work interrupted by 3 or 8 other people stopping by with requests for information or to ask for help with tasks that need to be done right away. There have also been a few phone calls in between these visits, as well as e-mails that need immediate responses. In addition, an undergraduate student just stopped by to drop off his late homework at his professor's office or mailbox, but he doesn't know the name of the professor. The phone rings again. Then you walk in and mention that your son might be interested in applying to the university. When the administrative assistant doesn't respond in exactly the way that you want (with questions about your name and your life and your interests, and an offer to use a computer or talk to a professor), you decide to send your fictitious son to another university. Who is the unreasonable person in this scenario?
If you want to come to campus and walk around, you are most welcome. The campuses of state universities are public places, and there are many interesting things to see and do. You can even wander around department buildings, looking at hall displays or admiring the architecture. If you want to talk to someone, you can call or e-mail and make an appointment.
Learn about universities and how they work. They are amazing places. And think, what do you really want in a university: a campus filled with employees who greet you insincerely and ask you to talk about yourself, or a university that is busy with professors, staff, and students who are working hard at the jobs they are supposed to be doing?
12 years ago
*spofle* There are just so many things wrong with this, I don't know how to start.
Also, it makes me wonder if this person has ever been on an urban campus? I went to school at two schools with urban campuses which meant, frankly, there were all sorts of random people wandering about all the time.
I don't think it's necessary for professors to all go take a sales class and be the most charismatic beings on the face of the planet. However, I do think that how faculty and staff treat you on a visit does say a lot about the department. Huge smiles and sales tactics are not necessary, but if everyone in a department just seems too busy to answer the slightest question from you, well that's not going to leave a good impression.
Once, during campus visit, a prospective student came to one of my classes and asked if she could sit in. The professor then made an effort to welcome them, give a brief introduction to the class, then had the students introduce themselves. The prospective student was very impressed with the class, and seemed to find the talk helpful. Took less than 5 minutes of extra time. Things like this say MUCH more than a huge smile or asking for contact information. (And trust me, this particular professor would be the worst salesman ever)
Sales tactics are not necessary, just common courtesy and small gestures that faculty care are sufficient.
Thank you for reading my blog post, and for your thoughtful comments. I'm prone to a bit of sarcasm myself, so I value that quality in others. :)
You attended class and studied your booty off to get your college education. But without you (or someone else) paying for it, you couldn't get it - all the studying and dedication and commitment in the world doesn't change that. That makes your degree a "product," purchased by you, the "customer." Regardless of why you wanted your degree or what you did with it, higher learning is still a business. Why else would Universities have such huge marketing budgets? Shopping for a college - and being satisfied with your purchase - is a retail process and customer service is an important part of it. Besides, since when isn't it a good idea for a University employee - or ANY employee working anywhere in the public eye - to smile, greet, engage and thank the people they encounter? That lofty goal seems completely consistent with the overall goals of higher education. Don't you think? Don't you WANT to be engaged by happy, thoughtful staff, no matter where you learn - or shop? :)
Thank you again for expressing your view. I'd love to do an interview with you over the phone, for my radio show! It would be wonderful to have your viewpoint expressed, as I know it is shared by many.
I am somewhat shy and reserved. I hate it when salespeople come up to me in a store and keep asking whether I need help finding anything (in one store I recently visited, I was asked this question by 3 different associates0. If I need help, I'll ask. If I'm walking around a campus, and some stranger walks up to me, starts asking personal questions and wants my name and contact information, I'm more likely to run the opposite way.
Always Be Closing, FSP. (Glengarry Glenross, for those readers who don't get this.)
At my first job (fast food), I was instructed that I was never, NEVER to push the total button on the cash register until I had suggested another purchase and been refused. You know, "Would you like some fries with that?" The stated purpose of this was to increase sales.
According to my supervisor, I even had to ask this if the person ended their list of items with "That's it" or said something obvious like "I only want a small vanilla shake." (I didn't do this, of course--it was stupid to ask a person who had plainly stated that they didn't want anything else if they wanted more fries.)
Despite my loathing of sales, I dutifully followed these instructions except in the instances mentioned above. During the ~6 months I worked at the restaurant, I never had one person say, "Why yes, I would like fries (or a drink)." Since then I have been justifiably skeptical of "tried-and-true" sales rules.
On a related note: Our lab is on the second floor of a building that also contains lecture halls in its basement. Last week, a gentleman barged in and demanded to use my computer to access his schedule, which, for my convenience, was apparently online. Dimwittedly, I asked him which room he was looking for. He replied, "B202". I noted that that room was in the basement, and perhaps he could just check there.
He stormed off, clearly disgusted with my service.
He's a troll. He's faking outrage for a radio show.
That's why we have open days (in the UK). This Saturday I marketed my arse off, it was exhausting, and not all of the people I spoke with are likley to choose my university. If someone turns up outside those designated days, they are welcome, but they should never expect extreme sales-person measures to snare their 'custom', we have jobs to do. Clearly the original blog-writer is fairly ignorant of how a research-intensive university works. He admits that he was a distance learner for a short time, and that appears to be his total knowledge of higher education.
While working in my office (grading papers, working on service commitments, prepping for class), I am occasionally interrupted by someone sticking their head into my office to ask for something -- usually directions to some building or office or other. If I know, I tell them, and we're on our way. Sometimes they want to get information on majoring in History; in these cases, I tell refer them to the person who actually has the information they want (department office, undergrad/grad advisors). And I encourage my students to stop by any time my door is open, for any reason.
But I would find it very strange for someone to just wander into my office and expect that I'll stop working -- even give them my computer?!? -- just because they felt like swinging by that day. Does the blogger in question think that that should apply to every worker everywhere -- say, a claims processor at an insurance company, or a nurse at an HMO?
This report strikes me as another that, consciously or not, comes from that place that assumes that what we do isn't real work.
Forget about university people, I'd much rather sales people didn't have to act in this idiotic fashion. It doesn't make me feel any better, and hell even if it did, I'm against any job requiring anyone's brain to be turned into mush.
Except perhaps for the person who originally wrote that blog post; although in that case there is thankfully no brain left to be abused.
Johnnie Wright, I think you are missing the point. Sure, courtesy is nice. But your post suggested quite strongly that you believe it is the job of every person employed by a campus to recruit. In fact, some employees of the university have little or nothing to do with recruitment, or even students!!!
Many of us involved in research are made acutely aware that our job is to 1) do research, 2) publish papers, 3) secure grant money, and there is extreme pressure to achieve these goals. Which have NOTHING to do with students. Some (though not all) of us do not even teach. The university has many objectives, not all of which revolve around students, and those of us involved in non-student oriented positions have a full plate already with our actual jobs, without heaping sales on top of it. It's not what we're paid for.
As a further note, student tuition (especially at a state school) accounts for a small fraction of the revenue and operating costs of a university. A lot of that revenue comes from indirect grant monies, generated by researchers who may or may not have much to do with students. Your student-as-consumer model is only part of the picture.
If I find someone in the hallway looking lost, I do ask if I can help them find someone. But then, my building has three labs in it, and most of my colleagues don't even come over to visit. If I'm in my office, I ignore them until I am asked. Then, much as Notorious, I direct them somewhere else.
I mostly do this because I am in the life sciences, and my lab does use vertebrate animals. I prefer keeping nosy people away by actively directing them somewhere else.
Students on a university campus are consumers of education in a way similar to a patient who is seeing a physical therapist. It's the therapists job to give the patient exercises (for example) that in the expert opinion of the therapist will be good for the patient.
The idea that students are the customer and that the customer must come first and is always right is a flawed one.
Students are not our customers: they are our raw material for producing our product (alumni).
Our teaching job is more akin to factory work than to sales. We are attempting to shape the raw material into the product. Quality control is not always what it should be, thanks in part to low-cost suppliers providing us with inferior materials that need to be completely reworked.
To Jonnie Wright
Wouldn't a more effective business model involve diversifying tasks such that some people specialize in being warm, friendly, informative, prepared to answer questions of future "customers" and their inquisitive parents? And then other people perform other specialized tasks, like registering and advising students, conducting research, teaching classes, performing magic with spreadsheets to make up for the ever shrinking state funding (less than 5% of my U's budget)?
Oh wait, we already do that.
I'm very happy to have prospective students/parents sit in on my classes or make an appointment to talk to me. But few among us--on or off campus--would feel good about their job or feel they can perform it adequately if they can be randomly interrupted by people who seem to think they own our time?
This is a very science-centric comment. I have a significant problem with the university business model he proposed. A university could be considered a "business" in the traditional sense, I suppose, but for most university's I have been at, I would call the students the PRODUCTS not the customers.
In my greatly simplified version of the university, the customers are:
1) Companies, many of which
put money into the research end of campus. What they get is research, of course, which they do not need to perform in house, and future employees.
2) The taxpayers, who pay something to many universities, also buy an educated workforce, which changes the demographics of job opportunities available in their area.
3) There are also large donors that are buying, well, something. Prestige I guess. And heaven knows, contact with potential donors is very, very tightly controlled.
The students do buy something, of course. Mostly what students are paying for is a place to live, some food, a nice gym, sports, etc. Their tuition also pays for some fraction of time from the faculty and/or graduate students (but this takes away from other potential revenue streams). Heaven knows, they are not "buying" degrees. If they were, wouldn't we have to return their money if they failed to obtain one?
That said, universities are also large and diverse. It is possible that other parts of campus may operate under a different business model.
This is like walking into the world headquarters for Walmart and wondering why the security guards escort you out, rather than helpfully showing you where the underwear section is. Maybe that's an exaggeration; perhaps it's more like walking into the loading dock area of the Walmart and wondering why there's no store greeter there to show you where the front door is, and why the truck driver unloading their truck doesn't know where the underwear section is.
If I have to learn customer service, does this mean that the people who are at the Univ for "customer service" should also be trained in my job tasks? This way, if I need someone to grad papers or do my lecture they can pop in and do it for me. Why bother with titles and division of tasks?
I agree with the post "This report strikes me as another that, consciously or not, comes from that place that assumes that what we do isn't real work." People think just because we can leave at 3PM to watch our kid's sporting event means we work less than 40 hrs/wk. I may leave early some days, but there are far more days where I leave after 10 hrs, with a stack of papers to grade. Or go back to the office after dinner to work for 4 more hours.
Also disturbed by the increase of the idea that students are consumers. In the dining hall or the bookstore they are consumers. In the classroom they are product. You treat the product with respect, but the students are privileged to have the opportunity to be there and need to take the class seriously and stop whining about how hard it is (the majority of students are getting the work done and passing the class, so it's not impossible).
And, this blogger didn't want the standard tour...where they likely would have received stellar customer service, since that is what the people who work in that area are trained to do. Seems like they went looking for something to complain about on college campuses.
Entirely agree that Jonnie Wright has it wrong about students being customers and degrees the products they purchase.
Applying any proper operational model to a university would show it to be a manufacturer:
1) As input, universities take money (from taxpayers, private donors, companies, and students who pay fees) and people (untrained students)
2) As output, Universities produce knowledge (research publications, patents, etc.) and graduates (the aforementioned untrained students, now trained).
Since not all students pay tuition fees, and even those who do are contributing only a fraction of the necessary costs involved in turning them into graduate products, it is inaccurate to call them customers. Rather, students are raw or partially-refined human materials somewhere along the manufacturing (or "education") process, who, at best, can sometimes offset some of their own processing costs.
Of course, as in every industry, not every batch of raw material will result in a finished product. Quality checks are important and will result in some substandard materials being returned to the supplier. Other apparently sound materials will reveal their flaws only during the manufacturing process and, while not rejected, will be released into the marketplace with a clear "defective" label.
Grim and inhumane? Of course. But it wasn't my idea to apply hardcore business models to university operations...
I am happy to smile, greet, and engage "laypeople" I encounter in my institution, and point them in the right direction.
However, I seriously doubt that the panicked and upset family member who made a wrong turn and somehow wound up in a (security access controlled) medical school corridor instead of the surgery waiting room is really going to be interested in giving me their contact info so that the medical school can recruit their smart kids later.
We pay the P.R. folks a lot of money to handle the sales. We are the technical side - we make the product.
And frankly, I am disgusted by this idea that "Shopping for a college - and being satisfied with your purchase - is a retail process" No. Shopping for a college is finding a program and school that fits with your learning goals, your capabilities, and your budget. Paying tuition isn't the same as handing a dollar to a cashier and getting fries in return. This is an INVESTMENT, you need to work for a return.
And this? "Don't you think? Don't you WANT to be engaged by happy, thoughtful staff, no matter where you learn - or shop? :)"
Of course. But I also want to be engaged by happy, thoughtful students who look at their education not as a commodity, but as, well, an education. "Selling" my institution isn't going to change any of that. My job is to be the best researcher and lecturer possible so that I can help create good medical professionals.
I feel the need to add that in this day and age where campus crime can be a concern, it's a bit disconcerting to see an unfamiliar face wandering aimlessly through a campus building. I would expect that anyone checking out a university on behalf of a prospective student would go through the usual channels (i.e., the admissions office) or would go to a department office (assuming its location is apparent) to ask their questions.
If someone gives the "prospective parent" story but is just wandering around, I would frankly be a tad suspicious.
We're actually told by the university that for security reasons to be suspicious of all unfamiliar people walking through research buildings, which is fine by me. I usually tell wandering parents that that they should not be wandering through research buildings and that if they'd like a tour or to talk to someone about specific programs they can ask at the admissions office. It's not that I don't like to chit-chat with prospective students and parents, but some come with a huge sense of entitlement which bugs me.
1. As a visitor to a university, I would definitely not want for everyone I meet to attempt to "sell" me on the university. I hate this, and it turns me off from a lot of places of business. I am polite to sales persons, customer service, etc, and expect they will be polite back to me, no more.
2. Researchers bring in money to the university by selling their grants to granting agencies. The amount of money this brings in is much much greater than the amount of extra money that could be brought in by a faculty member successfully recruiting a student (that is, actually getting a student to come that otherwise would not have). So at the very least, student recruitment should be a miniscule part of the effort of research scientists.
Hilarious. An education is not a hamburger(as others have stated). As a tuition paying student I am paying for a service, not an item. If I was paying for an item I would pay more and get my diploma faster but it would produce a bunch of incompetent engineers. I am paying for the service of teaching (and researching, etc) and in return it is my responsibility to learn, adapt, grow, be an adult.
There are shuttle buses all over my campus b/c parking is crap and every spring the parents and their kids are crammed into the shuttles with us trying to find their way to the campus tours building. There is no sign that tells them where to board, or when to get off, or where to go. I always kind of laugh at how it would be so easy to put up a few signs for all the prospective parents to be pointed in the right direction but they don't bother. I suppose it's because when you go to college you grow up. You become independent. You are responsible for figuring out where buildings are, and prospective parents/students had better have brought a map with them.
I work in a largely government funded private place. Security is extremely high. I would love to see some self-absorbed windbag like Mr. Wright try to visit on the basis of him being a taxpayer and a "customer" and security tell him to get the f- out or slam him to the ground for wandering around. He sounds like a social engineer to me. There are reasons private companies as well as public universities do not provide endless amounts of information to any shmuck who walks by. Will you use that computer to plant a virus? Are you trying to get names you can use to break into the security of the organization later? It is a shame anyone should have to sacrifice both organizational and personal security just so they are "polite" enough for people like Mr. Wright.
Money can't buy you love, happiness, or an education.
When people tell me to smile, it makes me want to claw their eyes out. Much like unnecessary bold text and "quote marks" for "emphasis". Not very good salesmanship, Jonnie! I think you need to go reevaluate your target audience.
I've been put on the front lines with "customers" in various situations, where my role, assigned or not, was to be the grumpy teller-of-truth whether the sales types like me telling those truths or not.
Funny how it was me, not the sales types, who most tended to make people want to be part of what we were doing/selling.
I have an extreme fear of shopping brought on by aggressive, high pressure sales tactics such as these. When I went to visit undergrad and grad schools, I wandered around, made appointments with people (though I will confess to walking and politely asking for a few moments once or twice, to get a less scripted sampling). Everywhere I went, the people were polite and helpful, but engaged in their real jobs. Caltech, Brown, UIUC, etc were quite happy to let the school sell itself. Sure you could get appointments with faculty if you asked politely, but they didn't thrust themselves upon you.
If I were to speak to someone about the school, and be met with open-ended questions about myself irrelevant to answering my questions, I'd been a bit offput. Had they asked for contact info, unless I'd just asked them to send me something, I'd be literally eyeing around for potential exits.
When I visit a research university, I expect to see people doing what they do...research, and perhaps some teaching...I'll ask if I need directions, or if I want to ask about your research, or anything else.
Of course I also would like to be unaccosted while wandering around aimlessly looking at the place, provided I stay out of people's way.
If I'm met by professors who talk likes salespeople, well...I'll start to get mighty suspicious of why they're trying to sell me something that really ought to sell itself.
All this goes double if I'm a parent and they're trying to go over my kid's head to me to make the decision. It's not about me.
Oh, good grief! It sounds like Johnnie hasn't actually thought through his suggestion. Can you imagine how it would be if all 27,000 students and 1,700 faculty, who surely don't all know each other, actually tried to follow the Johnnie's directions and tried to sell the university to every unknown person on campus they encounter? The majority of all these people on campus would be trying to sell to each other, making it quickly useless to actually follow the selling techniques suggested not just because of the low probability of encountering a prospective "buyer" in this situation, but because everyone would be so exasperated at everyone else!!
On our campus, where there are students as old as he is along with convicted sex offenders who also look like he does or alleged "book buyers" looking for things of value, he might be asked for ID and hustled off to where he is supposed to be. That would make a fun read!
He deserved every bit of what you gave him, but what he really deserves is a turn in the seat at the reception desk on the first day of class. I'd love to see him evaluate our customers, rather than our customer service, and there are plenty of customers on that first day!
A perennial staff favorite is the one who stands in front of a sign that says "Rooms xxx to xxx this way" and asks where that room is. Or the ones who ask "where is THE 10 am math class", as if we only teach one at a time. Breaks the tension caused by the hundreds who MUST get in a particular class to graduate, but just never got around to it in the last 5 months. I wonder if he would be happily discussing life stories when there were 20 more in line waiting.
But, more seriously, I dearly wish that I lived in his area so I could walk into his home or office at some random time, like just before his radio show, and borrow his computer while I waste his time. Can I watch? I'm really interested in how radio works ....
Of course, there is one other logical extension Jonnie missed. Not only should all university faculty and staff be trained to be car salesmen, but so should all people in the automotive industry. That means that the engineers who design the car, the factory workers who build it, the people managing shipping, etc. should all get an oily haircut and a cheap suit.
The "university as a seller and students as customers" model is not valid for a variety of reasons mentioned by the commenters.
A university campus, even if it IS a public institution (supported less and less by state funds and tuition and more by grant funding and other "soft" money), is not Disneyland. You are not there to have a tourist experience, be catered to, and get your ticket punched. Applying to, being admitted to, and attending a university is not "buying a degree" and students are not customers shopping for widely available consumer goods. They are there to be evaluated, passed or weeded out accordingly, and in the end, certified as having exceeded high standards. No one walks into an investment bank to "take a look around" and expect that everyone will smile and usher him/her around like a valued guest...but then people take banking so much more seriously than education.
Think about it more like a monastery, jonnie...you've wandered into a place where people have chosen to devote themselves to a life of very concentrated, contemplative, and often solitary lifelong study and do not adhere slavishly to the consumer model of modern life. Have some respect and deference when you visit another culture instead of demanding that the natives act more "civilized".
In other news, I would like to thank FSP for her evident understanding of how many demands are made of AAs' time and attention on an hourly, let alone daily, basis.
Often, the only people who "get this" are people who have previously worked as AAs themselves. Whether or not this is the case with FSP, thank you!
super bright if I do say so myself Hons. degree-holding AA (ret.)
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