Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Inspiration from Private Enterprise

John Gardner

Earlier this year I happened to comment in a presentation that I was about to depart with my wife, Betsy Barefoot, for a two week vacation out of the United States and that I would be taking a vacation also from my blogging.  In response to my reporting such a member of the audience admonished me not to stop blogging during this period. Feeling both complimented and chastised, I agreed to keep checking in with a few postings. Once I did this and arrived in my countries of destination (Australia and New Zealand) I realized that I had an obligation to keep writing and therefore I began to imagine myself as a reporter. Now with that as a context, my wife and I have just left the US again on a short, 10 day vacation, this time to Italy. And I am again reminded that I need to act as a reporter.

So, from that perspective, when we arrived for the first time ever in Italy, in the business and fashion capital of the country, Milan, we checked into a Hyatt Hotel. My experience with such chain hotels in the US did not prepare me for my check in experience in Italy. After duly registering, providing passports for copying, etc, and completing the registration process, the desk agent who checked us in announced that she would now show us to our  room. And to my acculturated amazement, she escorted us to an elevator, to our room, and demonstrated all the features of the room. After she departed and left us to our own devices, I just couldn’t get the check in experience out of my mind.

So what is the moral of this story? Well, it is, it would appear that sometimes the good old free enterprise system knows how to make new arrivals feel more welcome than we do in the academy. And another moral of the story is that first impressions of the arrival in a new land are lasting and therefore terribly important. And another one is that the check in experience can totally redefine how the participant views the organization providing the check in. And still another one is that when an employee of the organization steps beyond the boundaries of what you assume are the normal parameters of services to be provided, it can and does leave an enormously favorable impression.

So what if the next time we provided a student with some basic form of information, perhaps a referral, and then instead of leaving it at that, we literally walked the student through the next steps, really extended ourselves, did more than we had to? I predict that the impact could be far greater on the student than it was demanding of us in terms of the time and energy we invested.

So think about it: how can you improve your “check in” of students when they arrive for the first time on your doorstep seeking some kind of assistance?

I am not saying “run your college/university like a business. That is not the mantra I aspire to. But I am asking what we can learn and perhaps emulate from those parties we observe who are the best at making students feel noticed, welcomed, significant and who are especially good at going that beyond expectations extra step that has such a lasting impression.

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