Whether you work in a centralized or de-centralized co-operative education office, providing effective customer service to client groups is important for maintaining strong relationships with your stakeholder groups. At Mount Saint Vincent University, we recently surveyed one stakeholder group, our employers, about the services delivered by our centralized Co-op Office. We are very happy to report that 93% of our employers said that their customer service needs were being met. Since completing the survey, we have developed tools to address the areas of concern identified and look forward to an even higher rating the next time we ask our employers for feedback.
Our employer survey allowed us to ask the employers what they value from a service standpoint. We discovered that our co-op employers needs are basic. Here's what our employers identified:
- smooth efficient processes;
- easy to arrange interviews;
- clear, continual information; and
- advance notice of deadlines, reminders.
Much of what we learned reinforced that we are on the right track in delivering quality customer service to our co-op employers. Many of the tips provided here are as basic as the employers' needs, but it is important to re-visit how we do things in this highly competitive environment.
Front line service:
- Hire the best people: recruitment of quality people is essential as this is the first impression of your office and operation.
- Have one dedicated telephone line for employers to call to make interview arrangements, etc.
- Change voice mail daily to manage employers' expectations about how quickly their call will be returned.
- Use voice mail as a back up: ensure front line personnel pick up telephone lines for other members of the co-op office within a specified number of rings, e.g. after three rings.
- Hours of operation: ensure hours meet the needs of the business community which may mean hours that differ slightly from the educational institution's norm to ensure coverage.
Communication regarding postings and interviews:
- Ensure sufficient lead time (but not too much time) when sending out Invitation to Recruit, e.g. 3 weeks.
- Provide easy means for employer to respond to Invitation to Recruit, e.g. fax-back form, e-mail address, or web posting information.
- Confirm receipt of posting and outline next steps in the process, important dates or request additional information, e.g. confirmation fax.
- Reiterate interview dates and relevant deadlines (i.e. when employer rankings must be submitted) when forwarding students' resumes.
- Provide easy means for employer to make interview arrangements, e.g. interview fax-back form with check boxes for selected candidates and needs such as length of interviews, dates, etc.
- Confirm interviews arrangements as soon as students have been scheduled and outline arrangements for on campus parking, interview room, etc., e.g. fax confirmation or e-mail.
- Follow up with employers who haven't interviewed a few days before the end of the interview period.
- Remind employers about deadlines such as Ranking Sheets with sufficient notice to allow them to meet the deadlines.
- Confirm matches or acceptance of offers with employers as soon as possible, e.g. telephone message.
- Confirm non-matches with employers as soon as possible, e.g. telephone message or fax.
- Provide suggestions for alternate means to fill an unmatched position, e.g. re-post or referral to another co-operative education program.
- Ensure students follow up with their new co-op employer to thank the employer for the opportunity within 10 days.
- Ensure students are informed about where and when interviews are taking place.
- Ensure parking arrangements are easy for interviewers.
- Greet employers and provide coffee, directions, etc.
- Provide raking sheets and reiterate process and deadlines.
- Thank employers for coming on campus.
Communication during the Co-op Term:
- Thank employer for hiring student and outline objectives before the student starts, e.g. confirmation letter.
- Contact employer to determine how the co-op term is going and set stage for the work site visit, e.g. e-mail greeting 4 weeks into term.
- Arrange work site visit 6-9 weeks into co-op term.
- Provide employer with Employers Evaluation 12 weeks into co-op term.
- Thank employer for hiring co-op students, e.g Letter, Christmas Card, e-mail
- Provide information important to employers e.g. CAFCE Co-op Student of the Year Nomination Information.
By evaluating our service to our employers, we re-visited why we do what we do and how we exceed this client groups' needs. We discovered that small changes can make a significant difference. Our e-mail four weeks into the co-op term is new and has resulted in a lot of positive feedback from employers and has encouraged more two-way communication between our co-operative education coordinators and the employers. In fact, we introduced a similar e-mail to co-op students to the same positive results.
The positive relationships we have with co-op employers is integral to providing our students with valuable learning experiences. Paying attention to the small things and asking employers what they need from a service perspective, not just in terms of students' skill set, make a difference. For us, the return on our investment in service delivery has positive results. Sixty percent of our co-op employers have been our educational partners for more than 3 years and forty-seven percent recruit only from our university with an even higher percentage stating they recruit here first.