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Take a customer-service approach to youth programs

By Nancy Hegland

I recently heard a county commissioner talk about the importance of giving excellent customer service to county government customers. The same is true for youth programs. Youth, parents, volunteers, partners and external stakeholders are all customers and it's essential that we consistently serve them well.

How can we do this? We train all program and support staff in our organization on it. They learn to give our customers a welcoming and culturally relevant experience that exceeds their expectations. In youth development organizations, our varied customers have very different expectations.

I like the University of Minnesota Center for Tourism’s “At Your Service” training. It teaches the foundations of customer service, increases awareness of culture and how it affects customer service, and helps learners to feel confident and committed to providing superior customer service.

It's important to consider customers' needs. Have you thought about the customer service experience that people have with your organization?  What are the factors that go into providing an excellent customer service experience?

High-quality service has a four-part foundation. The At Your Service curriculum calls it the "Four As". They are:
  • Attitude: If you have a service attitude, customers will notice it. Remember, you are in complete control of your attitude. Maintaining an attitude of service that adapts to cultural differences in your customers will make a difference in their experience.
  • Attention: Customers crave and expect personalized attention. Pay attention to customers with good communications. Try to understand the customer, so that you can provide a memorable experience.
  • Appearance: What kind of first impression does your program site make? How about your office? Or your program’s website? Customers see many different aspects of your organization during their service experience.
  • Action: Take the initiative to serve each customer’s needs, putting together your attitude, attention, and appearance plus service standards.

We can all think of the excellent customer service experiences we have had and can probably remember ones that could have been better. It's important to ensure that your attitude, attention and appearance are put into action that makes your customer service a competitive edge. Focus on making a 1% change each day in your personal ability to provide high-quality service.

-- Nancy Hegland, Extension program leader

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  1. Coming from a background of customer service experience, I've always found the basics of CS to be important to every job I've held. I think we also need to engage the ideas of CS beyond just the scope of events/club meetings/experiences and extend it to questions of communication (when, how, how often). The Four As really play a role in everything we're doing for our youth and are great skills for them to take into the community and future.

    1. Same for me! I substituted in a public school district (office + classroom) and saw many opportunities to have better community relationships if the approach would have been from a customer service perspective!

  2. Great reminders Nancy! Youth and families have many options to spend their time, literally at their fingertips. The more helpful and memorable we can make all aspects of the 4-H experience, the more likely they will come back for more!

  3. Thank you for reminding those of us that work in youth development that we have to treat youth and adult volunteers as our customer base. It's important in 4-H to remember when staff are planning programming, events and training's that we consider our customer needs. More importantly, the impressions we leave when we interact with people is vital. It only takes one negative experience for youth and adults to walk away from our program and we need to work hard to prevent that from occurring.


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