Administration and Finance

Quality Service Annual Report 2011


David W. McLaughlin, Provost  
  Michael Alfano, Executive Vice President  
Nancy Morrison, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives and University Life  
  Marc Wais, Vice President for Student Affairs  
Patricia Carey, Associate Dean for Student Affairs  
  Robert Knight, Associate Dean for Administration and Finance  
  Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development  
August 1, 2011  
Quality Service at NYU Steinhardt  

We are pleased to submit the first annual report on quality service at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.  Associate Deans Patricia Carey and Robert Knight were appointed as the Quality Service Advocates for Steinhardt and are providing the leadership for the quality service initiatives at the School. 

In order to implement a quality service self-audit for Steinhardt and prepare our report, we engaged Rita Kowalski, an organization development specialist, to help us plan a “Quality Service Dialogue Day” for Steinhardt students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders.  The Steinhardt Office of Administration and Finance formed a Planning Committee consisting of five members from Administration and Finance and one from the Office of Student Affairs. Working with the facilitator, the Planning Committee met for the first time on June 10, 2011 to plan the Dialogue Day which took place on July 22, 2011.


Because we wanted to explore customer service at its best, the underlying approach taken was Appreciative Inquiry (AI).   AI “involves the discovery of what gives ‘life’ to a living system” when it is most “effective and alive.” AI makes the assumption that “every organization has something that works well and these strengths can be the starting point for creating positive change (Cooperrider, Whitney, & Slavroa, 2003, p. 3).  Utilizing AI, the Dialogue Day provided an opportunity where administrators, faculty, staff and students from across the Steinhardt-NYU community could meet to explore strengths existing in its service and delivery system.

The Planning Committee had a question to answer as it thought about the design for the Quality Service Dialogue day. It was: “How do we engage as many people as possible to help begin a conversation about Quality Service at Steinhardt?” To prepare for the Dialogue day, the Planning Committee agreed to collect data from Steinhardt. Members of the Planning Committee and staff in Administration & Finance would conduct interviews with customers. In addition, Administration & Finance would send a survey to customers so it could get input from more of its customers throughout Steinhardt. 

The Administration & Finance staff interviewed customers (Attachment A) and administered a survey to 146 individuals (28 faculty, 26 administrators, 16 staff and 76 students). Data generated provided ideas for future actions and helped to create a better understanding of the Quality Service concept. Several patterns emerged from a preliminary review of data.

The Human Side of Customer Service: The following are a few examples of descriptions provided in the survey and during the interviews which depict the human side of customer service. These include actions showing support and caring and an interest in the person. The service provider listened and took action, solving the problem.

“I have experienced very good quality service from the Steinhardt IT professionals. Whenever I've had a problem or question, I've gotten prompt and friendly feedback, and they always took any measures necessary to fix the problem (go to a supervisor, do research, etc.).  I never had to contact them repeatedly to get help - they do a good job of making their "customers"" feel heard and responding quickly and appropriately.”

“As commencement approached, I found that I could not find the information I needed with regard to arrangements for attending commencement--in fact the information I could find seemed to be confusing or almost contradictory regarding attire, transportation, etc.  When I went to the … office in search of a person who might answer my questions, despite the craziness of the time for staff, [X} did not hesitate to give me her email and a promise to follow up, which she did by figuring out who in the school or university would have the answers and forwarding the information to me.    What struck me about the incident was [her] attitude that my seemingly small, but stress-creating situation, was worthy of her immediate professional attention as a member of the NYU community.  I had no previous relationship with her and yet felt treated as if she saw her responsibility as providing ""quality service"" to anyone in need.”

Resources: The respondents discussed the availability of resources and facilities. While they discuss the need to improve such things as the availability of lockers or the need to improve equipment such as computers or laptops, the comments also point to a need to be aware of customer needs that for them are critical. The comments around booking rooms, practice rooms and rehearsal space are examples.

“More practice rooms and rehearsal space. MORE performance space. With how good the student body and faculty is, it is a huge shame to waste such talent on inaccessible spaces.”

“Booking space requires a comprehensive overhaul.  Identifying contacts is a challenge.  There is an inappropriate sense of ownership and protectionism regarding spaces. “

Communication and Transparency: Many comments cluster around communicating and being transparent about procedure, policies, hours of operation, and the status of actions (e.g. payments, reimbursements). Consistency and being able to find and access information also surfaces. The following are a few examples.

“I have been told different things about the hours of the building, the hours of different rooms, and the different information session you need to take in order to use equipment.  What qualifies one semester changes the next.  I run around to try to find out what’s going on, and all the people in charge tell me someone else is in charge.  I never get anything solved. There should be clear rules so that students do not have to run around to get their questions answered.”

“The website also needs updating, there are links that don’t work, or links to forms that are outdated, someone should be responsible for keeping everything up to date, it’s the first way many prospective students are introduced to NYU”.

Processes: During the interviews and in the survey, people mentioned they need to improve processes such as registration, reimbursement, and reserving rooms and workflow within and between organizations. The previous discussion of resources included comments about booking space. While process improvement is an important part of Quality Service there appears to be an issue around the consistency of experiences involving the same processes.

“There is an individual in X who takes the time to call you if there are some minor errors in your paper work, like a typo of a number, change the account.  This person goes out of her/his way so that your paperwork doesn’t get send back and delayed.”

Relationships and Behavior: A strong pattern woven throughout the interviews and the survey responses focuses upon respect, courtesy, appreciating contributions and acknowledging value and importance. This pattern relates back to the Human Side of Quality Service, and seems to be dealing with important values in interactions.

“It would be extremely helpful if NYU provided better financial aid guidance. I have never experienced a more chaotic run around with the … s office.  Many of the employees … are not willing to go out of their way to answer my questions. I have had to go back there at least seven times. Many of my cohorts have had similar experiences. “

As a result of the preliminary review of data, the Planning Committee decided that there were two assumptions that would guide the design of the Quality Service Dialogue Day.

  • Students are the reason Steinhardt exists.
  • How WE (Administrators, faculty, staff, and students) treat each other affects the results WE achieve.

These assumptions align with the comments respondents to the survey made when asked to complete the following sentence: “I would be able to say that NYU Steinhardt provides the best quality service if……” A few of the response follow:

“… I could count on timely responses to requests (even if to simply acknowledge that a query has been received, or a problem is being addressed). Requests often have to be sent several times and have to be cc'ed to supervisors in order to get.”

“…all of its members feel valued.

“...I could spend more time problem-solving for the research faculty I work with, and less time tracking paperwork as it makes its way through accounts payable or various other university-level offices.

“Everyone acknowledges without the students, we would not have a job.”

“I felt that services were more integrated. There is too much disciplinary separation.”


Seventy two people attended the Quality Service Dialogue Day that was held on July 22, 2011. The Planning Committee assigned people to tables with the intention of bringing a variety of perspectives to the discussions. As a result, the small groups consisted of faculty, administrators, staff and students from different departments and organizations. There was also representation of NYU staff from outside of Steinhardt. (See Attachment B for a copy of the agenda.)

The Quality Service Dialogue Day was highly interactive and used a series on interviews that were done in pairs, small group discussions, and large group discussions. The participants engaged in two rounds of discussion each of which involved sharing the interview with the people assigned to the table and a discussion that identified common threads and an activity that resulted in feedback to the larger group.

The first round of interviews focused on the service provider and asked him or her to describe a Moment of Appreciation, a time when a customer thanked him or her for a service. (Attachment C is a copy of the interview protocol). The tables were then asked to share a story, identify characteristics that the stories shared, and indicate how the stories added to their understanding of quality service.

Characteristics mentioned included listening, accessibility, creativity, going the extra mile, being proactive, sincere and having a dual impact (both the provider and the receiver). The comments about how the stories added to their understanding of quality service included: understanding impact, how our own attitudes can be part of the problem, connecting people to each other, and having knowledge of NYU. Attachment D documents the comments each group made.

The second round of interviews focused on the customer. The interviews asked the person to describe a time he and she was a customer and received quality service, to describe what the “word” respect when shown in a service interaction, and to imagine being in the future when Steinhardt would be looked at as an exemplar of Quality Service and indicate what specific actions were taken to make that happen.  Instead of doing a narrative report of the discussion, the participants were asked to create a movie poster depicting their story of Quality Service. Some of the resulting posters are found in Attachment E.

When each table presented their posters, they also suggested initiatives that Steinhardt and individuals and groups in Steinhardt could take. These initiatives included collecting and sharing best practices from other schools, being a culture of feedback, showing respect, and acclimating new employees (Attachment F).

The feedback obtained from the participants included acknowledging the value of meeting people in different roles, different departments, and different organizations, since they never had a chance to interact. They also found moving from interviews, to small group discussions, and then to the larger group effective. Most indicated they felt they did not have enough time, had suggestions for improving the interviews, and wanted the opportunity to follow-through in developing initiatives and finding out what actions resulted from the conference. Many suggested having additional sessions during the new school year. Many indicated that they would focus on their own behavior and would share what happened at the Dialogue Day with others in their organization. See Attachment G for a copy of the evaluations.


•             The survey did collect data for review. It is interesting to note that the Office of Student Affairs is already beginning to map its processes to help new employees.  This issue emerged from the Dialogue Day; it also emerged in the survey. Likewise, initiatives mentioned in both the Office of Administration and Finance and in the Office of Student Affairs, will deal with websites. The survey, the interviews, and the Dialogue Day identified access to information and the websites as areas for action.

•             The Planning Committee in its emerging role as a Project Team should move ahead in communicating with participants and telling those who did not attend what happened at the session.  Additionally, this Project Team should help monitor and identify initiatives coming from the Dialogue Day. It may be possible to tap some of the participants in these efforts.

•             Developing a common understanding of Quality Service from the perspectives of the provider and receivers is something that should continue. The pre-conference interviews and the pre-conference survey suggested that the term “Quality Service” is abstract. The Quality Service Dialogue Day provided the opportunity to share stories across the Steinhardt community. Since the stories described interactions that the participants felt described Quality Service both from the perspective of the service provider and service receiver, they should help Steinhardt develop a shared meaning and understanding of Quality Service.  While the stories often deal with a process or a procedure, they describe the behaviors and emotions that bring Quality Service to life; this effort should continue.  They could also provide data that could become part of workshops and staff development efforts at Steinhardt as well as provide Steinhardt with a language for talking about Quality Service.

•             Forming user groups for a process as a result of the Customer Service Dialogue Day, or connecting existing user group to the Customer Service Dialogue Day, might be a way to meet operational needs and to emphasize the importance of Quality Service to users of services across departments and offices.  Becoming explicit in connecting such work with Quality Service is important.

•             Exemplars of Quality Service exist.  The survey and interviews included organizations (e.g. Penn State,) that may have practices, processes, and policies that support Quality Service. This is worth pursuing with partners in Steinhardt and NYU. It may prove helpful to look beyond education. Health Care is one field to explore, since in many ways a large medical center which delivers care, teaches, and conducts research has the complexity which exists in the Steinhardt NYU community.