Improving Higher Ed Customer Service In A Siloed IT Culture

About The Client

The client was a two-year community/technical college that offers more than 65 associate degree, diploma, and certificate programs for students who are either seeking quick entry into the workforce or desiring to transfer to a senior institution to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

The community college’s IT department has approximately 30 employees who serve both internal (staff and faculty) and external (students) customers.


The VP of IT at the community college sought out solutions for organizational re-development with an emphasis on improving team dynamics and culture. Due to leadership changes three years prior, the VP was experiencing push back and resistance from long term team members who perceived him as an outsider and “cleaner” (change agent that creates fear for their job security); the prior leader was at the helm for 40 years.

Specifically, the desired outcomes discussed included soft skills that impact behavior change in the following areas:

  • Accepting/Dealing with change
  • Handling feelings/emotions to become self-empathetic and more effective communicators
  • Handling feedback
  • Dismantling gossip and toxic relationships
  • Improving personal accountability
  • Improving collaboration and team mindset

The department continued to be challenged with a bad reputation as ineffectual and slow to adapt.

Other challenges contributing to ineffectiveness and performance issues included:

  • Tiered compensation culture
  • Nepotism
  • Lack of experience outside of the college
  • Lack of exposure to life outside of the community


Pivot10 Results (P10) proposed immediate and custom training/team building over five months (one session per month) to address the most recent departmental changes that were causing tension, silos and ineffective productivity, in addition to improving soft skills for better performance results.

P10 also proposed executive coaching and consulting in tandem with training to improve the organizational health of this department and to ensure the ROI of training.

This coaching provided a foundation for leaders, including the VP, to improve their management skills, customer service delivery, productivity, efficiency, goal setting, personal accountability and career growth. Staff without experience outside of higher ed or the geographical area were particularly affected by the program.

Along with five consecutive months of training and coaching, P10 developed homework for each session to ensure continuous and retained learning and to track employee engagement. Employees were expected to submit homework through an online platform by specific dates prior to the next training session.

Data from homework was reviewed by P10 and the leadership team to identify potential issues in training that needed to be changed.

The custom, instructor-led training modules (2.5 hours each) included:

Session #1: EQ & You – interactive emotional intelligence training to improve self and social awareness, for the purpose of being more effective leaders who can communicate expectations and manage a variety of personalities.

Session #2: Personality Styles – this session was not in the original proposal but was added as Session #2 as a result of what was observed in Session #1. [What does it cover?]

Session #3: FANtastic Customer Experiences – interactive customer service training with a focus on “making customers look and feel good”; focus on both internal and external customers.

Session #4: Spontaneous Diffusion** – interactive customer service training for diffusing difficult situations, navigating difficult conversations, and improving team dynamics.

Session #4: Solve This** – interactive training session in creativity, critical thinking and problem solving for the purpose of getting employees to think differently as opposed to “this is how we’ve always done it”.

Session #5: That’s On Me – interactive training session in personal accountability and embracing failure without fear.

Session #6: Peer Presentations – this session was not in the original proposal and was added to allow employees to use skills learned during previous sessions, including many new strategies for improving performance and customer satisfaction. P10 suggested that some of the coaching hours be re-distributed to create this peer session, in which employees shared what they learned in the program by creating and delivering 10-minute interactive presentations to the department in pairs.

**Session #4 was originally two separate sessions that were combined to add the Personality Styles session.


Approximately 10% of the team were terminated during or at the end of training, contributing to a healthier culture

95% of employees completed homework on time, indicating training engagement and retention.

100% of employees delivered learning presentations at the end of the program.

Client Testimonial: “The biggest benefit of working with Pivot10 Results was having a recurring training program that allowed them to really get to know our team members on an individual basis and then adjust the training plan as needed to meet our needs for improvement.” – VP of IT

Overall results for the department included improved employee engagement, morale, productivity, and emotional intelligence. Additionally, other challenges uncovered during training and coaching sessions were identified and improved upon. Employees often shared more information with Gina Trimarco that leadership wasn’t aware of, despite their efforts to provide an “open door” policy.

Learning Environment – Each training session was designed to build on the prior session. Over time, this created trust and engagement between Gina Trimarco and the team, to the point that Gina was accepted as part of the department team – a result of her efforts to deepen connections and rapport with employees.

Coaching – Satisfaction surveys indicated a desire for other employees to receive coaching from Gina and questioned why only leadership had this opportunity. As a result, the coaching component of the program shifted to group coaching sessions to allow all employees to ask questions and get advice from Gina. With Gina’s facilitation, peer coaching organically resulted in these sessions, and created a new synergy with employees in different areas of the department.

Gina was able to identify employees who had the potential to be further developed, as well as employees who needed to be put on performance plans (and possibly terminated or re-assigned).

Silo Elimination – Silos began to diminish as a result of the entire team being in the same room together on six occasions, something that had never happened before. It became apparent that several employees didn’t know everyone in the department. Getting to know each other better created a greater sense of empathy for each other’s jobs.

Turnovers, Terminations & Performance Plans – Training and coaching provided an opportunity to document and confirm performance issues and problems that were surfacing. Having P10 as an observational third party accelerated role changes, terminations and geographical reassignments to different campuses. Approximately 10% of the team were terminated during or at the end of training, contributing to a healthier culture; terminations were in the forms of quitting to transfer to another department, employment contracts not being renewing, or dismissals due to lack of performance/competency, some of which came to light during training.

Homework – Homework submissions were key to measuring the training results and effectiveness. It revealed growth and transformation of 95% of the employees as they became more self and socially aware of emotions, personality types, individual needs and organizational needs.

Homework was captured on an online platform, which tracked required activities for ensuring sustainability. Some of the activities included:

  • Acts Of Awe – examples of actions taken to exceed customer expectations
  • Solving Problems – examples of creative problem solving
  • Letting Customers Vent – examples of actions taken to diffuse situations

The requirement of completing homework also shed light on behavior styles (who did not complete homework, patterns of when homework was completed, types of answers provided). 95% of employees completed homework on time, indicating engagement in training.

Learning Presentations – The last session of presentations showed tremendous growth in employees. They were given the option to make presentations in PowerPoint, Prezi, video, audio, skits, rap songs or anything else interactive they could come up with. Each presentation was to be 10 minutes, and presented by mentor/mentee pairs. Every pair truly “showed up” to display what they learned;. 100% of employees delivered learning presentations at the end of the program.

The look on the VPs face during these presentations was priceless. A follow up discussion with him revealed that he (as well as Gina) were pleasantly surprised by the class’ presentations.  The deeper side of employee personalities were displayed. It humanized them to another level.

  • Presentations were video recorded on Gina’s cell phone and displayed the variations of learning and retention in very creative ways, including one presentation done on video to the theme music of Star Wars.

Specific results revealed in the homework included:

Social Awareness – employees developed the ability to observe and read body language (reflective, defensive and responsive)

Emotional Intelligence – the employees learned how to apply learned strategies for identifying emotional triggers within themselves and other to improve and better control emotionality; more specifically, employees had never been exposed to the meaning of emotional intelligence and its foundation to building better relationships while personally and professionally developing themselves. Some employees shared that this specific training was helping them in their home lives.

Personality Types & Styles – employees learned of their personality styles (from the DISC assessment), how to best use their styles and how to recognize and leverage the styles of others.

Customer Service improvement – employees intentionally worked on improving their first impressions on others, learned how to go above and beyond by creating “acts of awe” and became mindful of jargon and slang that alienates internal and external customers. P10 encouraged the development of a department jargon glossary.

Diffusing situations and solving problems – employees learned how to stay ahead of conflict and creatively solve problems, in addition to learning how to let customers “vent”. All employees, through homework documentation, revealed that communication and active listening was key to their improvement in this area.

Personal Accountability & Time Management – employees learned how to own problems, not blame others, find accountability partners, set micro goals, calendar and prioritize tasks and eliminate time wasters and distractions.

Desired areas of improvement – employees shared that they wanted to continue to improve in the areas of professionalism, creating “acts of awe”, adapting to change, becoming proactive, staying calm, listening better, allowing others to vent, owning mistakes, identifying personal “failures”, following up with customers, work/life balance (as this has been impacting some of them in their roles) and organizational skills (time and task management).

Homework & Sustainability Results

“Acts Of Awe” – Real Examples …

  • “A student needed help with her financial aid forms and she had two toddlers and a newborn baby in her arms. While she was nursing her newborn baby, I helped her upload documents for her financial aid.  Within her form, she needed to type her explanation; it was already typed on a paper, I typed the information for her on the computer so it can be submitted. All this while she was breastfeeding her baby.  The student was nerves was on edge with the toddlers and needed further assistance which I provided.”
  • “We had a customer come into the center who had been struggling to find a schedule that would work for her. We found a section that would work with limited registration. I contacted the professor and we were able to add an extra seat to the class for the student.”
  • “When helping a user with updating the iOS on their iPhone they were asking about Apple CarPlay and connecting to their new vehicle. I had asked what vehicle they were referring to and found a step by step video on how to setup Apple CarPlay from the vehicle manufacturer’s website. I emailed them the link to the video. Upon finishing the original assistance I made them aware of the email that I had sent and told them if I could help in any other way to please let me know.”

Solving Problems – Real Examples …

  • “An instructor called from class because the touch panel displayed a connection error message and he could not utilize the projector. If this was not remedied immediately, he would have to cancel classes.  I reached out to Tier 2 to determine if the projector could be accessed remotely and it could, so we did ensure that the input was the instructor’s PC.  I called the instructor back to verify that his materials were projecting and inform him that the touch panel would be investigated when the room became available.  He was able to proceed with class.”
  • “I helped a student who just flew in from another state, whose father drove her straight to the college. I helped her fill out the college application and we were working on her financial aid when she hit a snag. Because of personal issues with her mother, which was why she flew here, she needed more information to fill out the financial aid application.  I told her and her father how to find the tax forms because they didn’t want to put the wrong information on the application.  I showed them that I saved the application and I will personally help them when they come back or if they feel comfortable doing it themselves at home.  They assured me they were coming back and will look for me since I was so helpful and informative.”
  • “There was a student that came in yesterday that needed to work on the online application. She seemed to struggle with simply inputting her address and I wondered why it seemed difficult.  She had checked the box for if address is outside of U.S. or Canada.  She was nervous.  Once I tried to calm her, she mentioned she was her dad’s caregiver.  I then let her know I totally understood her troubles since I was in the same boat caring for my mom.  We then made a connection and she was much more relaxed finishing that app and starting her FASFA.”

Letting Customers Vent – Real Examples …

  • “A student contacted us due to a non-cooperative instructor. He started off very agitated about how he was unable to complete assignments due to the confusing instructions posted by the instructor.  He carried on for almost 10 minutes.  I just listened and where appropriate I stated that I understood his frustration.  Once he somewhat calmed down, I asked him for the class name and section so I can view the documents he was referring to; after locating the class,  I explained and cleared up some of the confusion, then offered to reach out to his instructor to get clarification on the rest.  Before ending the call the student thanked me and apologized for going off. I assured him it was ok and I understand you’re just wanting to get your assignments completed.”
  • “I had a student come to my desk crying, saying she was kicked out of the testing center and did not know why. I got her calmed down and gave her some Kleenex and water. Once she calmed, I went to the testing center and spoke to Antonio,who explained the situation to me. I returned to the student and told her that she would need to talk to her professor about the test and the issue. I then sent an email to Antonio in the testing center and the professor letting both of them know what had transpired. She left calm and with a plan to correct the situation.”
  • “I was on the phone with a staff member in Financial Aid discussing an issue with HGTC’s administrative software and (seemingly) all of a sudden this individual begins to vent about not having a social life, not being able to date, etc (and the software was the reason for this). I just let this person continue talking and not interrupt or interject my thoughts/opinions.  Eventually this individual calmed down and we resumed discussing the initial issue.”

Recommendations for Next Steps …

P10 recommended that everyone on the leadership team continue with executive coaching and attend additional leadership training. It was evident that some were promoted with no real manager training and as such were inexperienced “people managers” .



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About the author

Gina Trimarco is a native of Chicago and CEO/Founder of Pivot10 Results and Carolina Improv Company. She has 25+ years of experience in marketing, sales, operations and people training. Gina combines street smarts and improv comedy skills with her experience in the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds, which sets her apart from her competition.

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