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Redefining the Customer Experience at CU-Boulder

Redefining the Customer Experience at CU-Boulder

A program to manage the student dining experience helps CU-Boulder solve customer traffic and satisfaction problems.

Even as CU-Boulder dining services has adopted a highly analytical approach to quality improvement, it has not neglected the “softer” benefits that come from measuring and managing the customer experience. That responsibility falls to Janice Torkildsen, a 25-year veteran of the department who has worked as a manager throughout its dining operations.

These days she manages marketing and the customer experience for both housing and dining services. “Our goal is to send our customers on a journey that makes them feel welcomed, satisfied and well fed,” she says. “We want everyone who dines with us to have a sense of being respected, cared for and heard from the moment they enter our dining centers to beyond them.

“I do a presentation at student orientation that's titled, ‘This is Not Dorm Food!’ We put a lot of effort into designing experiences for our customers, training staff to deliver those experiences, and making them accountable for the experience our customers have.

For example, Torkildsen has been closely involved in helping manage the impact C4C's opening has had on other dining venues, where participation at some were negatively affected in significant ways. The nearby dining center at Farand Hall saw the most dramatic drop, from about 2000 meals a day down to 700, a level that was not financially sustainable.

In response, the department re-engineered Farrrand's menus and service model, re-positioning that location as the campus' “all-organic and natural” dining venue and a menu to match.

“We invested a few hundred dollars in modest props and signage to give it a ‘farm fresh’ feel and spent a weekend turning it into “Fresh at Farrand,” Torkildsen says.

Within weeks, participation was back up to over 2000 meals a day, capitalizing on the interest of those in the student population with a particular interest in organic and natural foods.

“Our annual NACUFS customer satisfaction survey revealed an increase of over 30 percent from last year at this location,” she adds.

Torkildsen also coordinates a team that creates and manages the visual content of the immense, 200 sq.ft. “Wow Wall” mounted 15 feet above the entrance to the C4C dining center. It features an integrated set of 16, 46-inch matrix LCD displays to display moving video created internally using Adobe After Effects and web-based Animoto software.

It is used to broadly promote the particular strengths of dining operations on other parts of the campus. This is the first year the program has accepted credit cards in its dining centers and in doing so, has seen participation from a much broader swath of the campus community, as well as the city of Boulder.

In furthering the mission of the C4C, “we've been embracing other communities in the area,” she says. “Our kosher station is visited by rabbis from the Jewish community on a regular basis, and it is not uncommon on Friday night to see 25-30 people from the local Persian community taking advantage of that dining station.

“We've also had groups from local retirement communities come to thes dining center as a field trip for lunch!” she says.

“Functionally, that means talking and connecting with our customers a lot. And yes, we do have 5,000 residents here — but how each one of them feels really does matter to us. In a nutshell, my job is to ensure that we listen and respond to them.”

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