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We are NDSU Extension Service: Customer Focus (10/8/2015)

This is the eighth in a series of blog posts to highlight key information about our Extension organization’s culture. The focus of this post is customer focus which we will address using four questions.

Is customer focus a primary concern throughout the organization? 

For the NDSU Extension Service, customer focus should be a huge priority. From “7 Habits” training, we are advised to “Put first things first.” Customers are our “first thing” and Extension’s mission is to serve the needs of North Dakotans. By any name, whether they are called clientele, stakeholders, contacts, audience, youth or citizens, we serve them.

As a result, staff can be challenged in responding to all these requests, but isn’t this level of demand great. If requests exceed our capacity, it is hard to respond that we won’t do a specific program or service. In this scenario, an advisory council can help you set program priorities. County commissioners, commodity boards and even supervisors who understand your programs can help with responding to client demands if they exceed your time.

Do we understand the needs of our customers?

Needs assessment should be a continual part of Extension programming. Agents, educators and assistants have their finger on the pulse of local community needs. Specialists receive input from commodity and constituent groups on broader state-level issues. Program teams are responsible for identifying district and state needs. Right now, Extension is listening to citizens from around the state at 11 community forums. We believe Extension is organized to receive input on the needs of our customers. 

Extension values the diverse audiences that we serve, including underserved audiences. We need to periodically step back and consider if we are reaching and truly listening to these audiences. Do we make a conscious effort to engage them as we should?  

Are employees committed to responding to customers’ ever-changing needs?

Our customers’ needs continue to evolve. The demographics in the state are also changing. In response, Extension is using creative ways to reach the people in North Dakota that are almost as diverse as the people themselves. We strive to use technology effectively.

Solving the problem is not always the answer the client is looking for. Having them work with you to find a solution to their need is a win-win approach that will benefit the client as well as the agent or specialist. 

We also seek partnerships in serving our customers since this is an effective way to develop programs. Whether it’s county commissioners or others in the community (place or interest based), support of Extension by the local and state leaders is paramount to success of any of the agents or specialists.  

Are we delivering educational programs that our customers value?

Providing accurate, up-to-date and timely information is critical for the success of Extension. People will “pay” for things they find valuable. If we develop programming and disseminate a product that our customers need, want and are willing to “pay” for, we have reached our goal. “Payment” may take many forms beyond registration fees. It may be support of Extension with decision makers at the county, state or agency levels.

For Extension, part of customer focus is accountability. Accountability also takes many forms. Accomplishments, achievements and successes need to be communicated to county commissioners, commodity groups and agencies, campus departments and colleges, SBARE, state and federal legislators, our federal NIFA partners, and the public. Our funding—salary and operating budgets—is directly in their hands. Market yourself as Extension and market Extension programs.

Jay Fisher, District/REC Director and Todd Weinmann, ELT Intern and Extension Agent

Next up: Organizational Learning

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