An Educational Enterprise
When public school budgets dip and money is tight, supportive services often feel the effects right away.
Beginning around 2006, when school systems across the state of Oregon were in difficult financial times, printing was curtailed. According to David Hughes, manager of Auxiliary Services for Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, OR, his in-plant's total number of impressions dropped approximately 31 percent over six years.
Hughes says the cuts didn't just affect his in-plant, though. Oregon has a system of Education Service Districts, commonly referred to as ESDs. These operations exist to provide supportive services to school districts that may not have the means to supply them. Many ESDs offered printing, and Hughes explains that during this time, some of these print shops were closed.
Starting the Rebound
Salem-Keizer School District is the state's second largest, with 66 schools and and approximately 42,000 students. It serves the cities of Salem, Oregon's capital, and Keizer, which borders Salem to the north.
Hughes says he came on board in November of 2011, toward the end of the in-plant's slide in impressions. He explains that when he arrived, Auxiliary Services was not struggling due to customer dissatisfaction; rather, overall budgetary issues were forcing the district to rethink its spending.
"It wasn't an issue that we were in crisis as an operation and people were leaving us," he states. "We were seeing reductions, but there was certainly some impact just based on the economy."
Auxiliary Services, which includes Reprographics and Mail Services, falls under the umbrella of the district's Business and Support Services Department. The entire department and the 15-employee in-plant conducts its business under the E3 model, or Enhancing Educational Excellence.
Within this concept is the attitudinal approach that the entire department takes in providing its various services. Hughes says the in-plant has taken this initiative to heart, and part of its rebound has been due to the customer-centric approach of E3 and how it stresses putting the educational needs of the students first.
The Voice of the Customer
Aside from producing quality work, Hughes says one of the most important jobs his in-plant has is to discover themes in its customers' needs and figure out a way to address them. For example, through multiple face-to-face interactions with customers about how the in-plant could better serve them, Hughes uncovered a desire for wide-format printing capabilities. This made it an easy decision to start printing posters and banners, many of which are now hung throughout the district.
"One of the themes we heard through conversations we were having with folks is, 'What about wide-format banners?' " Hughes says. "So we said, 'Let's get into the banner business.' Through one of our ESDs that closed, we were able to acquire some equipment, and we were able to get into the wide-format banner business."
Hughes says taking this customer-centric approach not only allows the in-plant to better assess what it should be prioritizing for its customers, but also makes Auxiliary Services more approachable for the district's other employees. This is why, when Hughes arrived at Salem-Keizer, he implemented some staff realignment to improve customer service. One important move, he says, was instituting a customer service representative (CSR) on the front lines. Some of the goals in doing this, he explains, were that when customers call into the front desk with a question, they do not need to wait for their call to be transferred elsewhere. The team that answers the phone will likely have the answer, making for a much faster process.
Other customer-focused tasks that CSRs take on include meeting with customers face-to-face every week to see if their needs are being met. When needed, the CSR can also provide training on how to use EFI Digital StoreFront, the in-plant's job submission software.
"We're really engaged with trying to listen to our customers," Hughes explains. "They don't know our business, so they don't tell us what to do. But if we really listen to them, we can figure out what they need or want, and then we figure out how to do it."
An Educational Approach
As an in-plant, Hughes says Auxiliary Services is about much more than providing printed products and reliable mailings. Though his department may not be situated in the classroom, as employees of the school district, he says he and his staff make supporting the education of Salem-Keizer's students its highest priority.
Part of this approach is determining areas where the in-plant can step in to provide services that can lead to the faculty and volunteers spending more time with students in their respective buildings.
One example Hughes points to is an issue the district's middle and high schools were having with their progress reports. He explains that every six weeks, these schools send out a report to parents and guardians