Low Touch Tools to Support Instructors
My question specifically, is “what are some effective low-touch strategies to support instructors, when you have a small team.”
Due to my business administration and IT background, I find that coaching overlaps a lot with customer service. When I think of coaching, I think of high touch one to one or within a small group of learners, like a community of practice, exploring topics and partnering together to find solutions. It’s very intimate with a lot of opportunities to get to know each other and hopefully, form a long-term relationship. Customer service though, is how I deliver and respond to issues and resolve them and often, the ideal is something like coaching where it’s high-touch and very personal and the end goal is the same too – a partnership that forms a long-term relationship. In both cases, I want someone to feel like they can keep coming back and are always welcome.
However, there’s a very real problem with my desire and my ideal standard of what coaching or customer service can be. There’s only one of me and over 500+ instructors. How as a coach or even as a customer service person, get to know that many people to really understand their needs and be a partner? The solution isn’t going to be 30 minute or hour meeting with everyone, I would have to drop all projects, just to have meetings. In my opinion, not only is that not feasible, but it’s also inefficient and a waste of our instructor’s time and mine.
Concerns about Low-Touch
Before I write more, I think I should define what high touch and low touch service is. “The high touch definition includes strategy, which assumes hiring abundant customer service staff and providing personalized regular assistance… What about the low-touch customer service definition then? This approach depends mainly on providing access to an abundance of technical documentation and automated routines for every customer’s convenience (Yakhvan, K. 2021).” In my experience, high touch is being able to talk with a person or meet with them to discuss issues, whereas low touch will be the email response, it’s less personal and tends to be a much shorter interaction.
If it weren’t for my experience working at a help desk resolving IT issues, I would frown more at the idea of making EdTech low touch. I think Ronald Stair says this best in a Forbes article from 2019, “Whenever we are faced with a service issue, we are made to feel lost or helpless by the process of simply asking a person for help. This lack of human interaction crosses all industries, and it doesn’t discriminate. Try calling your doctor, bank, insurance company or cable company. Our expectation is always to first hear some voice response line and a whole host of gatekeepers and blockers that will prevent us from human contact. Once we get a person on the phone, they can be ill-equipped to solve our problem or seem as if they don’t care.”
I think this is a very real concern – the systems or hoops that we must jump through to reach a person, are supposed to make things easier, but sometimes they can be frustrating. How many times have I repeated something because the automated calling system can’t understand what I’m saying? Sometimes, I just want to get to the operator and then figure out where I need to go.
That said, I think low-touch can be human, just like the work done to make online courses humanized, I think it’s possible to balance high and low touch (even tech touch) and prevent systems that make me feel like I’m hitting barriers. In coaching world, it’s likely not a replacement for high touch, but I wouldn’t write off the capabilities just because it doesn’t seem human enough. I think the same strategies employed to make courses more human can be employed in low touch service tools like online wikis and ticket systems. Two of the most effective tools I have found thus far, to support me supporting the hundreds of instructors I want to work with each day.
Before launching into tools, I want to share a few guiding points that I use when I think about what tool to use for situations like this:
From my short list above, you can see my guidelines focus on providing customers or instructors in this case, agency and choice, a human interaction as much as possible, and by choosing singular systems to work out of most of the time, a way for multiple people to be “in the know” regardless of who answers the phone or helps someone if they drop into our office.
The five tools* I want to focus the most on are the following:
I use these three tools regularly to supplement someone dropping by, sending an email, or calling my team for support because we have a wide-range of types of requests from something is broken or not working in my class to it’s my first time teaching online and I don’t know where to begin. Here’s why I like these tools:
The wiki allows us to provide self-help when someone wants. Some people don’t have time and if a quick search can help locate what they need, then great! I do my best to write in a warm and inviting tone and we create videos and step-by-step instructions too. The wiki also works as a reference point, if someone has a question and we have it documented already, I can send the steps quickly.
Ticket tracking system
My team uses the same ticket tracking system that our IT office uses. Why? It allows us to work more collaboratively across our two teams to help people regardless of which office the call. It also tracks our communications and issues in one place. That way, if someone calls about an issue that my colleague helped with, I can go look up the issue and maybe find the resolution instead vs spending time having the person describe their issue again and starting the troubleshooting over from scratch. This hopefully saves time and shares info both with my colleagues and with the person who contacted us, creating more transparency, and allowing the person on the other side of the line to see and be in control of how things proceed and whether they’re satisfied with the results.
Our ticket tracking system also allow us to save common responses, so it can also save our team some time in looking up information, which we can then customize and tailor for a more appropriate response to the request.
I like online forms because they can be embedded, and it allows someone to fill out and submit an issue to us without opening their email or figuring out what email to send a message to. We have an online form linked in the top of our website and we receive a fair number of requests through the form. The submissions still arrive in our ticket tracking system, but by having the option of either a form, we’ve provided one more option for our instructors to decide how to interact with us.
Webinars are great options because we can share about a variety of topics and record them, but also have a small number or large number of participants. Provided the webinar has been designed to be interactive and allows those who participate to feel welcome, seen and heard as much as possible, I think our webinars have been successful. We post them on our website and email links to everyone, so they can watch on their own time and spend time only on the topics that are most relevant to their teaching.
Calendar self-scheduling tool
This is another self-help and agency providing tool that I like. We happen to use Microsoft Bookings and have a team calendar, so instructors can choose a date that works best for them and then find a staff member who’s available or if they have a particular person in mind to work with, they can look at that individual’s schedule and choose a time.
In some ways I wish the business world overlapped more with the EdTech world. Business is all about operationalizing processes and managing resources to be as efficient as possible because the goal is to make profit. Teaching and learning is not about making a profit, but if there are strategies that come from the business side that help free up time to focus on the more important aspects of teaching & learning, then I think it’s good for those lines to be blurred a little.
I strive to provide high touch interactions, I want each interaction with my team to be personable, timely, and effective. It’s why all of these options combined work together to provide support. We have a small team, prior to the pandemic we had two staff to support all of our instructors and now we have four. Since our team has grown, we’ve been able to meet even more and take on more ideas and projects and it’s exciting to be able to have time to do that. This gain in time isn’t just because we have more staff, but also because the tools we chose help support our staff too and help free up time for them to focus on projects or some of those moments when high touch is necessary.
*The technologies my team specifically use are the following: Atlassian’s Confluence, Atlassian’s Jira and Jira Service Management, Formstack, Zoom & Panopto for webinars and hosting recorded video, and Microsoft Bookings.
Stair, R. (August, 2019). Forbes. From low-to high-touch customer service. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesfinancecouncil/2019/08/15/from-low-to-high-touch-customer-service/?sh=4d9c0d5671c2
Yakhvan, K. (July, 2021). Wiserbrand. High touch vs low touch: The most modern customer management ideology. https://wiserbrand.com/high-touch-vs-low-touch-the-most-modern-customer-management-ideology/#high-touch