Customer Satisfaction Front and (Chao) Center
Here is the latest installment of the Up Close series, featuring the day-to-day work of the School and the people who do it.
17 Apr 2018   Carol Mervis

When it comes to service management, Harvard Business School practices what it teaches.

Look at a list of our cases and articles and you’ll find keywords and phrases such as “customer service excellence,” “employee empowerment,” and “service quality” embedded in numerous teaching and learning materials developed by our faculty. These materials are used in courses and programs here and at other schools and organizations worldwide, and the principles and lessons they provide come to life for the School as well, in the way customer experiences are managed on campus.

In our Executive Education programs, for example, managers and high-level executives attend from around the globe attend and expect a world-class experience. Providing this experience is crucial to the School’s success, since satisfied participants serve as brand ambassadors and recommenders when they return to their organizations.

In a six-month period, over 5,000 participants check in to campus facilities for programs that last from a few days to several weeks. When a program begins, it’s commonplace for nearly 90 people to converge at the front desk of the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center in the course of just an hour, excited to begin their experience and full of questions about what lies ahead.

When the Chao Center was in the planning stages for a 2016 opening, it provided an opportunity to rethink the service model for Executive Education. Prior to Chao:

Participants checked in to one of three residence halls—Esteves, McArthur, and Tata-- and guest services staff, responsible for participants’ needs beyond academics, joined the program delivery team in each of those facilities when programs were in session. Trouble was, participants didn’t understand who did what, resulting in confusion and some duplication of effort.

Service levels were not aligned with the high expectations of participants, who expected the kind of service they’d get at a 5-star hotel.

No staff members were onsite for after-business hours assistance.

There were no central systems for managing and tracking participant requests.

Guest services staff managing just one residence hall had limited knowledge of what was going on in other programs.

With Chao in a prime location for participant arrivals and designed with a large, welcoming lobby, Nancy DellaRocco, Executive Director of Executive Education, and the program delivery management group envisioned a desk and team, front and center in Chao, that would provide top-notch concierge services. This would free up program delivery staff to focus on managing the learning experience for participants.

A team of people from units around the School, including campus planning and operations, collaborated to bring Nancy’s vision to life. The resulting model is a guest services team of 13 centrally located at the Chao Reception Desk to provide “one-touch” service. The desk is staffed Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday to Sunday until 9 p.m., with a security guard based there in the overnight hours to respond to participant issues such as lockouts and illness.

Senior Guest Services Manager Meredith Keaney, who has a strong background in hotel management, says it’s more common for academic institutions to contract these services out to a hospitality management company. But according to Meredith, “the primary advantage to doing it all in-house is the dedication and institutional knowledge of HBS staff.”


In addition to their duties at the beginning and end of more than 60 open-enrollment programs and 70 custom programs, team members are ready and able to tend to concierge services, housekeeping requests, package mailings and deliveries, campus tours, and more. They also help with broader community events in Chao while assisting other HBS staff who use the building for meetings and special occasions.

Post-program participant evaluations reflect the immense customer satisfaction under the new system, with ratings soaring to 4.9 out of 5.0.

A sampling of written comments flesh out this success story:

“Absolutely first class. HBS is to be congratulated for the level of support provided.”

“Better than a 5-star hotel.”

“Professionalism, helpfulness and friendliness seem pervasive in the culture.”

“Like we preach to our own employees, ‘Respond to customer issues with surprising speed.’”

“This staff is like at the Oberoi Hotels. They know the schedules and motivate you each morning to keep going and have a Harvard experience.”

“The team is exceptional. From the folks who make the bed to those who work in the kitchen to those who staff the desk…they’re up there with the best in the world!”

We asked Guest Services about some of their most memorable requests:

“We had a visually impaired person attend with a seeing eye dog, and we helped train the dog on how to get to class and find its way around campus. We even went out and bought dog food!”

“We had a request for a sleep apnea machine, because the participant wasn’t able to bring one on the airplane. We asked for help from a technician at Harvard’s sleep lab, who brought one over and fitted it to the individual.”

“One participant notified us before arriving that he was allergic to carpeting and requested that it be replaced in his room with flooring. Unable to do that but anxious to accommodate, we had the carpet thoroughly shampooed and topped with six layers of plastic wrap. The participant was happy with this alternative and was able to rest comfortably in his room.”


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