February 22, 2002

GCCCD hosting launch of customer service training academy

Tuition-free classes to be offered to businesses, employers

EL CAJON - In these days of a soft economy, when keeping customers happy is more critical than ever, the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District is introducing a tuition-free customer service training program to businesses and employers.

On Tuesday, Feb. 26, the district is kicking off a Customer Service Academy program made possible by a $250,000 state grant awarded to Cuyamaca College by the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office. A luncheon and a brief demonstration is set for 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Crystal Ball Room, 414 N. Magnolia Ave. in El Cajon.

Cuyamaca College, which has taken the lead in this regional project, is one of several community colleges in San Diego and Imperial Valley counties that soon will provide extensive customer service training to business owners, merchants, educational facilities, government agencies - any operation where workers serve or have contact with customers.

The regional academy will be available to employers in the communities served by the colleges and will offer a set of non-credit courses that each campus can offer on-site or at the businesses. In El Cajon, the East County Chamber of Commerce is also offering its boardroom as a training site.

"This effort by Cuyamaca College reflects a major goal of the district - to encourage partnerships between the colleges and the business community," said Chancellor Omero Suarez. "Time and again, these collaborations have proven mutually beneficial."

The community colleges in San Diego County offering the training are: Cuyamaca and Grossmont in the East County; MiraCosta and Palomar in the North County; the San Diego Community College District through its Employee Training Institute and Southwestern in the South County.

"The academy is responding to needs identified by the employer community and the curriculum will provide practical information and strategies," said Dr. Geraldine Perri, Cuyamaca College president. "The instructors are academically qualified to teach at the college level and all have real-world, in-the-trenches business experience."

The 54 hours of training, offered in three segments, cover areas such as customer relations, communication, conflict management, values and ethics, team building, decision-making, and time management.

Victoria Hankins, project specialist at Cuyamaca's training center at 500 Fesler Street in El Cajon, said the academy curriculum goes beyond just customer service training because issues like business ethics and decision-making can play a part in ensuring customer satisfaction.

"The more mechanized we become as a society, the more these types of skills are left behind," Hankins said. "Customer service is not just how we deal with the external customer. It's how we as human beings respect and relate to each other."

Employers and businesses that helped pilot the program include the ARCO Olympic Training Center and the Navy Exchange operation. Westfield America Inc., one of the nation's largest owners of regional shopping centers, also was involved in the pilot program and plans to send some of its San Diego County employees through the academy, Hankins said.

Another supporter of the training academy is Terry Saverson, president/CEO of the East County Chamber of Commerce, who will speak at the academy launching.

"I've reviewed the teaching material and spoken with academy leaders. I am convinced of the value of this program and the benefit it provides to the business community," Saverson said.

A group exercise is also planned to demonstrate what the Customer Service Training Academy offers. Each table of attendees will receive a list of ethics-related scenarios to discuss, first among themselves, then with the rest of the group. The material to be covered is offered in the business value and ethics portion of the training program.

The Academy gets under way locally March 6 and 13, when the East County Chamber of Commerce hosts the first series of classes, "Superior Service," from 5 to 8 p.m. at its office at 201 S. Magnolia Ave. in El Cajon.

Starting March 12, the classes will be offered from 2 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Cuyamaca College's training center on Fesler Street, where a call center and customer service-training program has already been operating since last spring. That program is primarily geared toward those who have yet to join the workforce or who are retraining for a new career.

For more information about any of the training programs or to reserve a seat for the classes, call (619) 593-3930.

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