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Efforts toward betterValley service

February 11, 2002|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer

There is widespread belief in the Imperial Valley that customer service has not always earned high marks or even passing grades.

Addressing that issue, Imperial Valley College will shortly be launching a customer service academy.

College President Gilbert Dominguez says there is a "real need" for such a program in the Valley and he is enthusiastic about the success of the program.

A team from IVC studied similar programs at Merced Community College and Grossmont Community College in El Cajon before formulating its own curriculum.

IVC initially will be offering the course to local businesses and their staffs, with an estimated start date of April.

A prototype of the course was run recently with 12 staffers from a local company participating.

"We've had some excellent feedback from the course participants," Dominguez said.

Dominguez anticipates the course will be approved for unit credits in the 2002-2003 college year.

Ben Solomon, director of the Imperial Valley Small Business Development Center, says he thinks the customer service academy will be "a great opportunity for the Valley … there's a real dire need here for it."


Solomon said with customer service courses being offered at IVC comes a recognition of the subject's importance.

"This will serve to elevate the subject of customer service," Solomon said.

Large companies doing business in the Valley typically have their own in-house training programs.

Carmen Madrid, personnel manager at Calexico Wal-Mart, explained how her company's employees are involved in ongoing training from day one on the job.

"They spend the first week on the job sitting at a computer in the staff training office before they ever set foot on the retail floor," said Madrid.

According to Madrid, the training does not end with the donning of the ubiquitous blue sales associate jacket.

"From the store manager down, we all receive ongoing training and there is a heavy emphasis on customer service," said Madrid.

Along with IVC, there is another educational entity in the Imperial Valley working hard to better prepare students to work in service-oriented businesses. It is the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program.

IVROP Program Assistant Lupe Garcia spoke about courses offered by her agency that include a sizable customer service element.

"In our community occupations class, along with keyboarding and computer skills, we teach customer service and we emphasize telephone communication skills," Garcia said.

The banking and finance occupations course is heavily slated toward customer service.

Business instructor Greg Smith estimates in the retail trades course offered by IVROP, 10 to 15 percent of course time is taken up with customer service training.

"We teach our students how to handle a variety of customer issues and we do emphasize that they learn to be proficient when dealing with customers over the phone," Smith said.

In many of IVROP's courses, students will spend the first six to eight weeks in the classroom and then will be placed in a local store or business for what is called "community classroom" training. Students spend four days a week on-site and one back in the classroom each school week.

Garcia is enthusiastic about the on-site placement program, saying, "Our students learn the ropes of what it's like to work in that environment. They are actually getting hands-on training by shadowing their instructor."

Garcia said often a student goes on to be hired by the business that hosted the student for community classroom training. She said the program offers "tangible benefits for potential employers as well as students."

IVROP has conducted staff recruitment and training courses for companies as diverse as Garcia Foods to a newcomer to the Valley, the Brawley Beef plant.

"We work with companies and businesses to work out what programs we need to formulate to help them," she said.

Garcia said her organization meets with Valley employers twice yearly to ascertain what training they want for current and future employees. IVROP also connects with businesses new to the Valley and those anticipating doing business here.

"They are the ones who will be hiring our students, so obviously we want to listen to them," Garcia said.

Yoli G. Cordero, co-owner of Garcia Foods, which has grocery stores in El Centro and Calexico and soon will open one Brawley, said "customer service has long been ignored here in the Valley and of the three key elements in retailing, service is the most important."

Cordero suspects many local businesses are not aware of programs available at the state and federal levels to assist them with recruiting and training of employees.

For further information on IVROP programs, visit the Web site at

>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or

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