Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How Much Does a Course Section Actually Costs and Should You Cancel it

The Real Cost of Class Sections
Imagine for a moment that you were in charge of an affair for hundreds of people. You made arrangements with the caterers months ago. They had given you a list of food you could choose
from. You chose it. Put down a deposit. Sent out invitations so people could attend. Chose all the necessary accouterments and all the arrangements. Took off a few days from work to be able to attend. Bought the guest books. Prepared fully.Then a few days before the affair, the caterer called and said that it was canceled because there were not enough guests to make it worthwhile. Sorry! Would you be upset? Likely so. Mad enough to spit and quit! Never use that caterer again.

Your school is that caterer most every semester, quarter and/or term when we cancel classes after registering students into them.

One of the greatest dis-services we provide students is during the scheduling of classes. Well, actually the non or re-scheduling of classes. Even more accurately, the canceling of classes during the last week or two prior to the start of classes.

We in higher education show absolutely no real concern for our students and the serfs we employ as adjuncts (more on this another time and how it effects service) when we decide to cancel a section late in the game. And we do this so very often. We have a very bad habit of waiting until the last week or two then determining that there aren’t enough students in section 8 so “off with its head! Cancel it. Screw up the lives and schedules of the students’ who registered for section 8. So what if they registered months ago and planned their lives and schedules (academic and personal) around the promised section. So what if they planned their work around the sections they chose and we let them believe they would have right up until now. If they have to choose between work and non-intellectual stuff like food and paying for tuition, they should realize what comes first! Our convenience and poor planning!! And if they don’t like it they should just quit their job and……. What’s that? They did quit. Not the job. School. Well, we were right to cancel their section. They really aren’t dedicated to learning enough to change their entire schedule, their life, job, arrangements with others, and all the things we were equally ticked about when we were students.”

Right! Just because we made an offer to them which they accepted and put down money for, that doesn’t mean we have a real contract because this is not the real world. Oh no. Don’t start with me on that. It isn’t. In the real world when you make an offer that is accepted and money passes hands, paperwork is filed that is an actionable contract. And in the real world, the one who breaks the contract is liable often for real money, or at least for some penalty. But in our world, it is the client who feels the pain and we wonder why they are angry and dropping out to go to another restaurant…uhhh school.

Most of the time, colleges and universities decide to cut a section for “fiscal reasons.” They believe there aren’t enough students in the section to make it fiscally reasonable. Colleges and universities just cut back on the number of course sections offered and then cull out sections with small numbers to save on the budget. They think that if they do not teach a low enrollment section, they will save money. Not really so as we’ll discuss below. Not simply because the calculations are wrong but because losing a student because of a cut section is just poor money management.

How many Students Does it Take to
Keep the Lights On?
 

For some reason, perhaps academic tradition, colleges and universities often use the number 10 as the required number of students enrolled in a section by a certain date to let a class go forward. That in itself befuddles fiscal and staffing realities.

Consider that the average number of adjuncts (i.e. part time indentured servants who get very low pay and no benefits. At least Wal-Mart gives its serfs a staff discount and $4 generic drugs and you don’t need advanced degrees to work there…) teaching course sections in the average college or university has risen to somewhere between 50% to 64% and could be more if figured by individual departments. That’s the number of adjuncts by the way, not the percentage of courses taught by them. That number is not available but could run as high as 75% considering some will teach as many sections as one section below full-time teaching loads, reductions in loads and such. And though I do not have but anecdotal information, it seems most of the introductory courses and required courses not taught by the newly hired junior, non-tenured, full-time faculty are taught either by adjuncts or T.A’s, i.e. part-time grad students who get tuition reduction and sometimes some pay too. So the odds are quite good that a course section especially required or introductory courses will be taught by a low-paid adjunct or T.A. How low paid? As low as possible. When $3,400 a section is like a princely sum. At $3,400 a section, an adjunct teaching 3 sections can make as much as $10,200 a semester!! Times two semesters that’s as much as $20,400 a year. There are hotel maids that don’t make that much though they do get tips which adjuncts don’t.

Now, I don’t mention the high pay of adjuncts alongside of the employment demands of advanced degrees for which many adjuncts are still paying off loans strictly for political reasons. No, that would be wrong! (Well, maybe not.) I bring this forward as part of a larger customer service point about the fiscal truths about canceling sections and pushing students to think very negatively about your college or actually quit. By the way, there have been many students who believe last minute class cancellations and bad advising are two methods used by schools to make them go additional semesters so they can make more tuition money. That’s absurd. We aren’t quite bright enough to do that as part of a business model. And I actually believe we do have more ethics and morals than to do that. We just do not have the right business thinking.

The Real Cost of Sections
All the above is to also question whether or not students are receiving the most important customer service of good teachers who are dedicated to their learning and available to assist them when they need help. Maybe not. But what the numbers show is that most courses in colleges and universities are being taught by underpaid, non-benefit receiving part-timers. Yes, some schools do provide some benefits and some adjuncts have unions to try to gain them better pay and benefits but to this point, it’s still serfdom for most. 

According to the College Board's article "Trends in College Pricing 2016" the average tuition costs were as follows:
Four-year private $33,480
Four-year public $9.650
Two-year public $3,520.

Now let’s assume that the average student takes 4 courses for twelve credits each semester or 24 credits a year. So the four-year private student pays $4,185 per course; (annual tuition and fees/24), four-year public $2,412.50 per course, and two-year public $440 per course in tuition for a three credit course; more for a four credit course. For public schools which do get some public financial support, tuition is not the only revenue source so the cost per course is actually lower for the student but to keep the paying field even, we’ll just figure tuition and fees.

Now, consider that the better paid adjuncts seem to get around an average $3,400 a course, no benefits. Most get less and some quite a bit less but for this discussion let’s use the high priced serf cost. That way we won’t be understating costs. So to equal pay for an adjunct at a two-year school would need just about 7.7 students in the section to break even; a four-year public college or university would call for 1.4 students and a four-year private would need just a torso, not even a full student. Granted there are associated costs but this should provide a general notion that the number of 10 in a section for fiscal responsibility is just wrong. You can of course really figure the particular break-even at your institution as follows with RPC equaling revenue per student per course; the annual tuition and fees divided by 24:

RPC = Tuition per student (revenue per student per course) x 3 (credits)
Cost of instructor per section = NUMBER OF STUDENTSRPC TO BREAK EVEN

If a school can break even in the teaching of a course, it should always offer the section as a customer service to students and as a retention service to itself. A canceled section loses students due their accurate perception of customer non-service and indifference to their needs by the school. The student realizes he or she is not really important to the school. The college loses because students will drop out when courses are not available. Though universities may think they save money when they cancel an under subscribed section, when one looks at the formulas above that belief is often proven untrue. The institution may very well either break even or make some money. Yes, we all know that most colleges are not into it to make money but a fund balance never hurts. And those that are for-profit, why lose revenue and EBITA?
Why cancel sections students need to progress to graduation and lose students we all need to make revenue to run the college? Especially when there is lost? Except when you cancel sections for no good reason

NRaisman & Associates has been providing customer service, retention and research solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits; workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. NRaisman & Associates prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. 
www.GreatServiceMatters.com 413.219.6939 nealr@greatservicematters.com

Thursday, May 18, 2017

If You Say You Will Do It - DO IT!

There is actually something worse than delivering poor or weak service. And that is promising great service and then not delivering. Or mollifying the
customer by telling him or her you’ll look into the situation, will get it resolved and either do not get it resolved or not get back to the customer.

Say a student or customer comes to you and asks for help. Perhaps a student leaves a phone message or an email account of the problem asking for you to assist in a problem he or she has. You get back to him or her by telephone but miss the person. So you leave a message.

I am sorry to hear that you feel you may have a problem……..

(Yes we do use the conditional all the way through to protect ourselves as the HR and lawyers taught us to do. May, perhaps, could, maybe, might, possibly, or combinations might possibly may perhaps have an issue…..But never simply say, holy sh%t, he did that? Never commit or accede. That’s the way to please the lawyers but perhaps, maybe, possibly upset the customer more.) But then we go and commit to look into it and make what the student takes as a promise.
…I will look into the issue, see if anything can be done and get back to you as soon as I can.

Granted soon is… well to us it is a sensible period of time as we see it. Soon as I can get the information, or contact the person, or find if there is a problem or even if there is a solution. To a customer or student with a problem, soon is now or by the end of the day, if not …well if not sooner.

Or the person tells the student, I’ll look into it and get back to you by Friday. If you make that commitment you’d better get back by Friday. That is a promise of delivery of service that the student customer will expect to be fulfilled. And rightly so.

Or the person has been to the legal seminar on commitment so he says I’ll get back to you by Friday if I have anything to tell you. There’s the conditional again. If I have anything to tell you. Covers you. Right? Nah it doesn’t because what the student hears is I’ll get back to you by Friday period. The expectation is that you will have something to tell him or her even if it is I have nothing to tell you yet.

This is the psychological background the student brings to any conversation in which service is offered/promised. Offered by you. Promised in the mind of the student. And soon is now. Oh yes, let’s not forget, the student expects a solution especially if you or your school tries to claim it cares about it students. And well you should because we are there for student success which is our success.

What is above is essentially the same we expect from service providers we pay. For instance right now I am getting quite frustrated by a guy who put in some tiling in a bathroom so I could work on my new book. There were a couple tiles that were not quite right. They need to be taken out and replaced. He said he’d be here at 9 a.m. It is now 11:25. He has failed. I will let him know so by the rating I will give him on Angies’s List. I will also tell anyone needing a tile person not to hire him. For him and a college that disappoints on promised service the Malthusian Custopmer Service Progression definitely comes into play here. Students may not go to Angie’s List to comp-lain. They will show their dissatisfaction by ending up on the drop list. Then they will tell everyone who even hints at asking about college or why he dropped out.
So here it is.
The Six Point Solution to Proper Call Backs
When you tell a student you will look into IT:
  1. If you are not sure when you will have an answer - say you are not sure when you will be able to get back but I will get back to you.
  1. If you know you can get back on a certain date – say you will get back by XXXXday but I cannot promise I will have an answer/solution. Then, MAKE DAMN SURE YOU CALL ON THAT DAY even if all you have to say is I don’t have answer but I am working on it. Then provide an update on what you and/or others have been doing.
  1. If you get a resolution or answerer sooner than when you told him or her to expect an answer it is okay to give good news early.
  1. If you are not able to call back on time, it is imperative that someone calls for you and givers an apology and an update for you. Though do realize the      customer will surely believe you just don’t want to talk with him. Not a god thing but better than no call at all on the anointed date.
  1. You can let someone else call back with good news. No one complains if you let someone else tell them good news.
  1. You cannot let someone else call with bad news. If you do, you will create a      doubly angry person who will eventually come to see you anyhow as if to check if what he heard was really true.
Finally, DO NOT SAY YOU’LL CALL AND DON’T DO IT AT ALL. That will make the  student feel like a jilted lover. And you’ve seen the movies about the rejected lover and the rabbit or the guy in the hockey mask.
That’s right. Michael Myers was expecting that call from the Dean that never came. Look what happened!!!

BTW, I am waiting to hear from a major communication (internet, cable, telephone) company that has promised to call back and said it will try to help on two issues. If the company which I won’t name just yet but WOW, they were named as the best by Consumer Reports for service. But at this time, it seems local service is good but WOW, some of the corporate…. They may be trying but need to read this piece and not let passive aggressive types work with customers. Nor should you for that matter. I mean WOW, use the right WAY to do things.
IF THIS ARTICLE MAKES SENSE TO YOU, YOU WILL WANT TO OBTAIN A COPY OF THE BEST-SELLING NEW BOOK ON RETENTION AND ACADEMIC CUSTOMER SERVICE THE POWER OF RETENTION: MORE CUSTOMER SERVICE IN HIGHER EDUCATION by clicking here
AcademicMAPS is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through research training and academic customer service solutions for colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as businesses that seek to work with them
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Neal is a pleasure to work with – his depth of knowledge and engaging, approachable style creates a strong connection with attendees. He goes beyond the typical, “show up, talk, and leave” experience that some professional speakers use. He “walks the talk” with his passion for customer service. We exchanged multiple emails prior to the event, with his focus being on meeting our needs, understanding our organization and creating a customized presentation. Neal also attended and actively participated in our evening-before team-building event, forging positive relationships with attendees – truly getting to know them. Personable, knowledgeable, down-to-earth and inspiring…. " Jean Wolfe, Training Manager, Davenport University

“We had hoped we’d improve our retention by 3% but with the help of Dr. Raisman, we increased it by 5%.” Rachel Albert, Provost, University of Maine-Farmington

“Neal led a retreat that initiated customer service and retention as a real focus for us and gave us a clear plan. Then he followed up with presentations and workshops that kicked us all into high gear. We recommend with no reservations; just success.” Susan Mesheau, Executive Director U First: Integrated Recruitment & Retention University of New Brunswick, CA

“Thank you so much for the wonderful workshop at Lincoln Technical Institute. It served to re-center ideas in a great way. I perceived it to be a morale booster, breath of fresh air, and a burst of passion.” 
Shelly S, Faculty Member, Lincoln Technical Institute


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Service Excellence and Points of Contact/Sales


Following some oral surgery in preparation for a tooth implant that took place in the morning the surgeon called the patient in the early evening just to see how he was doing. There had been no call from the patient about any problem or discomfort. The oral surgeon simply wanted to check on his patient and let him know he cared. This is a solid example of service after service.

In the retail world there is a concept of service after service. This is the activity in which a customer service specialist contacts a customer following the sale to show concern and care.  A store, in fact any business that cares about retaining its customers employs a practice of checking in with its customers after the initial sale. This is done to maintain service contact with the customer to show concern and care. Businesses, most business care about retaining their customer since they know that there is a real cost to obtaining new customers and once they have the person as a customer it is easier to sell to him again.

For example, when I bought a new car, the salesman called me back within a week of my driving off the car lot in my new Subaru. He asked if everything was okay and if the service I received was to my expectations and liking. He also extended a discounted oil change and a request that I complete a survey that would grade his and the dealership’s service and preparation of the new car. The oil change was a way to say thank you and get me to come into the dealership to spend more money having the car serviced at the place where I bought it.  The survey was one that went into the dealership itself as well as Subaru North America so it could grade the service being provided by the dealership. This was a part of the systemic approach to service being taken by Subaru that started at its advertising the cars for the dealership through to the checking on the satisfaction of the buyer.

Subaru controlled the full process of the buying of the car from the initial ad and brochures through the actual product and even the way the car was sold. It provided the salespeople with training on how to sell the cars and process the sale itself. It wanted to make sure that its name would be strong in the customer’s appreciation of the car and company. It left nothing to guess since the service people and mechanics also underwent training to make certain they took care of the cars appropriately. They also controlled the pricing of parts and the service after sale. Subaru knows that its reputation depends not on just the initial contact through advertising as well as the sale but what happens with its products (cars) after the sale. Subaru realizes that the initial sale is only a small part of protecting its name brand and keeping its customers for the next sale of a car in the future.

The sense of service after sale is another way that colleges and retail customer service are different. Colleges do not seem to care all that much about service after the sale because they seem to believe that the sale ends at admissions. It does not, it is made every day, every contact with people in the school is a separate sales, point of contact/sales event. But schools do appear to end the sale for the most part as soon as the deposit in in to hold the seat.

In fact, once the deposit is in the student’s account, the college’s contact with the student shifts from a sales approach to an academic one in which the customers are treated as if they are no longer all that important. The communications tend to move to what you have to do and here is the bill. When the colleges should be stitching the students into the school by sending notes thanking students for choosing the school along with helpful information, surveys about their experience in selecting the college and offers to help solve any issues that might cause them any problem with finally arriving at the college, they send bills. The schools act as if the deposit is a sure indicator that the student will show up so there is no need for service after sale but there is always a difference between the number of deposits and the actual yield, the number of students who actually show for classes.

In separating retail customer service from academic customer service one need only look at point of sale versus points of sale concepts. Yes, points of SALE in higher education.  Colleges and universities are definitely involved in selling their schools, images and seats to students – their customers. That’s what they do. They sell the school to students to bring them and the money they and society spend into the school. That’s how schools pay bills and salaries, buy equipment, benefits, heating, cooling, lights and so on. It makes colleges feel better to call sales recruitment or enrollment management, but the euphemism does not hide the reality. Colleges sell their image, products, services and benefits to students and their families but our point of sale is very different and that helps distinguish academic customer service from retail.


Retail whether of hard or soft goods is all about the point of sale. The sale must be completed during the period of opportunity or the sale is lost since the period is fixed and finite. If a person comes to a store for a blue shirt if the sale is not made while he or she is in the store, there is no sale at all. The point of sale is therefore fixed and limited to the time in the store. Thus customer service in the retail world is also fixed and limited. Service begins when the customer enters the store and ends when he or she leaves. And it is all focused on the sale itself. Service is to get the customer to buy something.

The usual scenario is the customer enters a store, passes through the decompression zone where he or she might be greeted by an official greeter such as was done well by Wal-Mart years ago. (They have since replaced the official smiling grandma and grandpa greeters with bored apathetic floor workers decreasing their initial customer service interactions.) The customer then goes onto the sales floor seeking the product he or she came to the store seeking. The physical appearance and ease of shopping is a part of customer service. The sales floor is set up in a way to try to maximize sales in a well thought out customer service point of sale store such as a Nordstroms, Whole Foods and many other smart sellers who realize that making their goods look appetizing and desirable increase sales. 

The customer finds the shirt he is looking for often with no assistance from an employee. At best, the employee is stationed behind a sales desk with a register. If the customer approaches to ask the location of shirts, the employee does engage in some very low level service. “Hello, may I help you? Men’s shirts. They are over there” perhaps smiling and pointing. Perhaps the service increases a bit when the employee says “come with me” and guides the customer to the shirts.

“What size? Color? Long or short sleeve? Ahh, here we are? May I ring that up?’ Back to the sales desk. That’ll be $xx. Cash or charge? Thank you very much. Thanks for shopping…….Come again” with a smile. This is a level of service often related to a commission sale which can often lead to greater service as well as a suggestion of a tie or pants to go with the shirt. The increased service can thus lead to an increase sale size which can benefit the salesperson in a commission-based environment especially in big ticket items sales such as a car.
On the lower side of service the customer finds the shirt himself. Takes it to the sales desk. Hands it to a bored cashier who asks “cash or charge?” Rings it up. “Thank you. Have a good day. Come again.”

In either scenario as soon as the bag with the shirt is handed over to the customer, the sale ends and so does customer service in most stores. In a high end store such as Tiffany’s a guard greets and checks you out as you enter and leave. Always a wonderful touchy feely moment. Service over.



There are of course less intensive soft sales which follow the retail pattern discussed above but in an intensive soft sale such as food at a restaurant in which product and service combine there are a few more points of sale and points of sale customer service (PSCS).
Point of Sale Customer Service (PSCS) One - The sale starts with parking and entering the establishment as it did with the hard product sale but this is quickly followed with the first PSCS in the form of a formal greeting. There is the greeting as with all sales who in this case a maître d’ or seater who welcomes you and asks something. This is true for all food sales and they range from “Good evening, welcome to…. How many in your party/your reservation is under….” to “You by yourself? Two?” The customers are led to seats where they are told “the waiter will be with you soon.” 

PSCS Two Initial Point of Sale – The waiter comes to the table, provides menus and “sells” drinks and appetizers. “Hi my name is Bart. I’ll be your waiter tonight. Can I get anyone a drink? Okay. An appetizer to start you off.” The service is more personal since part of the sale is for Bart to increase the tab while increasing his tip. Since there is a direct connection between the customer’s perception of his service and the pay-off for the waiter, he will, or at least should be more attentive to customer service. So he starts with the Give a Name technique as he provides his name though he does not try to get the customer’s name just a larger tab with drinks and appetizers knowing that the total sale will be the basis for his percentage tip. 

PSCS Three Follow-up and Point of Sale – This is when the waiter moves the customer to the entrée for the meal. He will take the order often reassuring the customer that he or she has made a good choice so as not to raise any cognitive dissonance issues in the choice-making process. The re-assuring at this point of sale is an important part in developing a relationship for the tip.

Point of Sale Two and PSCS Four – The soft product, the food, is delivered and eaten. The customer will now formulate his or her definition of the success of the sales process with determining the value of the food itself. The food is the actual product with the waiter’s efforts as part of the customer service essential to secondary valuation of the experience. If the food is not up to expectations, the entire sale will founder. The waiter’s services will depend in large part on the product itself finally. There is no way to fully separate the product from the service in a restaurant situation just as they valuing of the food experience will depend on the service and expectations of the product and service as discussed in the section of The Power of Retention on the famous, or infamous, service but satisfying food at the restaurant Durgin Park in Boston.

Point of Sale Three and PSCS Five – The entrée dishes are removed and deserts are sold. If the product and service experiences have been good to this point, the possibility of upselling to desert is better than if either the service or product have been weak to this point. Weak service and the customers will want to leave sooner than if service has been good. Weak product and there is no probability of extending the sale to include desert and increase the tab as well as tip.
PCSC Six Finalizing the Sale- The bill is presented either after or without desert. There may be another minor upsale attempt with “coffee anyone?” but that is normally a signal that the bill is about to be brought. 

In fact, coffee that will just delay the completion of the transaction may be the last thing the waiter who knows that another dollar or two will not increase the final tip much cares about. The sale is concluded and it is really “cash or credit” to get to the tip time. “Thank you for coming and have a nice day/evening” and the sale is fully concluded with the receipt of the payment, the tip and the customers leaving. Sure the restaurant would like good word of mouth and that is also the result of the service and especially the product but there is not a real expectation that the customer will return for the next meal of the day or even the next day. There will be time between the sales and purchases. 

A company that is often pointed to as an exemplar of customer service is Disney. Their soft product sales approach is even easier than in the restaurant and is not really applicable to the academic sale scenarios, academic PSCS that follows. In fact, Disney has a fairly easy customer service to provide. They have a fairly captive audience that has prepaid to use the facilities or they cannot get into the park. Pre-payment helps keep customers in the park even with horrendously long waits for rides. Not only do they not have to worry that one of their lead employees wearing a character costume will not say something that will harm sales because Sleeping Beauty, Goofy, Mickey etc. are not allowed to talk, just perhaps hug. And the employees have to go through a rigorous training program to assure that each and every one of them acts exactly alike right down to giving the same looking autograph to park goers. This could not happen in academic. 

And Disney does not have to worry that a character actor will not smile since their smiles are painted on. In the stores, the scenario is the same as above for hard goods with the restaurants like the soft goods. The hotels are a bit different but somewhat similar to food PSCS since they are often pre-paid so customers are less likely to leave and leave their money behind as well though tips are important. 

Disney compared to academic customer service and PSCS academic service is not analogous. Disney is easier. Imagine telling a faculty member he had to smile all the time never mind be nice to students and their parents, and be out on the campus saying hello to everyone or get fired. Don’t see it happening.




It is obvious that the initial point of sale for a college is admissions but that is just the first, not the only sale. Students need to be sold again and again if a school is to retain them through graduation and turn them into alumni donors which is clearly a goal of many if not all colleges and universities. The points of sale, of concern, follow from the efforts of the admissions process and people and then include most every class, process, interaction and show of hospitality of student and college or university personnel.  The sale is not one to make more money except at the end of a semester, term or year when a bill becomes due again. The sale is to reinforce the engagement between college and student based on the students’ appreciation of the faith in the engagement and the academic customer services rendered. The sale does make it easier to increase tuition if the customer feels he or she is being well sold of course.

The final good of college is an intangible we know as education leading to hope for a job and thus a better life that becomes embodied in the only close to tangible thing college provides – a diploma. This good is thus both hard/durable because the tie between college and graduate cannot be broken as well as soft/consumables such as classes and direct services and hospitality like at a restaurant. 

Higher education sells belief and hope in the experience called college that leads to retention and graduation. Schools do not provide any tangible service product as do other professional services that fill a tooth or mend a bone, cure an illness or prepare and serve food to be eaten during the sitting. Colleges make promises and then grade their customers as opposed to how most every other business does. They have the customers grade the product and/or service.  Academic institutions have evaluations such as in-class evaluations of professors but they are only responded to in the extreme when a faculty members scores are so very low that someone needs to do something. Schools do not produce products based on what customers want or need but based on what they think they want to give them and what we feel they need. Sometimes that means just what a school needs to deliver to give someone something to do and save budget and positions or because a professor wants to teach a course whether the customer wants or needs it.

Colleges can do this because their products are intangibles that have been pre-sold and pre-paid for as required necessary credentialing to be able to succeed in a career and society. Colleges have also situated their business into the position of expertise that is not to be questioned. In fact, question it too much and they can even find ways to fail the customer.
But because they sell a goal – graduation and a job – that takes a long period of time to achieve, colleges are exposed to many more points of sale and points of customer service than other businesses. In fact, the sale is not completed at admissions or the first day of classes. Students make “buying decisions” every day, every class, every hour, every contact with the school. In the morning or evening when homework or a set of classes looms ahead, the student must decide whether or not to spend time and effort to buy the classes and their learning. Buying in this point of sale is not with money at this moment, that’ll come at the beginning of the semester and has already been paid in most cases but to purchase with effort and time. The decision to go to class, to buy the class must also be made for every single class. 

Attendance is thus a good indicator of the strength of the desire to continue buying and staying at the school. In fact, it should be argued that attendance is one of the strongest indicators that the sale is being made or the customer lost. Moreover, if a school really does care about retention it should have an institutional attendance policy that says attendance is required. That is how strong an indicator attendance is for a school.

Education is an emotional sale with some pragmatism blended in about it as the pathway to a better life and job. This is a sale that is based on engagement, trust and faith that “if I give myself over to the college it will get me to my goal of graduation and a job”. These two primary points of service are each very important since they are all points of reselling the school and its ability to deliver.

The sales are based then on trust and faith. The currency is not dollars but buy-in. These are emotional investments that require constant, continuous and consistent selling to the customer through service and through and then after the sale. This is to provide students the belief that there is and will be strong emotional and affective return on the investment of trust if they but buy us one more day, one more class, one more semester. 

Thus it is extremely important to recognize that every person, every contact, every interaction with the school from the parking lot through people, policies and procedures creates a point of sale and a point of sale customer service situation. Every person from the president on up needs to realize his or her role as a salesperson of the school. All offices must accept that they are also points of sale and service. Faculty must understand that the ways they sell their subjects, their information and training through lectures, seminars, demonstrations, interactions and so on are all points of sale and service. Theirs are the most important services of all. People who answer the phone, the website, cafeteria, housing, maintenance, security, everyone and everything are points of sale. The campus itself needs to sell the school after all the lack of a place to park might very well mean "no sale" for the day as the commuter student drives away in a huff. Or poor lighting in the halls can make a student feel unwelcome or even a dirty bathroom can cancel the sale that because it can say that the school does not care about its students. It is extremely important that all of these PSCS go well to increase sales of the school leading to increased retention and graduation rates.

A longitudinal study of six-year graduation and attrition rates of over 1400 US four-year colleges and universities of all sectors indicates an average of only that PSCS is not going well. The study shows that American higher education is losing an average of 48% of every cohort it starts. This is an average with some schools losing much larger percentages of their enrollment to the point that it is a wonder they can stay in business. Moreover since this is the average over six years of six year graduation cohorts, an average his means that on an average year 48% of all students are leaving higher education. If any other business lost that many customers, that many sales, it would likely be out of business a long time ago. Very few businesses, even one that represents 2.6% of GDP can normally exist with such a high level of lost sales and revenue.
Higher education needs to embrace academic customer service and train at every point of sale to retain students through graduation and its own revenue stream. It also needs to realize that enrollment is not a point in time but an ongoing, continuous process as shown in the diagram below.

A major error that most colleges and universities make is that they envision enrollment as a process that starts at recruiting and an application and ends upon acceptance of an offer to enter the school.  This is simply wrong. Enrollment is an on-going process that starts with the first contact of the school with the potential student and does not end even at graduation. It continues with enrollment into the alumni organization and onto a donor’s list. 

There are four major enrollment events in a student’s life.
1.       the decision to attend
2.       the show on day 1
3.       staying in school and
4.      graduation.


If this article makes sense to you
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The Power of Retention
: More Customer Service for Higher Education
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N.Raisman & Associates is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through research training and customer service solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them 
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Neal is a pleasure to work with – his depth of knowledge and engaging, approachable style creates a strong connection with attendees. He goes beyond the typical, “show up, talk, and leave” experience that some professional speakers use. He “walks the talk” with his passion for customer service. We exchanged multiple emails prior to the event, with his focus being on meeting our needs, understanding our organization and creating a customized presentation. Neal also attended and actively participated in our evening-before team-building event, forging positive relationships with attendees – truly getting to know them. Personable, knowledgeable, down-to-earth and inspiring…. " Jean Wolfe, Training Manager, Davenport University

“We had hoped we’d improve our retention and with the help of Dr. Raisman, we increased it by 5%. Rachel Albert, Provost, University of Maine-Farmington

“Thank you so much for the wonderful workshop at Lincoln Technical Institute. It served to re-center ideas in a great way. I perceived it to be a morale booster, breath of fresh air, and a burst of passion.” Shelly S, Faculty Member, Lincoln Technical Institute

“Neal led a retreat that initiated customer service and retention as a real focus for us and gave us a clear plan. Then he followed up with presentations and workshops that kicked us all into high gear. We recommend with no reservations; just success.” Susan Mesheau, Executive Director U First: Integrated Recruitment & Retention University of New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Customer is Always Wrong - Passive Bad Customer Service

Charles Cezar who owned the Ritz Hotel in Paris back in 1898 became famous for saying  "le client n'a jamais tort" (the client is never wrong). Granted he may well have said this because his Parisian employees treated the hotel’s clients poorly because they were not Parisians and thus in the staff's minds wrong all the time, but the motto became the standard by which he ran the hotel.  Harry Gordon Selfridge remade the phrase to make it more emphatically positive with the better known “the customer is always right”.

Now considering the state of customer service in the country today’s phrase might well combine the two mottos to become “the customer is always wrong”. This seems to be the operative concept of most companies if they even think of the customer at all.

This was obviously the operative belief of United Airlines when it dragged a paying and seated passenger down the aisle on his back injuring him enough to put him in the hospital.  This action was taken because United wanted to get some of its employees on board to another destination. The employees could have taken another flight on another airline to get to their destination but it was United’s belief that this would cost them money and inconvenience the flight crew they wanted to board so the passenger had to go.

This is an egregious example but there are many instances of “the customer is always wrong” or what I think is the most common belief  “the customer does not matter” that we all run into everyday life. The waiter who ignored us at the restaurant; the bagger at our local grocery store who complained about working there and snarled at us, the person who answered the phone with “what”? But those are all examples of actively bad customer service.

It is the passive bad customer service that has enabled the negative attitudes toward customers and encouraged active disparaging service. Passive bad service does not have another individual included but you are provided bad service just the same.

Airlines are among the worst offenders with passive terrible customer service even if they do not drag all customers off of planes. They have taken an attitude that the customer does not matter at all. Just this morning I received an email from American Airlines telling me they had changed my times and flights for a trip I was to make. The new flight times puts me to my destination late for a meeting I was going for. No reason given.  No concern at all for the customer.

Passive poor customer service is the result of changes in business models and technology. The new business model takes customer service completely out of the equation and has the customer supply his or her own service.

For example, there once was a time when if you went to get gas for your car, an attendant would come out, fill the tank, wash the windshield and check your oil. When the business model changed to self-attending gas stations where you did all the work yourself at no cost savings, this was a step to passive bad service.

The same change in business model affects the way we shop too. Companies have replaced customer service with either “do it yourself” or technology. When stores started to lay off sales people and having the customer do all the shopping work him or herself such as at a TJ Maxx, Macy’s or most any retail outlet, this is passively poor, or actually non-existent service. Amazon is testing stores that do not have any service at all. The customer finds the item, takes it to the check-out counter and checks himself out just like many big box and supermarket self-checkout-out lines.

McDonalds has taught us how to be our own waiters and  bus our own tables and many food chains have caught onto having the customers do the work. Panera has taken this one step further by removing the counter server who might say hello and thank you out of the equation completely. Now they have computer stations at which customers enter their order and wait for a bag of food to be brought out or taken to the eating area.

When you try to contact a company with a problem but are not given a customer service number to call but are told to “open a ticket online”. This passive bad service again. Or when you get a phone number, call it and get lost in the labyrinth of technology not allowing you to talk to a person just an android voice who never quite understands what you are saying, again passive poor customer service.

Or now it is not considered rude or bad service to not return letters our phone calls from customers. Three weeks ago, I wrote two letters to two different companies about bad service and false advertising I received at two stores. No one has written back. I left three voice mail messages at another company but no one has called me back.

What companies have realized is that we will put up with passive bad service and not say anything about it primarily because there is no one to say it to. Companies claim that they are replacing people with technology to “enhance the buyer’s experience and speed up the interaction” but in so doing they have taken customer service out of the interaction.  Kiosks for instance have replaced sales attendants in airports supposedly for our convenience but really for the airline company’s fiscal gain.

In replacing service with self-serve they have been training us to not expect customer service at all and we have been much too acquiescent. We accept the lack of service and have been taught to feel as if we are being independent serving ourselves.  This is a false belief. By serving ourselves, we are encouraging passive bad service and hurrying customer service to the point at which when we go into a fast food restaurant we will make our own burgers and pull ourselves of a United flight.