Monday, March 20, 2017

Quick study of Email and Voicemail Habits in Bursar Offices

All the talk about money, job losses, and deficits as well as schools cutting budgets, jobs, sections and people is definitely having an effect on student and family attitudes and their anxiety levels. One cannot get away from the
economic news of Trump's new budget, increasing college costs and the difficulty of completing FAFSA's now that the IRS has closed access to past tax records for parents, never mind the pundit chatter. People cannot help but be affected and make money a larger issue than it normally would be on campus. This is creating new demands for service and services assistance.  And in most every case, schools are not meeting the demand in either style or substance.

The past week, we made actual person to person telephone contact with 50 bursar offices in colleges and universities posing as students or family members. We focused here as a result of the fiscal anxiety we are hearing from families. We called 78 schools. At 31 schools, we left a voice message on the phone. The message said the caller was very concerned about the family financial condition and needed to understand what to do to be able to pay bills if a job was lost. In each voice, we did also leave a clear call to action. Please. It is very important that you call me back today or tomorrow and left a number.

The voice messages led to three, that’s right THREE call backs in twenty-four hours.

We also emailed 50 colleges and universities. A week later, we are still waiting for responses from 28. TWENTY-EIGHT. Oh sure, we did receive the automatic response telling us we are very important so someone would be back as soon as is possible. For twenty-eight schools, it simply wasn’t possible to get back to us I guess.

The very worst thing a school can do at this time is not to respond to people. In normal times, non-responsiveness is a customer service sin that should consign the person at the school that ignored a request for help to getting all faculty to wear pins that say STUDENTS ARE MY CUSTOMERS?

In times of high stress such as right now, people are feeling depressed and less significant. Psychologists know that the way we establish value in others is listen to them and then respond to their issues. When we do not respond, we are telling people they are not important, not valued. Additionally we know that for students and families a major attrition tipping point is whether or not they feel they are valued. And when colleges do not return calls and emails that leaves people feeling less valued.

The simplest customer service value you can provide your students and their families is respect. Not returning calls or emails is disrespectful.  By not returning or responding to their calls or emails, you are telling your customers they do not matter to you and thus the entire college. In do doing, if money becomes tight for them, you will be less important to them. The result - Expect more drops and unpaid bills.

Yes, unpaid bills and more collection fees. Because willingness to pay (WTP) is based on whether or not the customer believes he or she feels valued in the services being paid for as well as whether or not he or she feels valued.  If a customer i.e. student feels he is getting a full return on investment, then WTP will be high. Conversely, if a person believes that the college is not providing value, it will be hard to pry the dollars loose to pay bills. The emotional ROI is equally important. If a person feels valued, he or she will not have resistance to paying for the service - even if the price i.e. tuition goes up. But again, if the student or family feels the college does not value them as individuals… You can fill in the blanks but it will not be with payments on bills.

So, the message here. Value your customers, your students and their families.
Answer the phone. Call back all voice mails within 24 hours. Respond to emails. Do not let any opportunity to communicate with students and families get lost. Every time they reach out to you – reach back. Especially when the calls deal with anxiety points such as money.
5 Ways to Improve Customer Service Communication

  1. Make certain that people know how to use email and the telephone, listen and help. The art of professional telephone communication has been lost for most people. We no longer are good at greeting, listening and responding with the correct tones, attitudes and even use of language. People may need to be trained, or retrained on how to answer and use the phone.  The same is true of email.  At the least read Here's Looking at Me: A Simple Soultion to Phone Rudeness.

  1. Be certain that people use the correct customer first tone, attitude and language. For example, have people avoid academic-ese . That’s the language we use with one another. The argot, slang and specialized language that is part of our culture and not anyone else’s. So avoid acronyms and technical terms.

  1. If you are not sure that folks are not responding appropriately, you may want to set up an accountability system to log incoming and outgoing communications.

  1. Conduct a contact to conclusion assessment. Find out how long it takes for a call or email to be responded to. Then shorten the time.

  1. Do a follow-up study to the callers to see if their request was appropriately and positively responded to and resolved. This does not mean that they got what they wanted since it may not be possible to do so but that they were treated with respect and the person did all he or she could to help.
Ignore phone and email protocols and rest assured that you will lose enrollment and revenue.
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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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Speaking Events Coming Up

Just thought I'd let everyone know that I will be speaking at a few conferences this Spring and Summer..

Eductional Policy Institute's Retention 2017 Conference
May 21-23  St. Louis University, MO
I will be talking about the National Survey on the State of Academic Customer Service on US Campuses; what it tells us we should be doing; how to do it immediately and at little or no cost to increase retention starting tomorrow..

NISOD’s International Conference on Teaching and Leadership Excellence
May 27-30, Austin TX. I will be talking about how to bring academic customer service into the classroom and get faculty to sign on to it

National Small Colleges Enrollment Conference which really is great for bigger schools too.
July 17-19 in Daytona Beach, FL
I will be keynoting here and talking about how to increase both admission and retention success using simple and low or no cost techniques and programs that are guaranteed to increase enrollment and population..

I will be giving presentations and workshops on how to increase retention through academic customer service on quite a few campuses this Spring, through Fall too.  

If I have not spoken at your campus, isn't it time to bring the ideas of academic customer service to your school to increase enrollment and retention in the classroom and on-campus?  If I have been to your school, there is a great deal of new information and techniques that you should hear about that we have developed since we were last on your campus. Isn't it time for a refresher for some and an introduction to success for newer community members?.

Call 413.219.6939 today or contact me by email at nealr@GreatServiceMatters so we can discuss how we can increase your enrollment, retention and fiscal success.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Admissions and Basketball

It is March and the brackets for the NCAA Tournament have just been announced making me think about admissions. That might strike seem as odd, to think about admissions from basketball but it makes sense if you just realize
a couple of things. For example, in basketball, two common defense setups are the man-on-man and the zone. In the man on man, each defensive player has a specific opponent to guard. And the defender stays with that player no matter where on the court he goes. In the zone defense, the defender works on whatever player comes into the zone he or she is assigned to. 

In customer service, these approaches also come into play. The man-on-man or woman calls for a service provider to stay with the customer no matter where he or she roams to. If it is a clothing store for example, the service provider would go with the customer from say dresses to blouses to shoes to socks back to shoes to sweaters and back to shoes again. The provider is usually in a commission situation and does not want to take a chance of losing out on some commission or credit for the sale. 

In schools this is seen most clearly in admissions. If an admission’s rep starts with a student, he or she will want to stay with the student to get the credit for the enrollment. The rep may allow others to assist him or her in closing the sale but will certainly stay on top of the process. This is because each rep is usually “goaled” with an enrollment target to hit. Though there is no allowable commission (federal rules) a person’s position and salary can be influenced by hitting goals or not. 

The strength of this approach is that the student has a face to get to know. That can provide a personal tie to the school as well as a clear point of service when it is needed. The weakness is that if the rep is busy or not there, the student ends up as an orphan that no one else will really accept ownership of. I have seen too many instances when a student in a man on man service situation ends up sitting around in a lobby waiting for “his or her” rep to become available. Or worse, the student wanders about without really getting the help needed.

The zone defense comes into play when a student goes to an area and whoever is there waits on him or her. To follow our admissions example, the student sees whoever is there at the time to get the service he or she needs. Say the student needs to drop off a form. He would be able to leave it with whoever is there as opposed to having to track down a specific person who takes that form. This can occur when the admissions department works as a team toward whatever the goal is and everyone helps one another because all succeed when an enrollment comes in.

The strength here is that the student will never be without a rep to help out. That could be good. But the weakness is that a student may not get to have a single individual that she believes cares about her personally. That could weaken the personal connection that can be so important to a student bonding with the school. The zone approach would only work if an entire admissions department had a common goal and thus saw the value as a team. Sort of like profit sharing.

But wait what about another approach? Double teaming. Like in basketball when the other team has a really important player, the defense often throws two people up against him. Well, every potential student is a very important player in the school’s success so assign two reps to each. Each of the two reps shares in the success or failure of that potential student. That way there is incentive to share the responsibilities. Further, if one has to cover something else or out of the game then, the other is there to help the student so he or she is never “open” to non-service.

Two reps per student would also be very helpful with the stitch-in process that keeps the student in the enrollment pipeline through day one at the very least and the first year preferably. The stitch-in process calls for at least a weekly human contact between a prospective student and the reps. All student are prospective until they show on day 1. These weekly contacts keep the student tied into the school and if any issues or problems arise, they can be caught and solved as a result of talking with the prospective student. Having two reps, or even a team of reps making the calls makes stitch-in contacts more probable and easier to do. If one rep is busy or cannot make the calls, she can pass the ball to another rep who can then put the proverbial ball in the hoop and assure a completed enrollment. 

NRaisman & Associates is the leading provider of admissions and retention assistance through academic customer service and other services that increase both admissions and retention. Since 1999, NRaisman & Associates has helped over 500 colleges and universities in the US, Canada and Europe increase enrollment and population through training, workshops, its campus service audits and research as the top consulting firm to help increase institutional success. Contact us today to see how we can help your school increase admission and retention success. 413.219.6939.

To get more articles and advice on improving customer service, retention and revenue on your campus, get a copy of the best-selling books  From Admissions to Graduation and The Power of Retention by Dr. Neal Raisman.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

A Conference Worth Attending

Just a quick note today to suggest you consider attending the EPI Retention 2017 Student Success Symposium May 21-23 at St. Louis University.  

I have attended these conferences in the past and found them to be goldmines of good ideas and ways to increase retention. they are also very well run by EPI and Scott Swail, president of EPI. You will not be disappointed 

This year's conference will feature plenary presentations by retention experts and professionals from around the US and Canada, as well as pre-conference workshops. Confirmed speakers include:
  • Zora Mulligan (Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education)

  • Jay Goff (Saint Louis University)

  • William Serrata (El Paso Community College)

  • Peter Dietsche (University of Toronto)

  • Chris Shaffer (Shawnee State University).

  • Watson Scott Swail (Educational Policy Institute).        

    I will also be presenting on my latest study of customer service on American campuses; what it means and what you can do starting tomorrow to upgrade service on your campus.                                      

  • These are all good people with quite a bit to share that will help you improve your retention.

To get more information on the inference just click here or got to the EPI website at

EPI also published my latest study on the state of academic customer service on college campuses in the US which can be found at their website.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Case Study in Bad Service

I normally write about customer service in higher education but I have run into such a grievously bad customer service situation that I am going to use it as a short case study.

The company I am dealing with is American Airlines. It would appear, American Airlines does not care about its most loyal customers. Nor reply to emails.

With all the travel I do and with AA credit card points, I have accumulated 421,821points. My wife and I planned to use them to go to Europe to celebrate one year of new life with my new kidney as well as out 48th anniversary. We planned to use the points to get two business class seats through the AA miles program as a real treat. But when I went to book the two seats I found out that there are NO, that is NO,  mile saver seats  available from February 2017 through November 2017 and probably all year. Not a one. All that was available was a flight on British Airways and that had an add-on cost of $2,260.72 to use miles for a "free ticket".

It would appear that this is may be a deliberate plan of American Airlines to deny their most loyal customers benefits they have earned by flying AA in the past. American Airlines is turning its backs on loyal customers. As a customer service consultant since 1999, I can see that AA has no concept of customer service, hospitality or loyalty.

Looks like I and my twelve employees will be flying other airlines in the future if American does not step up and resolve this issue. As customer service consultants, you are also providing a great case study of how to not service customers which we could easily share with our readers and the thousands who attend our presentations and workshops annually.

I request that this issue be addressed. This can be solved easily by opening up two regular mile award business class seats as miles saver seats for us to go to Heathrow and return from Paris on American Airlines. They can be taken from business class miles reward seats and it would not even cost you anything to resolve this situation.

I am willing to look at most any date in March, April, May or even September or October.

Once we resolve the issue I will be glad to post that AA was responsive and I and my employees will again fly American. I have posted this letter on Facebook where it has received over 50 comments and an equal number of likes. I would be pleased to put up a post on Facebook and my blog that says AA has resolved the situation and I hope to be able to do so. 

But it also appears that American is not interested in solving this customer service issue. Their response to my letters has been to tell me that they cannot open up seats to try and solve this issue. There is no legal reason they cannot do it nor any ethical rationale holding them back, just a lack of customer service attitude. So far, American has resisted doing so or even contacting me about it other to say they cannot open up two seats

As a result, they will lose me and my employees as customers. I will not be retained by a company that does not respond to customers who have a problem and has offered a valid solution. I urge you to use other airlines too.

Now how does this apply to colleges and universities? That is simple. All classes have seat limits. Often there is a student who needs the class to move ahead in his program or even to graduate. Yet, some schools adhere to the seat limit even if there is not affixed number of available seats such as in an auditorium or lecture hall. They allow faculty to refuse to open up another seat.

This obviously makes the customer/student quite unhappy and even angry enough to say “the hell with this place.  I’ll take my credits and money elsewhere.” For lack of flexibility, the college can and does lose students when there is no logical, legal or ethical reason to not open up another seat in the class.

Does this happen? The experience we have had interviewing student while we conduct a campus service audit for a school says “yes”. This does happen. We have talked with students who have left a college because they could not get into a class they needed. They just got fed up with the poor service and transferred out.

This when a department chairman, a dean or a vie-president or even president should step in and open up a seat for the student who otherwise would be hurt by the lack of a seat in the class. This is when someone needs to stand up and do what is right. Otherwise for lack of a seat, the school can lose a student.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Role of Managers in ACS

A huge segment of the population on campus that has a great deal to do with controlling the culture is the management group. Not senior executives but directors and such. These are the people who
control the various functional offices that students encounter. Like the bursars, registrars and director of this or another office. They influence a major segment of the customer service culture since they set the tone for how people in their office should work how they interact with students and how they relate with their employees which is in reality a major factor influencing behavior.

We learn how we are expected to act towards other by how we are acted upon especially by our bosses. If our boss treats us and others coldly we are being taught that it is alright to be curt with those we work and interact with. Here’s an example.

There was an office in a university that was well known for being very rude to students all the time. Students dreaded to go there because everyone treated them as if they were an impediment to the work in the office when the real work was the students.  The employees were treated poorly, given little respect and were told that office work came before students. Besides, most of the student forms and work had been transferred to student operated kiosks supposedly to give students more control and options. But it was really to get the students out of the office. In fact when the office was mystery shopped during a customer service audit we were asked to conduct, the receptionist actually told the shopper that she would like to help but was not permitted to do so. There was an electronic kiosk set up for these sorts of interactions and the shopper should use that.

Then the director of the office retired. Another one was hired and within a few months the office was known as a place in which students were welcomed made to feel important and they got their work accomplished with friendly people

Turns out that the first director was a very officious, rude person who treated her workers as if they were an impediment to her getting her own work done. As if they were students whom she did not like. She never thought of their needs; their lives; or the simple fact that they had lives outside and inside the office. They were just workers to her and that was reflected in the way they worked. They saw there were no rewards in being nice or helpful and in fact doing so could lead to sanctions so they did not go out of their way to try to be helpful or nice.

The new director came into the office and spent the best part of the first month getting to know her colleagues. Yes, colleagues. She saw everyone in the office as having value and an integrity that needed to be recognized and encouraged. She spent time simply talking with her employees and getting to know them. She encouraged them to take care of their personal business before coming to work but knew that this could not always be done so she was lenient in allowing employees to take care of business even if it delayed office business when possible. She did not bend over backwards but here is an example.

One of the workers had a young son at home who was quite ill with the flu. She told the employee that she should feel free to take an extra half-an-hour for lunch so she could go home and check in on then boy who was under someone else’s’ care at home. The employee left for work early but also came back early. She did not take the extra tie but felt important to have been offered it. She did not stay late that day since she wanted to get home to her child but when her son felt better she often worked late and harder. Why? Because her boss had shown that she cared and that she was important enough to receive some great employee customer service.

This office turned around under the new director’s direction. It became a place that students knew they would be treated well. She knew that if her people were going to provide great customer service it has to begin with her. She knew that offering to get someone who is busy a cup of coffee just embeds a sense that the needs of others exceed their own at times. This is a fine example of integrating good academic customer care into a system by a manager.

So what is the lesson here? Get to know and treat employees as if they are the customers that they are too. Managers should give them the correct attention and customer service  they need. Sometimes we forget that the people we manage are customers too and how we treat them will reflect on how they treat others.

NRaisman & Associates has been helping colleges and universities improve their retention through academic customer service and other strategies since 1999. We have assisted over 450 institutions increase their retention in the US, Canada and Europe.

Get a copy of the latest bestseller From Admissions to Graduation by Dr. Neal Raisman today.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Motivating Employees to Do a Better Job

Walmart, the place academic love to hate, is doing something that we all ought to take note of. The chain’s sales had been falling and they traced it to under-motivated employees providing poor
service. So they did something about it.

They did three things to address the problems. First, they analyzed what the problems were. They found out that they were not paying enough to get the right people who would be motivated to provide good service and who saw working at Walmart’s as a dead-end job.

Two, they decided that they needed to raise the pay of employees so they could attract the better worker who would be more enthused to work harder and with better service. Walmart’s had been one of the poorest paying companies believing that workers were just parts in the system who could be easily replaced. Corporate wisdom had been to keep wages low and see employees as a cost, not as part of their success. But after they studied the problems in customer service delivery leading to more sales they decided to raise the basic hourly pay to $10.00 an hour and department manager pay to $15 an hour. This made the jobs more attractive.

Three, they realized that their workers wanted to know how to do things correctly and most importantly, have a path to move up in the company. Employees wanted to see their jobs as possible entry-level positions from which they could move up to department manager, assistant store,manger and store manager positions. They were motivated to do more and Walmart gave them not only the opportunity to do so, it provided the way.

Walmart created training academies that would teach employees the skills and proficiencies needed to have a chance to succeed and go higher in the company to whoever who wanted to move up. The training is both formal and impromptu. For example, new department workers and managers get two weeks of training in basic customer service and business concepts, inventory management and administrative skills.  They also get training that pertains to the area in which they will be working at the store.

The increased pay got much of the intention but the training and the opportunities to move up (Walmart will do more promoting from within) will likely pay the larger dividends. The pay will give people the basic wage they need to want to keep their job and the ability to move up will provide the incentive to do the job well so they can be rewarded for their work and thus be the more meaningful in the long term for the store, as well as its customer retention, sales and revenue.

Colleges should consider doing the same. They should study their workplace environment to see where and what is keeping employees from doing the very best job they want to do. What they will find at the very least, as we have discovered from our campus workplace environment studies, is that people feel discouraged because they do not get training to do their job well,  there is no clear path to move ahead, and the college seems to keep hiring from outside.

College employees tend to believe they are involved in a movement to help people better their lives and that is a motivating factor. They of course care about how much they earn, but that is not the whole picture for a college employee. They want to be recognized for their work and have a path to grow and move up.

An example: when I was the president of a community college, we had an opening for a full-time tenure track faculty member. The department seeking the new full-time faculty member had settled on three candidates from outside. They had overlooked all adjunct faculty believing if they were adjunct they may not be good enough for a full-time position. They were prejudiced against adjuncts to be blunt. This was sending a terrible message to the 55% of the faculty who were adjuncts.
When the department’s recommendation came to me, I sent it back with a directive to reconsider some of our adjuncts. Some of them had been teaching an all but full-time load for as much as eighteen years. They had been evaluated and deemed very good to excellent by students and were qualified enough to be hired over and over and given loads just shy of full-time. I sent the recommendation back again when they overlooked the adjuncts again and told them the full-time position would go to another department if they could not understand the message.

They said they did not feel adjuncts were as good as recent graduates because they might now have current research and would not recommend any of them over their choice. I decided that I would interview their choice and an adjunct that had been highly rated by students and re-hired for eighteen years. I finally chose the adjunct because he was the best qualified to fit into our college and to send out a message that we were into upward mobility for adjuncts and others who had served us loyally and well.

It will come as no surprise that the adjuncts were overjoyed and that we had more people calling us about getting adjunct position at the college. Interesting too was the increase in student evaluation scores on adjunct. The part-timers now saw it was possible to get a full-time position and they were going to do all they could to be considered when one came open.

Colleges and universities may not be able to increase wages much because of union contracts but then again, the unions would not complain about a wage increase. But recognizing that revenues are tight in most schools, they can at least create training academies to give people a path to moving up. They should give people the training they want to do their jobs well and to have the opportunity to be recognized and move up. And hire from within to let employees know they are recognized and are good enough to move up. They will be better motivated and grateful for the training and opportunities.

If this makes some sense to you contact us today to find out how you can get a campus workplace environment study for your school by emailing us or calling 413.219.6939

To get more articles and advice on improving customer service, retention and revenue on your campus, get a copy of From Admissions to Graduation and The Power of Retention by Dr. Neal Raisman.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The State of Academic Customer Service on College Campuses - Results of a Study

A survey on the state of academic customer service for students found that academic customer service provided on the nation’s  campuses is fair or weak at best and is a cause of many students leaving a college. Basic service functions such as training , telephone skills and returning voice mails and emails for example which are rudimentary service functions are rated much lower than weak as well. This is not a good recognition considering the importance of providing good to excellent academic customer service to retaining students and revenue.

The Survey
NRaisman and Associates emailed a survey to 1000 potential respondents determine the state of academic customer service on the campuses of community colleges, and public and private universities. The survey was returned by 445 respondents.

Respondents were asked to rate customer service on their campuses according to their observations on concerns such as We provide our students with great customer service and specific customer service performance functions like Our Employees will interrupt what they are doing to help a student or Voicemails are returned within 24 hours of receipt.  There were also questions to determine if there is a real commitment to customer service such as Administrators have had training in academic customer service so they know how to provide excellent service to students and We have campus-wide agreement towards building a college focused on providing excellent customer service.

Academic customer service was defined in the heading of the survey for a consistent concept. Academic customer service is meeting the needs and expectations of students in the services, processes and physical aspects of a college as they navigate the institution. These services include all aspects of the student experience including business functions, interactions with faculty, staff and administrators, the classroom experience, and even the website and other aspects of "college". It is not coddling the students nor buying into the adage that “the customer is always right”. Nor is it about inflating grades. It is about engaging students by providing high-quality services that make it easier for them to succeed as well as feel welcomed and fully-valued. Academic customer service makes the student the absolute center of the college and how it interacts with them assures that.

It has been found that academic customer service on a campus can account for up to 78% of why students leave. This survey is to determine the levels of academic customer service we provide on our campuses across the country so we can better serve and retain students.

The Results
The survey results were mixed not by type of institute so much but by the responses of the different employee groups on campuses (i.e. presidents, administrators, faculty and staff). College presidents and senior administrators gave the highest ratings for the service provided on campus but the people who meet with students every day had quite different estimations of service to students and rated it fair to even poor.  Faculty were small in number of respondents but indicated that they thought customer service was fair and could be better though in the comments there were a couple of predictable statements that customer service is not a topic for colleges in any case. “We aren’t business after all”.

Seventy-five percent of presidents and senior administrators somewhat agreed that the We provide our students with great customer service on their campuses. It is interesting that only 14% strongly agreed that they provide great customer service while 11% either disagreed or strongly disagreed that the college provided students with great customer service.  Even the group that rated the service best on campuses did not have rate their service extremely high. These responses though higher than those from other employee groups were not a ringing endorsement of customer service to students.

Administrators had a very different view of the service provided to students. They rated it much lower than did the presidents and senior administrators.  Only 10% felt that their school provided great service 
while 55% disagreed that the schools provided great service to students. This is a rather strong difference of evaluation between the senior administrators and the people who carry out school policy and oversee the service provided every day.
It is interesting that this variance exists but it is also predictable depending on the levels of contacts with students presidents and senior administrators are on a regular basis. In our work with colleges and universities we have found that the relative isolation from students versus the direct contact provides a very different exposure to the actual customer service students receive. Those on the front-line working with students on a daily basis hear the complaints and even observe weak or poor service in their day-to-day work. They are the ones who are called upon to provide the customer service but are often frustrated in their work as we have seen while conducting academic customer service studies on campuses. The administrators and managers have to monitor the staff and others in how they provide customer service to students and they do not seem to observe great service being provided. What they are seeing is not making them feel very positive about that service.

This variance held true through the entire survey except on questions such as Providing students with great academic customer service is important. There was near unanimous agreement from staff and administrators that this was very important. Even faculty who usually recoil at the notion of customer service felt it was important.  The only disagreement came from presidents and senior administrators where 83% felt it was highly important but 9% said they either disagreed somewhat, or disagreed strongly (2%) that customer service on campus was important.  This was admittedly a surprise considering how significant academic customer service is to retention and enrollment. What was even more surprising was that the responses came from two-year colleges.

Good academic customer service can provide a college with a strong competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining students. High Point University has clearly shown this. Moreover there are other benefits from providing strong academic customer service such having the revenue to generate new programs and faculty from the increased revenue from retention numbers going up. The responses to the item of Our customer service on campus is one of our strongest competitive advantages was very mixed with a third of respondents feeling that it was not on their campus.

On this issue, 17% of senior administrators and presidents felt that it was not a competitive advantage on their campuses.  Sixty-one percent of administrators indicated that academic customer service was not a competitive advantage. This again shows the variance between senior administrators and those who carry out the day-to-day contact with students.  Staff indicated that 21% did not feel that it was a competitive advantage. Considering that 76% of students indicated that weak to poor customer service was  the reason they left a college this indicates room for colleges to increase their retention and enrollment by increasing academic customer service on campus until it is a competitive advantage.
One reason why there is a variance between groups on campus lies beyond their daily contact with students and has to do with colleges not making customer service a consistent concept on campus. In response to the issue of We have campus-wide agreement towards building a college focused on providing excellent customer service, overall there was 57% agreement with the statement but there were also 39% who disagreed. The 57% is a good indicator that there is concern for customer service on campus but in our work improving customer service on campuses, we discovered that very few of the schools had a written statement pertaining to academic customer service. Only one had a customer service mission statement to guide the delivery of service on campus.

Again there was the variance between the front-line providers of service and the senior administrators. Seventy percent of the senior administrators felt that there was agreement on the customer service mission of the school while 30% did not. But 76% of administrators felt there was no a campus-wide agreement. Staff were not as strong in their feeling that there was no agreement (56%) but they too disagreed with the senior administration.

It becomes clear that one reason why there is not the level of customer service that is needed to retain more students is that there is no agreement as to what it is and how to provide it on campuses. It is important that colleges have a clear and published academic customer service mission statement if they are to have good service for students on campus. Another aspect of the weak agreement is that there does not appear to really be an investment in good to excellent customer service. This can be seen in the responses to the questions of training for all of the groups.

Staff who are charged with most of the delivery of customer service are the most in need of training but 55% of them said that they disagreed with the statement that Staff have had training in academic customer service so they know how to provide excellent customer service in their interactions with students.  Four percent also said they did not know if they had training which means that they did not or the training was so nebulous that they do not realize they had some.

Training of staff is paramount to providing good to excellent customer service so with so many of them saying they have not had training in it, it is no wonder that there is such a low level of service delivery as observed by their managers.  The administrators indicated that they had even less training than staff.

Sixty-two percent of administrators indicated that they had received no training with another 3% saying they did not know which means that they did not or they would have known. These are the people charged with ma king sure that good customer service has been delivered yet they felt that they were not given the training and the tools to be able to do so.  Once again 67% of the senior administrators were of the belief that there had been training of administrators and staff (62%). This variance we have found in our work comes about because the senior administrators believe that the managers and administrators who supervise staff would provide training to the staff. But how can they when they themselves have not had any?

Training is of paramount importance in delivering good customer service on a campus. If people do not know what academic customer service is and what it entails, they cannot deliver it to students. If they do not know how to deliver it, they are less likely to provide it. People have to be taught, especially on college campuses which have not historically been interested in customer service, to deliver good to excellent service to keep students at the college. This is an investment colleges can and should make that will pay off in retention and enrollment dividends which then lead to increased revenue and funds to meet the mission.

When it comes to the functions of good customer service, such as Employees will interrupt what they are doing to help a student senior administrators and staff felt that they would do so (senior administrators (80%) and staff (92%) while administrators were much less optimistic with 52% assessing that employees (staff for the most part) would not interrupt their work to help a student. 

When  it comes to basic customer service delivery such as answering phones, responding to emails and vice messages, the all three sectors felt that they did not do a good job of these. These are basic aspects of delivering customer service to students and others coming into contact with the college yet they do not appear to be done well at all. Even 53% of the usually optimistic senior administrators said answering the telephone in four rings or less was not something that was accomplished. Seventy percent of administrators and 52% of staff agreed even though they are most often the ones charged with answering the phones.
Voice and email mail was not responded to by the end of the day according to all groups.  This was indicated by senior administrators (58%), administrators (87%) and staff (54%) said voice mails and emails were not returned promptly.. This again is a basic customer service indicator that colleges are failing at. This raises questions about how well colleges are really delivering customer service to students and others, including one another.

One of the services that schools should be providing is the availability of faculty for extra help in office hours and advisers who are up-to-date on the curriculum and schedule.  These are two areas that are considered fairly good by all groups but not as strongly as they should be.  Fifty-one percent of senior administrators and staff felt that advisers are up-to-date on curriculum and the schedule. This is a fair rating but not where students would expect advisers to be in knowing the curriculum and schedule. Moreover, this percentage is challenged by administrators who have to deal with the results of advisers not being up-to-date. They rated the advisors as not current by 59%. In our work in customer service on college and universities we are finding that too many advisers are not up-to date and they are misadvising students making them prolong their stay often for a another year to make up for weak or poor advisor. It is incumbent on schools to make certain that all advisers are up-to-date on curriculum and schedule.
All three groups felt that faculty were  not available for extra help for students when needed. This is a definite negative factor in the service department. They were not as strong in their assessment as they should be in this most important area but they were on the plus side with senior administrators (57%, administrators (37%) and staff at 45%. This is another basic expectation service students have and need. Faculty should be available to students when they need extra help. They appear to be somewhat available but this should be an area in which the responses are in the 90% agree with the statement Faculty are available for extra help when students need it.
When it comes to assistance and lack of wait time at three key service points for students, registrar, bursar and financial aid office, the ratings overall are fair with the registrar’s office being rated as good by 54%, the bursar by 52% and financial aid by 54%.  These numbers are propped up to a large extent by the responses of senior administrators but it needs to be recognized that changes in on-line service delivery have cut lines and provided service on demand..  According to one comment, on-line services have sped up the services lessening  wait time and delivery of service in all three offices. The only office that both administrators (58%) and staff (61%) felt was not as fast to get service at was the financial aid office. This would be in line with the observation that on-line services help reduce lines at the other offices because financial aid is the least technologically provided. Moreover, financial aid needs more time with many students thereby tying up staff and professionals who cannot wait on others while busy with a student.

The three issues on which there was unanimity were Facilities are well maintained and attractive, Our graduation rate is where it should be and Our retention rate (fall to Fall) is where it should be. Well maintained facilities affect students positively and can incline them favorably toward the school.  Not one group was pleased with the college’s graduation rate nor the Fall to Fall retention rate.
Is not at all surprising that colleges are not happy with their retention rates. With the average graduation rate hovering around 50% nationally, schools are losing many, too many students thereby negatively impacting their revenue and ability to meet their missions. And with the weak academic customer service they are providing they are driving students away in large numbers. But, these two issues on retention and graduation rates can be positively affected if colleges attend to the basics of academic customer service, provide training and make certain that people are delivering good to excellent academic customer service as indicated in the survey results.

The state of academic customer service delivered to students is weak at best having negative effects on enrollment, retention and thus revenue.  Though it has been recognized that weak or poor customer service is a major contributor to attrition rates on college campuses, most schools are not doing enough to improve the delivery of their services. Part of the problem is that there is a disconnect between the people who are charged to carry out the delivery of services (administrators, managers and staff) and the senior administration. Senior administrators appear to assume that students are getting good service but those on the front lines know otherwise.

Very few if any schools are satisfied with their retention and graduation rates yet very few appear to be working on solving one root cause, i.e. academic customer service. Though there is an assumption among senior administrators that training is taking place, for the most part it is not. Without training, staff and administrators will not know how to best provide great service or what is expected of them. For example, answering phones in three rings and returning both email and voicemail by the end of the day.

Colleges and universities also need to make customer service more of a priority considering its impact on retention. They need to invest in making customer service to students a priority on campus through developing a customer service mission statement, training and accountability..

If this article makes sense to you, you will want to get a copy of the new book From Admissions to Graduation by Dr. Neal Raisman for more information on academic customer service.

NRaisman & Associates has been providing colleges and universities in the US, Canada and Europe  assistance with increasing retention, enrollment and thus revenues since 1999 through consulting, research, training presentations and campus customer service studies. Contact us today to see what we can do to help your school increase its success. GreatServiceMatters. or 413.219.6939.