Monday, April 17, 2017

People Make Success

The following is from an abstract of a paper Twenty Years of First-Year Student Success: An Inventory of Strategies and Programs That Work by DeLaine Priest, Stephanie Gisler and Maribeth Ebasz of the University of Central Florida's Student Development & Enrollment Services. In it they recount and explain what UCF has dome of the last twenty years to increase their retention from 70% in 1994 to 87.5% in 2014 as the school grew from 25,000 t0 61,000. The authors write:

This paper describes strategies and programs that have been crucial drivers for the increase in retention as well as contributors to overall academic achievement in first-year students. Tutoring, academic advising, coaching, career readiness, and student engagement are among the strategies and programs that will be examined in this paper. Additionally, specific programs offered through offices such as the Office of Student Involvement, the Recreation and Wellness Center, and Housing and Residence Life will be described

The paper goes on to describe the particulars of what the University did to achieve that success. What it did in an nutshell l was provide excellent academic customer service to its students.They focused on delivering excellent services to students to keep them in the University and make others want to enroll in it.

Re-reading the section above and the rest of the paper makes one point absolutely clear. What works is engagement and specifically, engagement with people; not technology but people delivering great customer service in areas such as advising.In every activity described in the section from the abstract and in the full paper, a human being is involved in the interaction with the student. People make or break a retention and enrollment program's success.

Much of the enrollment growth at UCF comes from their strength in providing the academic customer service that keeps students at the University. ,They are adding more students each year rather than making up for attrition losses with the incoming freshman and transfer classes as was
discussed  in the piece called Zeno's Paradox, I Love Lucy and Admissions. They have built a solid base of retention to build upon and that has led to a significant part iof their stellar population, and thus revenue, growth.

And yet, when colleges run into financial difficulty what do they cut? People. This is especially so in the areas that provide the very services that keep students enrolled in college and attract them in the first place. People in student services are often cut before say faculty, generally because the president does not have the intestinal fortitude to cut dead or dying programs and save student service programs that lead to retention and population growth.

The success of UCF shows that people are needed to  succeed in retention so the last people who should be cut are they who create population growth.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Don't Overlook the Physical Aspects of Customer Service

A customer service facet that is often overlooked is the “objective correlative" aspects of a college. The phrase objective correlative is one taken from my English background and was discussed
primarily with literature. But I find it has numerous applications to colleges. Besides, using the phrase helps justify all those years of English study.

The phrase was popularized by the American poet TS Elliot to explain emotional reactions to literature. Objective correlative refers to a physical object or more likely a grouping or combination of objects, images, or visual descriptions that create(s) an emotional response to piece of literature. For example, if a poem has images of grey things, a tumbledown house and crows sitting on a broken fence, these physical allusions and objects set a tone, an emotional metaphoric response, of gloom and foreboding. Try an Edgar Alan Poe poem for examples and pleasure.

In a college, the objective correlatives are visual and physical aspects of the school - websites, the grounds, the buildings themselves, the colors we choose in the buildings, walkways, signs, offices, lobbies, etc. These all have a very powerful response on a potential student’s emotional reaction to the school and do affect his or her decision to enroll and/or stay. These all create a visual metaphor of the school and its potential to meet the three returns on investment all students bring with them. The three ROI’s – fiscal, emotional and affective – are what help determine if a student enrolls and will definitely be the determining factors in whether a student stays at a school, transfers or steps out.. (The three ROI’s are discussed in Customer Service Increases Retention)

We are aware that one of the most important parts of the enrollment process is the first contact with the school, followed by the tour. In fact, 12% of potential enrollment is lost when a student makes the first contact with the school. Notoriously poor telephone, email or voicemail habits turn potential students off enough to have them cross the college off their list of possible school to enroll in. First impressions matter a great deal which is also why school websites can turn off a student thinking of enrolling.

The appearance of the college and parking also make a great impact on potential students. If a student is turned off by the way the school looks, the landscaping and things like parking and signage, that student could be one of the 12% that will cross the school of his or her list. Most people don’t realize that students start creating a visual metaphor of the school as soon as they make contact with the objective correlatives of that school. The tour is generally simply that which polishes or corrupts the metaphor through what students see and hear while on the tour.

Metaphors are very powerful. They become emblematic of the institution and are very hard to shake loose or change. It is important to realize that students think not in words, but in pictures, in metaphors of their world as Gerald Altman discusses in How Customers Think. Students live in a visual environment which has them “read” and value objects emotionally. They trust their images much more powerfully than any words, which are the coin or our realm. They make amazingly quick and assertive metaphoric leaps of judgment and embed them deeply in their belief systems. We view the world intellectually in words and numbers that we want to make some logical sense. We wish to have rationality be the basis for decisions. They use visual objective correlatives and the metaphors they generate.

Therefore it is very important to tend to and understand how your college's objective correlatives affect students when they encounter them for the first time and while on campus.

If you want to learn more about how you can be assured that the objectives correlatives and all other aspects of customer service help or hinder enrollment and retention click here for additional information.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What is a Service Excellence Audit and What It Includes

One of our most called for consulting work are our Service Excellence Audits and Mini-Audits. They are also the areas of our work that receive the most requests for details on
what they include and do. So, we decided to devote a posting to what Service Excellence Audits are.

Simply putting it, an audit is a complete study of the extant state of service excellence (academic customer service) at a college. We study every relevant point of contact between the institution,its people and the campus with students to determine strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in the college's service to students. We also study the college’s appearances and physical services such as signage which are known as its “objective correlatives” to assure they are providing and presenting services that will increase the students’ ability to navigate the institution and feel welcome and comfortable.

We use a two-part study approach: off campus to test the customer service provided potential and current students, and on campus to inventory and study everything that has to do with service excellence. 

First is shopping the campus from off-site by contacting the school through web, email, and telephone.  We also perform an initial review of the college from materials provided to students for the purpose of better understanding the school to inform the audits. 

Second, is the on-campus work. For the on-campus aspects of audits, NRaisman & Associates starts with using a participant-observer academic shopper approach in its audits.  Trained professionals will come onto the campus and conduct experiential audits (mystery shopper) as unidentified, uninitiated participants on the campus. By directly experiencing the campus with  personnel unaware they are being observed, has been able to help schools improve their customer service, enrollment, and retention since we started providing audits in 1999.  

Next we conduct a thorough study of the college by visiting offices, checking physical aspects such as signage and studying  all other aspects of the campus that touch students. After that comes interviews with students, staff, administrators and faculty followed by focus groups to bore down on what we find initially. Here is specifically what we look at.

1.      Points of Contact;
2.      Objective Correlatives;
3.      and extant customer service;
4.      staffing appropriate to meeting service excellence objectives as well as performance management tools to assess individual performance success and

Point of Contact audits normally include review of:
  • the website;
  • technology as appropriate to providing services;
  • collateral materials;
  • telephone system and protocols, 
  • receptionists and areas;
  • catalog;
  • signage provided to orient and direct on the campus;
  • entrance signage;
  • interior directional signs;
  • entrances;
  • decompression zones;
  • lobbies;
  • parking lots;
  • walkways;
  • halls;
  • colors,
  • open spaces;
  • lighting;
  • landscape;
  • paths;
  • appearance of building exteriors;
  • appearance of building interiors;
  • observable safety concerns;
  • and cleanliness and general appearance including paint.

The objective correlative audits are more in depth on physical aspects and include the full physical campus including;
  • housing,
  • campus appearance,
  • landscaping and appearance,
  • campus flow;
  • pathways,
  • all buildings;
  • building exteriors,
  • building interiors,
  • bathrooms,
  • common areas,
  • cafeteria,
  • entrances and entrance areas,
  • handicap compliance,
  • lobbies,
  • bookstore,
  • office appearance and physical services,
  • functional flow,
  • student space and its utilization,
  • observable safety concerns,
  • cleanliness and general appearance including paint,
  • utilization of areas…

The customer service audit includes parts of the above with specific focus on primary active service providers and functions such as
  • Website
  • Catalog
  • Reception Areas 
  • Admissions
  • Financial Aid
  • Registration
  • Registrar's and Student Records Office
  • Bookstore
  • Administrative
  • Testing

As well as testing every level of customer excellence, such as:
  • Repeat visit syndrome—non-empowering incomplete information/transaction causing a student to come back again,
  • atalog information, ease of use and information retrieval,
  • Website ease of use and navigation
  • email use and responses to,
  • wait time - how promptly people are recognized and served,
  • acknowledgment of student presence and manner of the recognition given,
  • welcoming and comfort level generated,
  • how courteous your people are,
  • how questions are responded to,
  • requested information provided promptly and graciously,
  • accurate directions given,
  • general demeanor, and attitude toward customers,
  • availability of information at point of contact,
  • point of contact knowledge for students and/or where to get it if not available,
  • accuracy of information,
  • use of campus jargon or argot versus standard language,
  • language use, attitude, syntax, grammar, tone,
  • customer-first attitude,
  • time to completion required for successful interaction,
  • helpfulness and accuracy of written materials at points of contact,
  • location and availability of information and media,
  • people processes used with customers,
  • administrative processes affecting customers,
  • orderliness of the interaction and area of interaction,
  • telephone protocols used by customer contacts to aid or detract from service to campus callers,
  • general telephone skills and return call response, and
  • the environment provided for students in these areas and offices from layout and space through lighting and clutter as they affect the customer's sense of reflected value and service from entry to the campus through moving through it and finally the exiting experience.
Invariably, parts of one audit will overlap into another but the study focus, intent, concentration of effort and solutions provided can and do vary even when there is congruence of areas under review.

NRaisman & Associates then provides the college a detailed written report that generally runs 40-60 single spaced pages  on all aspects of the audit.  The report includes potential solutions to each issue we find.  It is the goal of NRaisman & Associates to provide solutions that can be implemented at little or low cost.  Our experience indicates that many issues can be solved easily and without a significant outlay of money. It is also our goal to be complete enough that additional assistance may not be needed.  

The solutions will include a recommended implementation that incorporates not only priority of the issue and solution but considerations for cost and campus culture.  We seek to assist the college solutions that will work while complementing its culture, traditions and mission to embed service excellence as a part of its culture. The study ends up providing a blueprint for how the college can improve it service excellence and thus increase enrollment and retention.

That, in a medium sized nutshell, is what a Service Excellence Audit is and includes. 

If this is something that you see as befitting your college or university in its goals to increase service excellence and thus enrollment, retention and graduation numbers, please contact us today at NRaisman &Associates or call 413.219.6939 to discuss the possibility of us conducting a Service Excellence audit for your school as we have for so many others..

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 
We increase your success

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.