Monday, August 25, 2014

Hear the Voice of the Customer to Improve Retention



To increase retention on campus the school has to also increase its customer service by listening to the voice of the customer. That is, listening to the   
wants, the expectations, and that dislikes of students. Then we need to take these needs, these expectations, and what they dislike and place them in a hierarchical or taxonomical structure that we can respond and serve our students better.


The voice of the customer is a very important one to hear. Too often we use our own voices, our own expectations and needs what we think students want or need and place them upon students. We actually think that we know what is best for students when we don’t even ask them for their thoughts and opinions. Some say in loco parentis is dead. I think it just been replaced by an assumption that we understand students better than that they may understand themselves and therefore we don’t listen to the voice of our customers. That is not to say that we don’t necessarily go about campus sometimes and hear what students are talking about. It means we do not actively engage the students in specific data collection processes such as surveys to understand what they need and what they want, as well as what they don’t want. And then do something about it.

To really listen to the voice of the customer it is necessary to elicit their comments thoughts feelings and statements of need and expectations as a starting point. This can be done the usual route of surveys, but can also include analysis of social media and web-based comments. Whatever method is used the comments need to be collected broadly and in as large in number as is possible. Then the voices need to be analyzed and the results segmented into usable categories for example physical campus, classroom, specific points of service, and so forth.

Surveys are generally tricky things. And in higher education they are generally done quite poorly. We overthink them. We make them too complicated, try to be too inclusive. As a result we make them complicated and at times not purposeful. As I have looked at surveys used on campuses that we have conducted either workshops or full audits on, I find that they are too often focused on trying to prove what we think we already know. Too often they are simply too long as well. As a result we do not gather good information. We do not listen to the voice of our customer.

In another article, I outlined a very simple survey that can be done to start to listen to the voice of your customer. In addition to that there can be more structured surveys done in four different locations. That can be a general survey of students’ feelings and attitudes towards the school. There can be point of service surveys such as in the financial aid office, the registrar’s office, the bursar’s office, and other points of service on campus. The surveys are more specific to the functions and operations of the point of service operations. These surveys generally are more informative than the general sorts of surveys that are done across campus because the results can be put into practice more quickly.

One point of service that is surveyed in most schools but not really turned into the voice of the customer because they are not put any hierarchical order are carried out in class evaluations. Most schools have some sort of an evaluative survey that they use at the end of the semester or quarter to evaluate courses and professors. Unfortunately as a result of the politics on campus, these surveys do not necessarily allow the voice of customer really to be heard. They may be “overheard”, that is they can be looked at and thought about but they are not necessarily put into any mobilized action as a result of the surveys. Too many colleges are simply afraid to use the information that is collected in individual classes to try to interact and inform the performance of the faculty member or meet the needs of the students in their learning in class. This is because they are afraid of retribution from the individual professor or from a faculty grievance.

The voice of the customer from in-class evaluations can be strongly heard as a result of the surveys if they are taken in the aggregate as opposed to using them to focus on an individual professor of an individual class. What I mean by that is that when it may not be possible or plausible to use the survey results in class to change it, a specific  professor’s methodology, attitude, or pedagogy, a school can take all of the surveys taken classes such as English 101 and compile an overall voice of the customer. By looking at all of the courses, the fear of retribution from a single professor or the union can be strongly mitigated while still exposing strengths and weaknesses of the whole group of professors teaching that particular course. If for example it is found that after all of the evaluations of English 101 are analyzed, 60% of the professes do not use PowerPoint well, a workshop can be created to teach the teachers better ways to incorporate PowerPoint into their classroom instruction. This would be an instance of listening to the voice of the customer and resolving their expectation that something will come out of the survey.

An additional way to gain the voice of the customer is through analyzing web-based communications from and by students on social media for example. When we were working with a large university to help them create a one-stop service center that would meet expectations of students, their parents, the general community, and campus we studied what was said about the University service on social media. We found a specific  website that was created by students that spoke out against the way the school was treating them. The site was called “the shaft” which was a fairly explicit statement about how students felt they were treated at the institution. We also looked at social media sites such as Rate Your Professor to learn how students view the University and the service it provided.We also did a thorough search on Google for each and every comment and reference to the University by students. As a result were able to gain an introductory picture of service at the University and some of the issues that we would be facing and correct through the implementation of the new one-stop shop.

A thorough search of social media and monitoring what students have to say about the school, especially any rants that they make can provide very sharp assessments of the way the institution’ is treating students as well as noting their needs and expectations. In fact rants and criticism are two of the most important information gathering sources alongside collecting all complaints that a school can use to start identifying its most obvious flaws. In fact any survey that is done should try to elicit flaws and complaints as much as is possible because you cannot correct a problem until you hear about it.

In an earlier article I mentioned the simple survey method that proves to be very efficient and effective in getting student responses. The survey has only one question. “If you could change one thing at the college tomorrow what would it be?” It is a question that we use on our Campus AttitudeSurveys used when we analyze a school. By hearing from students what they are bothered by, what needs to be fixed, we can hear the voice of the customer. Though you may not want to hear more problems, you will certainly know what it is you need to fix. You will be listening to the voice of the customer through the needs and expectations that have been pronounced.

Take all of the comments that you have collected, place them into a hierarchy by the number of times an issue was mentioned and begin solving the first issue, then the second issue and so forth. Since it is important that students realize that their voice has been heard, it is necessary to let the students know when you have sold the issue.

Additionally, you will need to analyze the results, segment them into larger categories such as physical environment, classroom issues, food service issues, issues with particular offices, etc. and place them into hierarchical order by the number of times and strength of student response. If for example under point of service issues students say that they cannot get a particular office to answer the telephone and 70% of the students say this it is  obviously the first issue to respond to. Then you can organize workshops to teach people the appropriate use of the telephone.

By the way, you will find that this will be an often voiced concern, that is that telephones are not answered, when people answer they are rude, and too often people use voice mail as a way of avoiding talking with individuals on the telephone. We have heard the voice of students on many campuses as we do workshops or conduct campus retention audits and this is one of the most common concerns  they speak about.

It is also important to break the responses into segments by length of time on campus. In general new students will have fewer complaints than students who have been there longer. Interestingly you might very well find, as we have found often at schools we have audited, that first year students are satisfied with the institution during their first year on campus. This changes between freshman and sophomore year during the summer. Second-year students are the most dissatisfied with the institution. Once students pass into their third year in a four year school for example they have already made peace with many of the areas that they might have complained about. They have invested two years and if they haven’t left by this time, they are willing to put up with problems because they are getting closer to that goal so they actually complain less.

No matter what approach or method used to gather the information you need to create questions that focus on getting responses from students. What this means is you need to create information gathering vehicles that will elicit a more complete response than a simple yes or no whenever possible. So obviously another way of beginning to hear the voice of the customer is actually hearing the voice of students. That is getting out on campus and talking to students, asking them how things are going while  realizing that if you do this for the most part students are going to play to the customer. They will not necessarily complain but say everything is going “okay”. When someone says things are okay it is just a phatic statement. You have to delve a little bit more. When we do on an audit for example we will often hear students say things are okay.  Then when we start listing other areas such as the financial aid process, or how things go in the registrar’s office or do your faculty meet their office hours, we start to get responses

Too many times administrators or faculty believe that things are going very well because they don’t hear complaints. This is generally because we like to think things are going along okay. But the research shows that 80% of executives in businesses thought that their companies were providing excellent customer service while only 10% of the customers thought this. What we find in working with schools is that some administrators recognize that customer service is not that strong at the school while approximately 27% of students think customer service is fine. But it should be noted that these are students who have not dropped out of the school. If you added in the average 50% drop rate at most institutions, and realize that customer service reflects 76% of the reason why students leave, the actual percentage of students who are comfortable and happy with the school drops quite a bit.

How do we know this? When we do academic customer serviceaudits we make sure that we listen to the voice of the customer. We survey them. We interview them. We search out their rants on social media. We take all of this information, analyze it, segment it into a hierarchical structure so we can really understand what the students are saying their needs and expectations are. You can do much of the same at your school and that we emphatically recommend that you listen to the voice of the customer if you want to improve customer service and retention at your school.

If this article made sense to you, you may want to contact N.Raisman & Associates to see how you can improve academic customer service and hospitality to increase student satisfaction, retention and your bottom line
UMass Dartmouth invited Dr. Neal Raisman to campus to present on "Service Excellence in Higher Ed"  as a catalyst event used to kick off a service excellence program.  Dr. Neal Raisman presents a very powerful but simple message about the impact that customer service can have on retention and the overall success of the university.  Participants embraced his philosophy as was noted with heads nods and hallway conversations after the session.  Not only did he have data to back up what he was saying, but Dr. Raisman spoke of specific examples based on his own personal experience working at a college as  Dean and President.  Our Leadership Team welcomed the "8 Rules of Customer Service", showing their eagerness to go to the next step in rolling Raisman's message out.  We could not have been more pleased with his eye-opening presentation.    Sheila Whitaker UMass-Dartmouth



If you want more information on NRaisman & Associates or to learn

more about what you can do to improve academic customer service excellence on campus, get in touch with us or get a copy of our new book From Admissions to Graduation: Achieving Growth Through Academic Customer Service



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Make Every Day Day One on Campus to Increase Retention and Student Satisfaction


Students will soon start to arrive on campus. 
And most every college will be doing all it
can to make the arrival day welcome big and hearty. Presidents will walk around greeting students and parents. A few may even help carry something in. Administrators are on hand doing the same. At some schools faculty are around to help out too. And of course, student ambassadors are everywhere helping, pointing, guiding and smiling to try and make the move in easier and friendly. Great start. Sort of like drop off day at summer camp feeling.


Too bad it is like Tom Lehrer’s line in his song National Brotherhood Week. It’s only for a week so have no fear. Be grateful it doesn’t last all year. If he were singing about move in, it would be Thank god it only lasts a day and not all year. As it should!


Yup, as the last parents drive away, their tears drying, it all ends. The president goes back to his or her office. Administrators too. Now faculty will be available for classes and help when needed. The student ambassadors wash their polo or tee shirts and put them in a bureau to be pulled out at the next organized move in or orientation day. But the excitement and happy welcome end.

Dumb move.


The days after move in day are some of the most important there are to build retention. They are the days the real anxiety builds. When the real work of college starts for students. When they need the most help. Where is building….? Where do I go to….? Who is the one to see for…..? How do I…..? My laptop needs and where ….? Do I need to….? And so and on.


But this is when we have decided to let the news students sink or swim; if they can figure out where the pool is on campus and how to get a locker. And what do I need to bring to use it and what are the hours and….and…. The jolly helpful crew is only out there on the day we have labeled move in. That is the easiest day of all. It is just schlepping in stuff, material stuff. Now when the new students need to set up the psychological stuff, we are not there to help enough. And it is the emotional concerns that will be coming into play when the reality of I am here and where is that and will I fit in and like this place an did I choose the right place. I feel so all alone and I’m sharing a room with some people I don’t know and one is really strange and I’ll have to dress and undress in front of strangers and ….starts to disrupt the new students.


This is when a little irritation such showing up late for the first class at 8:00 am can become the first step on dropping out because I didn’t know how to get to the humanities lecture hall building and the signs don’t help because they just give me names of the buildings so the professor used me as an object lesson about never coming late to his class. And I so felt like a jerk and wanted to just get out of there. And then I wasn’t on his class list so he sent me to the registrars and where that is was a real mystery and there was no one who I could ask to help me out so I waited until later and missed the whole class. I am not sure I made the right choice. I feel so screwed up here.


And all was needed were some of those same administrators and ambassadors, and yes the president, out and about with tee shirts that say “ASK ME AND I’LL HELP” to assist new students. The administrators and the president really do not have any work more important than helping students. Yes, that is right. Students are their business. Their core business. They need to be seen and recognized as a positive friendly force. The ambassadors will be upper class students, so they will not be dumb enough to schedule anything too early in the morning. Besides, all one needs to do is make a schedule so the campus is covered.


There should be someone at the entrance/exit of every dorm; at every parking lot walkway and at every intersection on campus with some in front of various administration buildings to let new students know if they are at the right place.
On the first two days of classes, there should be a full effort with everyone out there to help students. This way you’ll be sure to get both the Monday-Wednesday and the Tuesday-Thursday class schedules.

After the first two days, the ambassadors should still be at intersections and paths from the parking lots just to handle any issues or questions that might come up during the first two weeks. After that, set up a Q+A area in the main student building or a main lobby to continue helping any students and any visitors.
And, SMILE, SMILE, SMILE.

And to help you smile and learn some more chemistry, here is a link to Tom Lehrer’s Elements Song. It is certainly worth it and will make you smile.


Kissing the Year Off Right

And here’s an idea for the first days of classes that will make that first day a sweeter and memorable occasion. It is taken from an ancient Jewish tradition for students on their first day of studying. The day the youngster is to go off to school for the first time, the parents take a prayer book and drop honey on it. It is given to the student who then licks the honey off symbolizing the sweetness of learning.


If possible, have faculty do the following in class, but if not have student ambassadors or others greet students at the doors to classes. They greet the new students with a welcome and give each a Hershey’s Kiss or other small candy to start the year right. It sounds corny and it is. But it is also very effective in creating that set of feelings that this school is a (excuse me) sweet place. I have never heard from any school that did this that students were anything than very happy for that early morning kiss.

 
 

If this article made sense to you, you may want to contact N.Raisman & Associates to see how you can improve academic customer service and hospitality to increase student satisfaction, retention and your bottom line
UMass Dartmouth invited Dr. Neal Raisman to campus to present on "Service Excellence in Higher Ed"  as a catalyst event used to kick off a service excellence program.  Dr. Neal Raisman presents a very powerful but simple message about the impact that customer service can have on retention and the overall success of the university.  Participants embraced his philosophy as was noted with heads nods and hallway conversations after the session.  Not only did he have data to back up what he was saying, but Dr. Raisman spoke of specific examples based on his own personal experience working at a college as  Dean and President.  Our Leadership Team welcomed the "8 Rules of Customer Service", showing their eagerness to go to the next step in rolling Raisman's message out.  We could not have been more pleased with his eye-opening presentation.    Sheila Whitaker UMass-Dartmouth


If you want more information on NRaisman & Associates or  learn more about what you can do to imrpoove customer service

excellence on campus, get in touch with us or get a copy of our new book From Admissions to Graduation: Achieving Growth Through Academic Customer Service

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Creating a Good Fit with Students to the College

Number 17 of the 25 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service reads:There must be a good match between the college and the student or do
not enroll the student.
  
If the school admits students who aren't right, aren't a good match for the school, those students will drop out. The student must fit the school and the school must do the same. This is a basic rule of retention.(Get a copy of the 25 Principles by simply clicking here and asking.)

This aspect of retention can be understood in part by buying a dress. When a woman buys a dress she wants something that will be a good fit. She also wants to be attractive, for her to look good in it and for it to be worth the cost of the dress in her mind. Like buying that dress, the final decision to buy or not is not an intellectual conclusion It is an emotional one. It is a decision that is supposed to make you happy. (Unless you’re a bridesmaid and have to spend a lot of money on what is almost always a bad looking, ill-fitting and costly ugly choice. But in the analogy that is the same as having to choose a school which is a runner up and not the top choice.) If the choice does not make you feel as if it is a good fit which means it is does not provide an emotional, affective and financial (time, money and effort) return of investment, then the dress is one that is discarded or returned. For a school, that means a student leaves it hanging in his or her historical closet and walks away from it.This is an emotional not intellectual decision. The initial shopping can and will often be an rational one. I need a dress. I want it to be a certain color, size, hem length, style, price range and even brand. So I begin by looking for dresses that fit that initial logical set of considerations. Dresses that do not fit into the intelligent framework are not considered, at least at first.  For a school these considerations are often level of selectivity. location, size, majors, and name value. Those that do not fit into the schema are not looked at.

Then the purchaser goes to the store to look at dresses that could work and to try them on. The schools visit, tour and even stay over. This will eliminate some contenders but the decision to continue to consider is now an emotional one. What dress fits well? What dress looks right on me? What shade of the color I want is really the right shade? Does the length look right for me? Does wearing it make me feel good? Attractive?  More appealing? Does it make my butt look big?

The same is true of schools now under consideration? Did visiting or applying to it make me feel good about myself. Will it make me look smarter? More fit for the job I want? Does it make my brain look big? These are not intellectual issues but purely emotional ones that go to the core issue of “is the dress/school a good fit for me?”

The salesperson in the store will of course try to make the buyer believe the dress is a great fit, makes the buyer look wonderful and by the way, you look just right in that dress. Cash of charge?” In a similar way, the admissions office of some schools try to make the school a good fit by tailoring the image to the students’ desires. In fact, some intelligent schools even use CRM to totally tailor the school to the specific shape of the student’s interest. These schools will even have current students who are similar to the prospective student email or call to reinforce the feeling of a good fit just like a salesperson in a store may call over another salesperson to give her “opinion” on how the dress looks. If there are any issues, the buyer is assured that the situation can be altered to fit better. They are after the sale so they do all they can to convince the student that this is the right school and fit so apply here now.

The decision is made.  The dress or school is bought and brought home. But if that initial sale and fit become questioned there is a problem. If the dress is worn and in the actual wearing it feels too big, or tight or the color is wrong or the neckline off, hem too short or long or the color is not complimenting the original feelings about it.  In other words it is not a good fit finally.. The purchase either gets discarded (dropout) or returned (transfer).  The buyer feels she was oversold quite often and loses faith in the store. She decides not to go back so the store loses future sales as well as the school loses revenue it would have gained from the student who leaves.

So what determines a good fit? Will I get an emotional, financial and affective return on my purchase? These three roi’s will determine if it is finally a good fit. Now it has to be granted that there are times when the label of the dress, the name of the school will override the balancing of the three returns on investments. Sometimes  a person buys a dress primarily because the label is a designer brand and that name alone will make the person fit into the dress even if it is not a really good fit in and of itself. And because the name and the cost are high, the person will likely continue to wear the dress even if it is tight for example. It is so affectively satisfying to say “the dress? Oh, well it is a NAME BRAND”. Or “I go to XXXX”

But there is an additional factor in the decision to buy. The way the store treats the customer. If the employee of the store or the college is not courteous, does not provide good customer service, makes you feel unworthy or sells too hard and gets caught at it there is an automatic decision that this is not a good fit. The potential dress buyer or student leaves quickly. Equally negative is indifference to the customer. That is also a form of bad service.

And don’t be fooled by the cost of the dress or school and the student’s ability to by either. If someone feels the fit is there, wants the dress of school enough he or she will do what is necessary to get that dress if they feel they need it. For example, that ugly bridesmaid dress discussed earlier, the buyer will get it even if it is much more expensive than it should be because the need for it is there. The dress may be ugly but it is a definite fit for the need. The school may not be all the student wanted but if it where he or she can get a major leading to a life goal, the student will by it even if it is expensive. There are credit cards and student loans for that purpose.

But if the fit is not there, believe it or not it is better to do what you can to dissuade the person from buying the school unless it is a choice or a necessity. Because if you sell the school and the fit is wrong, you have wasted your energy, will lose money and a customer who will tell at least twelve others that the buying experience was very disappointing. Don’t go there.

To paraphrase the late Johnny Cochran “If the dress don’t fit; don’t admit.”

There are still a few days available for speaking engagements at school openings and convocations. CALL US NOW TO SEE IF YOUR DATE IS AVAILABLE!  413.219.6939

If this article made sense to you, you may want to contact N.Raisman & Associates to see how you can improve academic customer service and hospitality to increase student satisfaction, retention and your bottom line
UMass Dartmouth invited Dr. Neal Raisman to campus to present on "Service Excellence in Higher Ed"  as a catalyst event used to kick off a service excellence program.  Dr. Neal Raisman presents a very powerful but simple message about the impact that customer service can have on retention and the overall success of the university.  Participants embraced his philosophy as was noted with heads nods and hallway conversations after the session.  Not only did he have data to back up what he was saying, but Dr. Raisman spoke of specific examples based on his own personal experience working at a college as  Dean and President.  Our Leadership Team welcomed the "8 Rules of Customer Service", showing their eagerness to go to the next step in rolling Raisman's message out.  We could not have been more pleased with his eye-opening presentation.    Sheila Whitaker UMass-Dartmouth


If you want more information on NRaisman & Associates or to learn
more about what you can do to improve academic customer service excellence on campus, get in touch with us or get a copy of our new book From Admissions to Graduation: Achieving Growth Through Academic Customer Service

Friday, August 01, 2014

A Simple Way to Learn About What Students Want

You cannot make something better until you know that it is not its very best yet. You need to understand the situation and the way service and hospitality work on your campus.  This is what we discover when we do a campus service audit but there is also a simple way for you and everyone else on the campus to start learning what students think about service at the school.

In an earlier article and in my book The Power of Retention I discussed Dean Bill Schaar and his habit of leaving his office each morning to walk the campus and say hello to everyone he met. I also discussed how I added to this by asking students how they are and listening to their response.  This is a good way to start to gauge how students are doing and what they are feeling about the school.

Now I want to add to that with another suggestion that will start to unveil hidden issues that students are bothered by.

Get out of your office and walk the campus. As you walk the campus do say hello to every student you see and ask them how they are doing as has been suggested earlier. But now I want you to just go up to random students and ask a simple question.

Introduce yourself with the give a name get a name technique as has been discussed earlier. But then tell the student that you are interested in asking a question about his or her experience on campus. You would like to be able to help make the student experience even better. Then ask this simple question and then listen for the answer. “If you could change one thing starting tomorrow to make your experience at the college better and more enjoyable what would that be?”

The secret now is being patient. This is an issue that many students have thought about but have not really voiced so it may take a minute for them to put words to their issue or concern. So just listen. They also may simply say that they cannot think of anything. This may be because they may not have anything they would like made better though this is doubtful. Or it may be because they are not sure you really want to hear from them. So if they have nothing to tell you at the moment give them your email address and tell them to feel free to email you if they think of anything. You may well be surprised at the number of emails you will get.

If they do tell you something make sure you let them know you will pass on their concern and even get their email so you can let them know if any changes are to be made to maker the issue better.

Using this simple method of talking and listening to students you will start to build up a long list of issues that can be addressed to make both service and hospitality better. In turn you will make the students feel more appreciated and increase retention though to graduation as you make the school better and stay in touch with students. If you would like to discuss the technique more, or learn how to turn this technique into a DIY fuller campus service audit, feel free to get in touch with me at Nealr@GreatServiceMatters.com

There are still some dates available for opening convocation presentations and workshops to improve retention for the year. CONTACT US NOW! 
 
IF THIS ARTICLE MAKES SENSE TO YOU, YOU WILL WANT TO OBTAIN A COPY OF THE BEST-SELLING BOOK ON RETENTION AND ACADEMIC CUSTOMER SERVICE THE POWER OF RETENTION: MORE CUSTOMER SERVICE IN HIGHER EDUCATION  by clicking here
NRaisman & Associates 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
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Monday, July 28, 2014

The Customer/Student is Always Right?



 Many people in academia get upset when students are referred to as customers. The concept seems to irk faculty in particular. Something about the customer and service provider relationship in a higher education context just seems wrong. It seems to me that the problem comes out of some misunderstanding and misperception. This is especially so as a result of misunderstanding of the line “the customer is always right”.

Faculty and others in colleges seem to believe this statement means they should give the students what they want such as high grades and praise when they are not due. This is incorrect and a rather na├»ve concept if one just gives it a bit of thought especially in the academic and most professional service environments such as medicine. 

The phrase is attributed to Caesar Ritz who applied it to a hotel environment to exhort his staff to take the hotel’s clients seriously with courtesy and tact. He was upset that his staff were treating the guests as if they were not valued. He did not want to lose clients in his superior-class hotel so he had to have his staff treat the guests at a level as high as the hotel was posh. The staff were somewhat rude to guests and did not respond quickly enough to their needs and concerns. They were Parisians after all and the guests were not. 

This could be done in a hotel/food service environment to an extent. If a customer complained that a steak was not done well enough, it was to be replaced with no questions asked as opposed to how Basil Faulty might have handled it. If a hotel room was not up to expectations the guest was given another that pleased him more. This could be done in a hotel/food service environment where there are not rules and regulations that must be followed on what rights the guest has.

The phrase was not intended to mean that the customer could not be wrong at times but when he is correct him with tact and concern for his integrity. It also had its limits as it does now. Let’s say a guest eats a meal at a restaurant and the bill came to $100. The bill arrives and the guest tells the waiter that the meal was good but I only want to pay $25. The customer is always right? No. The customer is wrong and the job of the waiter it to tell him that as appropriately as possible. The customer can be wrong.

A man goes to the doctors with an ailment. The doctor tells him that he needs to have his gall bladder removed but the patient says he’d rather have his appendix removed. Does the doctor agree and remove the appendix? No. Of course not. That would not just be absurd but unprofessional. The doctor would be called upon to refuse to do the surgery but tell the patient so in a way that does not denigrate the patient. In other words not like the TV character Dr. House.

The statement is not meant to mean that the patient, the diner, the customer or student is always right but to treat them properly. The statement is to guide staff and service provider behavior toward the customer.

In academia it calls on all of us to treat students as if they are important and valued people. It calls upon us to act as professionals, teach at the highest level possible and not denigrate or belittle students as did the fictional Dr. Kingsley in the movie The Paper Chase. In the movie Dr. Kingsley has asked a first year law student a question. When the student cannot answer the question, Kingsley says “Here is a dime. Go call your mother and tell her there is serious doubt that you will ever become a lawyer”. That would be an example of not treating the customer right. To treat the customer as if he were not wrong would be to simply tell him that the answer is incorrect and try to guide him to the correct answer. To treat the student as if he does have value, integrity and feelings.

The phrase does not mean we should give out high grades or coddle students but to be fully  engaged and treat them properly. We know that students are often wrong like on quizzes and tests.  Seeing a student as a customer does not mean that you should have made an easier quiz or just give everyone high grades. It means that if a student is not doing well we should step in and try to help him or at least offer help. Some students will accept it and others will not but our role in acting right is to make the offer.

We also work in a regulated environment with rules and codes that do not allow us to take the phrase so simply. If a student applies for financial aid and does not get as much as she wants, it is not for us to simply say “Oh well the customer is always right” and give her more financial aid than she is entitled to. No the job is then to follow the rules and guideline set out by the federal or state financial aid program and explain as politely, professionally and completely as is possible that this is the amount of money that is allowed.

Note the phrase “as is possible”. The reality sometimes is that the customer can be wrong to the point that one cannot work with him or her. Some students, some customers can become abusive and use highly inappropriate language. The customer is always right does not call upon anyone to subject him or herself to abuse. The customer has an obligation to do things correctly too and if he does not then there is little you can do but professionally refuse to help at that time. Customer service never says that anyone is to accept abuse from a customer just as we are not to give it out.

Students are our customers. They pay money for a service which is the definition of a customer.  Use the word client or student is you will but it is all the same. They are our customer/clients and need to be treated as you would want to be. You would not want a doctor to treat you rudely or come to the exam with indifference for your well-being, not answer your questions, not be available after the appointment or not be up-to-date on medical information and prescriptions. In the same way students want us to treat them professionally, with concern for their learning, have their questions and lack of understanding be responded to in the classroom and in office hours and for our lectures to be up-to-date and not off of yellowed notes.

That is treating the student as if he or she us right. 

If this article makes sense to you you will want to obtain a copy of the new book on academic customer service From Admissions to Graduation: Achieving Growth through Academic Customer Service by Dr. Neal Raisman, author of the best seller The Power of Retention. 

This is also the time to contact Dr. Raisman about coming to your school to help increase retention, admissions and morale through academic customer service. Dates for workshops and audits in the Fall are quickly filling up.