Monday, June 29, 2015

Academic Customer Service in a Nutshell

Administrators thinking about having us come to their campus for a workshop or presentation been asking for a "nutshell" definition of academic customer service. So here it is.

Academic customer service is far different than customer service in a retail environment. First of all, the customer is not always right as proven daily on tests and quizzes, and sometimes in their behavior. Academic customer service is far from coddling students too. And it is certainly not giving higher grades than are deserved.

Academic customer service is meeting the needs and demands of students which are created by what we promote in our marketing. If we say we have small classes then providing them is a promise we have made. Therefore it is meeting the promises we make to students for such things as personalized help, excellent instruction and treating every student with respect and kindness. It means greeting each student with a smile and an offer to be of assistance and being glad to see the students in our classrooms, offices and all over the campus.

It also means doing or jobs as well as we can to meet student needs whether that be classroom instruction, helping a student in th office or making certain the facilities are clean and at a level that makes students want to be at Mainland. It means putting students first because they really are more important than you or me. They are why the College exists and why we are here. They make us possible and provide the opportunity to make ourselves more valuable. We need to treat them in ways that match their importance.

For much more on what academic customer service is and how to make it work on your campus, get a copy of The Power of Retention and From Admissions to Graduation. 


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Changing Higher Education

Higher education is not a sector well known for change. It is in fact a sector that is
laughably slow to embrace any change at all while telling everyone else how they should alter their work habits, strategies, businesses, countries, culture and so on. Academia is also comfortable telling its clients what change they need to make to be successful in my class while using old notes from many classes ago. We have no compunction about telling students what they should do to change even if we are not going to do so. And it is done in interesting and competing ways. Each faculty member, every class sends out a different message to students. In humanities classes, students are told to open their minds and embrace new ideas but don’t try and shake mine even if I believe that Shakespeare was gay and all his plays send out a pro-gay agenda what with all the cross dressing and all. In math we are told to close down our minds and just accept that this is the right way to do this and all other ways to solve the problem and get to the answer are wrong. In social science or psychology students are exposed to whatever pet theory the particular faculty member embraces even if it is at odds with every other person teaching in the college. Well, you get the picture. Students are bombarded with calls to change even though they may conflict, be correct or even produce little change as the book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Arum and Roska posits.

One thing about change is sure. It does not take place or if it does it is very very slow in higher education. I recall a study done by some professors at the University of Pennsylvania in the 80’s which showed that higher education changes seven times slower than business and that was on issues such as technology that all agreed with. (Sorry, I lost the study but if anyone knows of it I would love to hear so I can get it again.) Imagine how slow change can be on issues that are even slightly controversial? Such as changing the culture of a school to embrace student success above research and personal success? To place student learning and teaching at least on a par with research? To actually get colleges and universities to embrace the idea that it is not enough to simply admit a student, that student has to really be taught and retained to graduation? To embrace Principle 15 of the Principles of Good Academic Customer Service – Actually give as big a damn about graduating students as recruiting them. (If you’d like a copy of the 15 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service, just ask for them at

Somehow we have this attitude that it is okay and even good to have students failing and leaving a school. The old “look to your right, look to your left…” Somehow losing students by the left and right establishes a university or college as a tough school and academically valid. That is not so and needs to change.  If that were so then schools such as Dalton State, Golden Gate University, Baker College, the University of Phoenix and over 1,000 others would have to be really great schools since they graduate far less than 30% of their students in six years. While universities such as Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Davidson would be weak schools because they graduate over 90% of their students in six years. Talk about an upside down idea!

Lose Students: Lose Money
What losing students does establish is that the school is losing money; leaving millions of tuition dollars on the table as students walk out, drop out, stop out and get out. Every student that leaves takes tuition and fee dollars with him. That is not just pocket change, but dollars. It is highly likely that your college or university is losing millions of dollars a year due to attrition as a study of 1668 colleges and universities I recently completed shows. If you want to find out how much your school is losing from attrition just ask me (

So it is important for any college or university which is to focus a bit on its revenue and budget to also realize that it would have to change its attitudes and culture. That is not easy to do. Not easy but necessary. Sorry to be so blatant on this point but to increase revenue and not have to keep cutting into the muscles and sinews that hold the college together, it will be necessary to focus on retention.  It will thus be necessary to focus on student success above all else. Not just retaining at any cost but retaining by helping students succeed. That also means that the culture will have to change from a “research first” culture to a students first. It will be necessary to move from “this would be a great place to work if it weren’t for the students” to this is a great place to work because of the students.” Colleges and universities will have to move from churn and burn to learn and earn.

These will all be major cultural shifts that will demand changing beliefs, practices, habits, traditions, folkways and attitudes of all the members of the school from the lowest adjunct pariah through the administrator Brahmin caste. This would not be easy. It will demand strength of vision, tenacity, sensitivity, patience, and at times the strength of purpose to take a chance moving forward. These unfortunately are not always qualities we ascribe to out leaders in some schools. Nor are they qualities that we attribute to some key members groups for success such as faculty who have an interest in a vested academic power structure built ion research and recognition. Turning around the Goodship Academia is not easy but it has to be done.

The Heat of Budget Cuts Could Melt the Culture
Change as we learn from organizational development requires something to happen. Some event or situation that causes enough “heat” to unfreeze the organization. When the organization is unfrozen it might be able to start to make some changes required to reshape it into a new organization with perhaps different mission or purpose. Granted it is very difficult to “unfreeze” higher education as a result of tenure.  Tenure isolates a key group i.e. tenured faculty who hold the power among the faculty in general and much of the college at large. Tenured faculty are largely personally immune to the heat of budget and personnel cuts that have made others in academia feel the heat. They cannot be dismissed due to revenue reductions as students continue to stream out the exit with their tuition money. Tenure keeps them as almost untouchable. Sort of ironic in that Brahmins have become the untouchables because they are Brahmins!

Years ago, my wife and I were driving across the US heading to Boston to bring our new daughter to meet her grandparents. As we drove, there was a news story about some homeless people who froze to death in the cold. I quickly questioned why no one did anything to help them? Aileen hauled off and punched me in the arm. “Ow” I yelled to which Aileen said “I didn’t feel a thing.” This is the situation in many colleges and universities which keeps them from unfreezing even in the face of revenue reductions that are causing cuts that are hurting students more and more every day. But because of tenure, many faculty who can control change are not directly feeling the heat. Yes, they do feel when people are let go. They feel the cuts in equipment, release hours travel funds, staff, etc. They are not heartless or impervious to the cuts but they are protected. This makes change even more difficult since the mind of the faculty is usually the consciousness of the institution unless the leadership is really committed to an idea or goal that can pull tenured faculty along.

Change might take place now since there is the ever-hotter potentially unfreezing effect of revenue reductions and cuts in almost every college and university in the country.  This is a time when leadership can make a clear and clarion case for focusing more on students and a bit less on research; focusing more on revenue and budget growth than expenditures and cuts. But it will demand that leadership show the college what’s in it for them and maintain a clear and consistent message. Presidents should be willing to do this since they should be rather fatigued at cutting budgets and trying to explain the cuts while having to place reductions in the best light possible when the first thing to go was the light bulb.

The campus should also be fatigued from hearing and absorbing the cuts. The members of the campus community should be ready to embrace some change even though they will simultaneously resist that same change hoping all will go back to the good old days of the nineties which may not have realty been all that good anyway.

This is a time for presidents, boards and college communities to draft customer-centric, thus student success centric plans to focus on students as a primary and actual activity. Yes, missions all say something about student being our most important business but that has not been true on most campuses for many, many years now.

The budget crises hitting higher education demand change and the best way to affect change that will also increase revenue is becoming student graduation-centric. The more students that stay in school and graduate, the greater the rewards –monetarily and mission-wise. And it is not a time for the usually glacially slow change of college. The reductions in budgets are so severe that to wait too long to embrace change will only expose the college to greater damage.

The time to change is now. The change needed is to focus on retention and student success.

If this makes sense to you, get a copy of the new best seller From Admissions to Graduation by this article's author, Dr. Neal Raisman by clicking here

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

End Churn and Burn Through Retention

There have been an increasing number of calls and emails from schools seeking training for their admissions’ departments the past six months. As a consulting group, we are pleased to help out. But I am amazed when we tell the schools they can save money and increase profits by focusing on retention.

“Retention! No, we can solve all our problems if we enroll more students”.

But they can’t enroll more students. That’s why they call us. But then they don’t listen. They still focus on a churn and burn approach. Enroll them. Bring them in. Greet them at the front door and wave bye to them and your revenue as they flee out the back. As a result, schools continue to have problems meeting revenue and mission goals.

Let’s look at the realities. If an admissions department enrolls 50 students on Monday but only 25 show for the first day of classes, how many students were enrolled? 25. Yet you paid to have all 50 recruited and processed at an average cost of $5,640 each. That means an immediate loss of $141,000. This loss is partially from inappropriate sales technique but mainly from not focusing on retention from day one.

The fuller loss can be easily calculated by multiplying the 25 students times your annualized tuition as discussed in my book Customer Service Factors and the Cost of Attrition. If the school’s annualized tuition is $12,000, that means an additional $300,000 lost. Just for one start. If there are six starts, total attrition losses could be $2.646,000. For most schools recapturing some on that $2M-plus would be good. That is why we are so busy helping schools on retention.

When I was the Chancellor of a college the truth was that we seldom hit our admission goals. Competition was increasing. The available market was starting to shrink due to competition and costs. Tuition went up every year and we were about to hit a price point at which the ROI would be questioned more and more by potential students and their families/buying committees. We would soon hit that point at which we were pricing ourselves beyond our target market. Yet admission goals were raised by corporate for every single start. The goals were raised even though the school did not hit its earlier goals. A guaranteed way to assure failure financial if we focused on new enrollment alone. But we didn’t.

I realized the most important number was not new students but total population. Money was made if we kept population. So we began to focus on retention.

Sure we kept working at improving our admission approaches and tried to change the sales methods to adapt to the actual mindset of potential students rather than that of the admissions rep. For example, they seemed to think they should keep talking and dumping more and more information on the potential student’s head as if they were an educational landfill. Sooner or later, the student would agree to fill out an application just to shut them up I think. Applications could be up but real enrollments, those who showed for classes and paid tuition, not so much.

We brought in the top sales coach in the world, Stephan Schiffman and used his excellent books that lead to sales success. We also tried re-aligning staff to focus on strengths such as setting appointments and closing sales. But a hallmark of churn and burn is the comfort in failing; to keep doing the same thing that isn’t working. So the admission’s team went back to its losing ways each and every time with the blessings of regional admission’s directors who only cared about admissions of course.

But I hate failing so we hired a student retention group. But to illustrate the inability of churn and burn-oriented groups to change to succeed, I was told by I could not use the title “Vice President for Retention Services”. That would take away from admissions and make a negative statement. So I hired a VP of Student Services who focused on retention. We also hired intervention counselors whose job was to contact every student at least every other week and any student at risk at least twice a week to see what we could do that was legal, ethical and in the students’ best interests to help out. We did all we could to meet their needs and especially their return on investment concerns and goals. 

We also put in place a Rapid Response Retention approach that sought out problems that caused students problems each day and then solved them by the end of the day so the solution could be implemented the next day. The only rule was to determine if the solution was legal, within rules and regulations; ethical and to the benefit of students.

Bottom line – The college did not hit admission numbers but did return a quite solid enrollment every year based on a retaining students so they could graduate Students hit their goals and we hit ours. Would anyone refuse that?
By the way, since we offered two and four year degrees, we increased our ability to upsell associate degree students into the BA programs since they were also happier with the school. Again, a win-win for everyone.
So the message here? Admissions is good and necessary but retention really makes the revenue grow.

Move away from failing churn and burn approaches that assure fiscal failure. Focus much more on retention and embrace what we call Learn and Earn that we teach schools and is discussed in the new book From Admissions to Graduation with many ways to keep students learning so they graduate and get to their goals while you keep earning.

We are quickly filling up our dates for school opening convocations and workshops in August and September as well as customer service week (Oct.5-9). We would like to be able to help you too so please contact us ASAP for a date.

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

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Give a Name- Get a Name

When I had astay in the Ohio State Wexner Center east Hospital a couple of
weeks ago, I saw and experienced some customer service that was excellent. Everyone who came to see me introduced him or herself first so I had a name to use as well as got a sense that they were caring about me. They would come into the room and invariably say “Mr. Raisman, I am ______ and I am going to_______.

This is the concept I have been promoting for years now which I call Give and name-Get a name. The process is simple but so very effective.

Every time you interact with a student give her your name and what you do before you ask if you might be able to help them. By giving out your name you have created a small bridge to a community of two. You have provided one of the most important information that anyone can give out- your name. Names are very important and they are powerful.  There are some cultures that realize this and do not use their given name. They use another name because if someone got the actual name, they could have power over them.

Another simple example of how powerful a name can be. When I was doing a customer service audit of a college recently, I needed to stop, consolidate my notes and get a cup of coffee.  I went to the school cafĂ© and saw that the server’s (I can’t call anyone a barrista) name was Alice. So I just said “Good afternoon Alice, I am Neal and I would like a cappuccino please”. She looked at me for a few seconds and then made the coffee. She handed it across the counter and I went to pay. She refused money. “You are the first person to use my name and I really appreciate that. You realized I am a person. Coffee is on the house”.

You can see the power of names when you go out to eat next. Actually look at the server’s name and use it. You will find that you get better service than someone who just refers to the waiter as “Oh waiter”.

Once you have given out your name, ask the student or other person you are dealing with what his name is.”Hi I am Neal, and I am a consultant. And you are….” There may well be a pause before the student responds but that is out of shock that someone would want her name and not just a number. Once the student recovers from good service, she will tell you her name and then use it.

“Okay Helen, what can I try to help you with?”

This give a name-get a name technique works particularly well with students who are upset. Being upset or angry requires that the student keep that level of anger going and see you as just a functionary in the college. By giving your name you are saying I am not just an employee, I am a person with a name and feelings. That is often enough to break the flow of anger and allow you to work with the student.

Try the give a name-get a name technique and increase your service, your ability to work with students as well as making you fell better. Using your name will give you a feeling of greater importance and value to yourself as well as to others.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lighting as Customer Service on Campus

I have not written the past little while because I was in and out of the hospital with kidney failure. We now have it fully under control through dialysis and things are back to a new normal. So I am going to be writing the blog again and I hope you find it worthwhile. For this blog I am rewriting one of the most requested ones I ever wrote about lighting. Hardly a week goes by without someone asking for a copy of this piece so I am posting it again here.I should be back to new posts next week so stay tunes and let others know of the blog. Thanks.

September 11 is coming around again and this time it is a big commemoration anniversary. The event is going to resonate again and make some student feel uncomfortable and somewhat insecure or even unsafe  on campus. This is going to be especially so in the evenings when college #2 starts for adults. And we will add to this by making sure that we save money by losing students.

Or at least by decreasing lighting in an attempt to save money which in turn will make some students feel unsafe and not like coming back. People may not realize it, but lighting is a definite customer service objective correlative aspect that directly can affect retention.

Over the years I have studied customer service issues in colleges, and after an event that could make people nervous it is not surprise that students shared that anxiety. This is especially so for evening students.  Evening students are primarily adults who have experienced enough of life to know that hurt or even death can be an entirely random event. They get worried particularly in darker places; where the evil hides. The same levels of concern exist for resident students as for commuter students.

Over the years, I have found a trend among resident students to de­fine distance from home as a comfort factor. The closer the school is to their home, the safer they assume it is. In fact, resident students may even get a bit more careless about safety than commuting students but there is no way of truly knowing that since colleges still are bad at really reporting incidents and many commuter students report incidents to local police; nor campus security.

Leaving Students in the Dark
Commuter students consider a trip of more than 30 minutes in length an annoy­ance and a factor in choosing to attend one college over another. It is not distance but time in commuting that is  factor to look at for your commuting students. And like resident students, the longer it takes to get to campus, the further from home it is even if it just a few miles like for someone who commutes to class on Long Island’s parking lot known as the Long Island Expressway.

But student attitudes about distance to a college are not even close to how they feel about the walk from the car to the classroom.  If they arrive at a parking lot at night that is distant from their classroom and it is dark, many students will turn around and leave even if the class is not that far away but the way is dark. This is especially so if the walk is by a person by him or herself. By the way, this is true for resident students. Walking in the dark is not made to feel any less anxious for them   Students feel vulnerable and do not want to have to walk through a dark campus. 

Classes are starting up as the 9/11 anniversary builds and comes to a conclusion. It will bring back feels nervousness, especially is the campus is not well-lit. If this is the feeling that students have during their first week as night stu­dents, it is likely that they will withdraw.

Over the past decade and even more in the past two years, colleges and universities have become very conscious of the cost of electricity. To cut costs, college officials reduced the number and wattage of bulbs throughout the campus, especially in lobbies and hails. They also installed less expensive, but also less light-intense, neon bulbs and have become lackadaisical about replacing burned out bulbs. But schools need to realize that  what might pass as a romantic or atmospheric dark­ness in a restaurant may not produce the same feelings on campus. In fact I would suggest that darker halls, parking lots and campus pathways will be viewed as precarious and foreboding.

Let them see the light 
Over the years while checking on a school’s campus as customer service factor, I have seen students approach a lobby and hesitate to enter before scanning it. They also halt before entering a hallway to get to classes when the hall is not well lit. In an audit, I saw six students individually approach a weakly lit rear entrance of a classroom build­ing, look in, see no one else inside and wait for another person to come along before they would enter the hall. Four of six waited until another student came to the door and then entered together, and two left.

At one institution, I observed five cars enter a poorly lit parking area at night, circle it three times looking for a spot near one of the working lights and leave when they could not find a well-lit spot. Those that circled and stopped in a darker area, left their cars hesitantly and walked across the lot looking anxiously for any signs of danger.

I see the same reaction in students walking across campuses. Students will travel the brightest pathway and not go onto ones where lights are too dim or out. At one institution, a path was well lit until students entered an area where a dead bulb was not replaced. They walked up to that spot then left the walk to cross over an open , better lit grassy area to get to another walk 200 yards away.

The solution is easy.
Replace all light bulbs that are out. Increase wattage wherever you can. Keep lobbies, entry areas and all walkways well lit. If possible, increase the number of lights in parking areas.  And if possible, offer escort services to all your night students.

The author Dr. Neal Raisman is the leading presenter, researcher and consultant on customer service for retention in colleges, universities, community and career colleges in the US, Canada and Europe. He and his associates have provided retention solutions for over 300 schools and businesses that want to work with higher education. Dr. Raisman is the author of over 400 articles and four books including his latest bestseller The Power of Retention; More Customer Service for Higher Education available from The Administrators' Bookshelf in hard copy and digital editions.


If you would like to discuss a retention issue or see if he has a time available to come to your school or business for a workshop, presentation or other retention solution such as a full customer servicing audit,
413.219.6939 or email