Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Reinventing the College Tour for Greater Success

One of the most important parts of the enrollment sequence – the campus tour - is also one of the worst for many potential students and their parents. We
have cited before that at least 12% of potential probable enrollees are lost as soon as the interested potential enrollees encounter the campus. The poor customer service of the tour is a major contributor. It is not the only one by any means, but it can be a major one.

Most colleges relegate the tours to a group of students who likely start out enthusiastic and interesting but soon devolve into the bored rote voices of students who have more important things than this #$%ing tour on their mind. This is especially so for students doing the tours to make minimum wage.
And the tour itself…. “Here is a typical classroom (yawn). A computer lab (Woopie! Computers in rows) This is a sample dorm room (which is almost always staged much better than any other room). This is our cafeteria (where the food sucks but I have to pretend it is fine), And on and on. How exciting and motivating.

The tour is one of the most important aspects of the decision-making process. It can make a decision to enroll or drive a potential student away. The tour can also be the start of the engagement process during which a potential student decided if he or she wishes to be wed to the school.
It is also the point at which parents decide if they wish to support their child’s college choice. This is especially is for mothers who seem to be most affected by what they see and hear according to Jim Black of SEM. He Sid that the mother is the most influential person on whether or not to attend a college other than the child making that decision. Fathers pretty much decide on cost and if their child will be happy at the school we find. And yet, tours get simply boring, not directed to the decision-makers and well, pretty much ineffective. One tour is quite similar to another school’s.
The tone of an article in (2/13/07) New York Times summarizes it all rather well.

College tours are pretty standard. A student walking backward will show you the library, the athletic center and a typical dorm room. Then there will be the requisite safety talk. The tour guide will point out blue boxes -- emergency call buttons for the campus police -- and extol the security systems in the residence halls. The spiel usually includes a bit about how, if a student feels uncomfortable walking alone at night on campus, he or she can simply call security for an escort.

Wouldn’t that tour just light up your “gotta go there juices”? Not really since most any tour of one school could also be the tour of another. Sort of interchangeable like school catalogs and websites. No wonder the student tour guides lose their enthusiasm too even though taking students to the library might be their only visit too.

The idea is that a student will provide a more authentic voice and customer service that will seem genuine. This can’t be done when the tour is trying to please two audiences at once – parents and students. These are two very different audiences and one rule of customer service is that it must be focused and geared correctly to the correct audience. And well, let’s face it. Students have different interests than their parents.

Students want to know they will get a good education but also have a good time. Parents walk through the tour focused on the ROI for their tuition dollars, yes the library because they believe students will use books rather than the web, safety issues and how much this all is going to cost me.

Okay, the solutions. First, have two tours and two tour guides. The potential students should go off with a student without the parents. That way they can see the aspects of the school they really want to see and ask real questions like “where do people really eat? Is one dining hall better than another or should I skip them entirely?” “What dorms are the ones you don’t want to get stuck in?” “What’s with web access for downloading on campus?” “If I rush a frat/sorority how does that work?” And so on. Take them to where students really hang out. Buy them a cup of coffee or a soda and talk there, in their habitat; not the schools official one. They will feel more comfortable and will feel as if they have joined the school community already. 

And community is one thing this generation craves. They feel isolated by the society so they have a need to feel as if they can belong in some community. Sitting and talking in an environment they are familiar with sets them into a sense of community with the group around the table.

Parents should go with an adult tour guide, preferably a faculty member, and be shown a classroom, the library, safety including a brief meeting with the head of security, an introduction to the financial aid office and director to set appointments to go into financial aid packages, a quick introduction to an academic officer, a dean or a chair if you schedule by academic interests. They should meet the Dean/VP/Dir/ Head Honcho of student services too. They want a feeling that there are real people there to help them and their potential tuition provider.

If it is not possible to have two tours, then hire professional tour givers or train the admissions officers to give the tour. And I do mean train. Do not assume that because a person is an admissions representative, he or she can give a good tour. Simply walking with people and pointing out the classrooms like a flight attendant pointing out the emergency doors “two doors aft and two doors in the back…” is not pointing out the safety aspects of our Boeing College 387. Teach them how to fake enthusiasm if it is not there and then wonder why you keep a less than enthusiastic admissions rep. Train them how to get the tourists to talk more than the reps. Teach them questioning and listening as a touring technique.

Combine aspects of the student tour with the parents’ tor away from it.our on a checklist and ask the tourists what they want to see. Let them decide or at least provide them the illusion they are deciding. Ever been on a guided tour and felt like you were really missing the good stuff on the “okay everyone, over here now!” Find out what interests them and not what you assume they want to see. Then show it to them. And feel very free to ask them what they like and do not; what is making them lean toward the school

Keep in mind that this is the ME generation. The I will Manage my Experience generation which by the way is more a state of mind than an age. From what music they load on their IPod or phone, to designing their own home and Facebook pages, to Tivo-ing to watch TV when they wish to rather than the time the network set, to most everything, they want to make the decisions on how their experiences will be set up and managed. They want control and community. They want to manage their experiences. So let them make some decisions and don’t assume you know what they want to see and experience.

Also when setting up the basic concept of the tour, you may want to get external guidance that knows what students really want on a tour. There are consultants who can help. Or get some focus groups pulled together from high school students and learn from them. Let them guide you so you can guide them on their tours of their future school - if the tour doesn't lose them somewhere out by Classroom Building B.

If this makes sense to you, you will want to get a copy of one or both of my books –The Power of Retention or From Admissions to Graduation. You should also contact us about what else we can do to help you increase admissions, retention and graduation rates s we have done for over 40 colleges and universities in the States, Canada and Europe. Call today at 413.219.6939 or email me at

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Conference You Should Attend

I am attending and presenting at my first conference in a year-and-a-half since dialysis and getting a kidney transplant three months ago. I was tied down and weak for that time and did little work I fear but I am feeling fine and roaring to get back to work.

The conference is one I recommenced to anyone interested in admissions, enrollment and retention.  It is the best on all the three topics I have been to in years. It is the Small Colleges National Conference on Enrollment but it really is not just for small colleges. The presentations would be helpful for any sized college. What the presenters brought forward were practical ways to increase admission's, enrollment and retention success and can be applied to any size college no matter what the scale. These people knew what they were talking about too.

I attended sessions on Using Institutional Analytics to Improve the Effectiveness of Small College Admissions; Fundamentals for Student Success, Retention, and Completion, Incorporating the Latest Enrollment Tools and Initiatives to Meet Enrollment Objectives; Creating a Campus Environment that Supports Student Success and a session Critical Insights that Help Drive Students Success. I am very pleased to say that I picked up new insights from everyone of them; something that can be rare at some conferences. These were  to "here's what we do" brags, but real, down to earth here's how's to increase success. And of course a great session on Academic Customer Service is coming up tomorrow morning.

Moreover, it was run exceedingly well by Jim Black, President of Strategic Enrollment Management and Neal Clarke who is the Dean of College Counseling and Guidance at The Walker School in Marietta, GA.  They have been leading it for many years and have the running of it while keeping the enjoyment of it very high. People had time to mingle and meet new colleagues too as well as enjoy an entertaining raffle supported by all the vendors.   (I did not win anything BTW but had fun.)

They were also able to attract some of the top vendors of tools to increase admissions, enrollment and retention from all over the country. And they did not overcrowd the vendor room so you could actually have some great conversation and learning from them  More on some of what I learned about some great products in another writing.

I highly recommend this conference to schools of all sizes. It and the Institute for Educational Policy's retention conference are two that should be on your schedule.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Administrators' Role in Retention and Academic Customer Service

Somehow, administrators think that customer service is like taxes – something for others but not me. “Sure we need more of it but I don’t think I should have to be the one to have give up any of my time
or concern. Customer service, that’s for those who earn less than than I do".) And the more the administrator makes, the less he or she thinks customer service training is something needed. “Customer service is something needed by those who work directly with students and…..” Uh, anyone see a flaw in that reasoning?

Yet that sort of logic (illogic) is at play in almost every college or university we work with to improve retention through academic customer service. Training is needed by so-called front line people not those who manage or supervise them and everyone else.  Too many administrators do not see themselves, and probably aren’t, working with and making direct contact with students on a daily basis. They hide out in their offices and go to meetings to talk about what needs to be done for and to the students without really identifying with their primary customers.

Oh sure, part of the reason is that the administrators do not see students as their primary customers. For example, presidents see the faculty and trustees as the most important customers in the old academic caste system. Faculty and trustees were classes to please and keep holy.  That is a system that was also thought to guarantee the president’s position and job but often backfired when the budget started into the red zone. Faculty empowered by their attention started to fight change.  And in today’s university and college are not merely go into the red zone, they are bleeding red everywhere.

Presidents, boards and administrators need to embrace two things: 1) the new caste approach and 2) their role in customer service. To survive in the new world in which students go to the head of the caste, administrators need to realize that the old college order is ending a new one is being born – one in which students and their success are number one in maintaining stability and revenue. Certainly grants will bring in some large revenue sources as one time money that will come and then disappear leaving more costs behind in their wake to maintain what the grant originally set up. Moreover, grants do not normally go to the general fund to run the school.

What does go to general fund? Tuition and fees. And where do tuition and fees come from – students. I have left out public support since that is not a reliable revenue source and with the pledges to cut state and national costs, it looks like most every college or university will sooner than later be running as if it were a private institution – living or drying up on tuition, fees and endowments.

That means that students will start to return to their position as important people on campus as they are on many private schools and some privates. This also means that the administration will need to make direct contact with students on a regular basis to make sure that their decisions will have positive impacts on the most important customer base – students. This is not to say that some of the more successful college administrators do not already do that. Gordon Gee for instance, when he was  president of Ohio State University,  got out among the students every day and even some nights. They know him and his presence says they count. Enrollment and retention went up at OSU.

So administrators who see academic customer service as something for others but not for them are wrong and actually have always been wrong. Customer service is not something for one group of people to do, it is a philosophy, an approach to success and a core aspect of institutional culture if it is to work – really work.

Consider that the president’s primary job is to represent, to embody a sense of the institution.  He or she is the symbol of the school that everyone looks to as if he or she were the school. When the public wants to hear from the school, they go to the president for example. The day-to-day work is really not done by the president. It is done by everyone else from the provost, vice presidents and on up to the clerical staff.  That is why the president can go off campus so often and the place still keeps running just as well (and sometimes better) than when he or she were holed up in and office or meeting. As an ex-president I can say now (but not when I was presidenting)  that the least important position to getting the work of the university done is the president  except in setting the tone and character of the campus culture and direction.

That setting the tone is a big job though. It is in fact, the most important one when it comes to focusing the institution. And since student success is what the campus is all about in the eyes of the public as well as most importantly in the mind and heart of the bill payers – students – it should be the primary role of the president to set a tone that focuses on students and their success. That be in keeping with any mission statement that exists, (I mean whose mission statement does not have some self-serving clause about students are our business, our only business except for….)

Moreover, since the president will be blamed for fiscal problems, it should be the role of the president to do inculcate a focus on what can increase revenue.  And what is the primary source of consistent, reliable  revenue – tuition and fees.  And these come from what? Students.

So administrators should be all about students and student success at the school. Why success? Because the churn and burn approach of front loading tuition does not work. Front loading? Looking at new or starting enrollment and planning on a large attrition loss rather than focusing on retention. Most schools plan to lose thousand, hundreds of thousand even millions of revenue dollars in attrition and think that’s okay because they planned for it. They build student and institutional failure into the budget. That is simply dumb and even worse, unnecessary.

If the school focused on student success which has academic customer service at its core, it could and would succeed in keeping as much as 84% of the lost attrition revenue. If the president and administrators saw academic customer service as their job too and obtained some training and understanding of it, they could and would do their jobs much better. And the school would benefit as well.

As a starting point for administrators, here are ten rules for university and college administrators to follow as they hopefully begin to embrace and become a champion for academic customer service. (If you are not an administrator, pass this on to one who is.)

Customer Service Rules for Managers

Rule 1
Students are our primary customers
Rule 2
Our colleagues are our customers too
Rule 3
Take care of our customers
Our customers’ needs must come before our own or we will lose customers. Always have time for customers!
Rule 4
If an employee deserves praise, praise her
If an employee does not deserve praise, retrain him
Rule 5
Annual reviews are too late and have limited value
Conduct informal reviews at least once a month and
Listen twice as much as you talk
Rule 6
Say thank you to each employee at least once a day
Rule 7
Celebrate small victories
Celebrate big victories big
Rule 8
Remember that your colleagues have lives outside of work
You do too
Rule 9
If the phone is ringing and everyone is busy, answer it.
No work is below you
Rule 10

N. Raisman & Associates is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through workshops, presentations, research, training and academic customer service solutions for colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as businesses that work with them 
We increase your success


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Excellent Customer Service by 38 Community Colleges

Sorry to have been away for a while. It is a combination of having a kidney transplant and finishing a new book about my son's death and the aftermath of that.  I will be back blogging soon. Here is an article tha
t just came out on The Chronicle's web site that shows an excellent effort to provide some great customer service to students.


38 Community Colleges to Begin Replacing Textbooks With Free Educational Resources

Thirty-eight community colleges will take part in a new effort that involves replacing commercial textbooks with free educational materials. The open-educational-resources project, which is being coordinated by Achieving the Dream, a network for community-college reform, is expected to bring the free materials to at least 76,000 students in the next three years.

Proponents of open resources say that the use of the materials could save students as much as $1,300 in textbook costs per year, or about one-third of the expense of a typical associate degree. Some advocates even consider open resources “a social-justice issue,” contending that the use of such materials can be especially valuable to low-income students, who sometimes don’t buy textbooks at all because of their cost.
The new effort is backed by grants totaling $9.8 million from several foundations, and is likely to give another boost to the growing movement for open educational resources, or OER.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

25 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service


25 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service

1.    Every student wants to attend Cheers University and every employee wants to work there! where
everybody knows your name and theyre awfully glad you came

2.    Give a damn about graduating students; not just recruiting them.

3.     Do unto students as you would have done unto your son, your daughter, your mother or your father.

4.    Students come before personal or college-focused goals. Students really are more important than you or I.

5.    Processes, rules and products should assure that students and learning are at the center of the institution.
If not, rethink them.

6.    Be honest in all communications. Do not patronize.

7.    Students can never be an inconvenience.

8.    The goal is not to recruit the very best students, but to make the students you recruit their very best.

9.    Just because someone else did a dis-service or harm does not relieve you of correcting the injury.

10.  Students and employees deserve an environment that is neat, bright, welcoming and safe.

11.  Students are not really customers. They are professional clients.

12.  The customer is not always right. Thats why they come to college and take tests.

13.  Satisfaction is not enough and never the goal.

14.  Do not cheapen the product and call it customer service. No cheap grades.  No pandering.

15.  To every problem there is more than one solution and they may be external rather than within academia.

16.  Not everyone is capable of providing good customer service. That does not mean they do not have value somewhere.

17.  There must be a good match between the college and the student or do not enroll the student.

18.  Fulfill all promises

19.  Engagement starts at first contact and continues into alumni status.  Engage. Engage. Engage and then engage again.

20.  Everyone deserves an environment that is neat, bright, welcoming and hospitable.

21.  All members of the community must be given courteous, concerned and prompt attention to their needs and value.

22.  Train, trust and empower all employees to do what is right to help students.

23. Websites must be well designed, easy to navigate, written for and focused on students and  actually informative

24.  Attendance is key to being able provide good customer service and must be attended to with a  Campus-wide policy.

25.  Decorum in the classroom is an important service and training for the future