Monday, May 07, 2018

The Best Information Center on Any College Campus

David DeCenzo, the President of Coastal Carolina University, wanted to improve customer service on the campus. He knew how important academic customer service is to enrollment and the University. President DeCenzo wanted to provide faster, friendlier and more accurate help for students. He was intrigued by the idea of a concierge service to help students and turned to newly hired April Betsch to explore the idea.

April ran with it. She set up focus groups with students to explore the concierge concept. She focused on one very pertinent question. “What frustrates you most about Coastal?” The responses surprised her. One of the items that came up often was the campus map. It was very frustrating for students especially new ones trying to find their way around because the map listed buildings by their names while their schedules listed them by an abbreviation. They could not find their way to classes easily. Campus maps by the way are often bad because they are created by people who already know their way around campus as was Coastal’s. April added abbreviations (and I would suggest that she and others add functions within the buildings, i.e. billing, classroom, financial aid, etc, to further help).

She also heard a problem common at most universities, especially ones growing quickly as Coastal was under Pres. DeCenzo. Communication was a major issue. Things were happening, events taking place, locations changing and students were not being informed that well about these and other issues on campus. Students were also getting “the shuffle” as they tried to get answers to issues. April felt that she needed to address communications as a major service issue so she came up with the idea of a “super communication’s desk” rather than a concierge and the President supported her idea.
CHANT411 was born (CHANT is short for the school’s mascot Chanticleer).

This desk was going to be able to answer all student questions and meet all student inquiries no matter what it was from a class location to a movie’s schedule to where is…. and what is…..and...? And CHANT411 does all this and more so well that it is used extensively by the Coastal community, not just by students.

Faculty and staff call it to get answers to students’ and their own questions too. It has even has received calls from other university students seeking help. Like the time there was a snowstorm that closed Western Carolina University. Students from WCU could not get information at their own school to they contacted CHANT411 to see if their local Starbucks was still open. The person at CHANT411 did some investigating, found out it was, and called the students at WCU back to let them know.

CHANT 411 takes both phone calls and even more often, text message issues and questions. In fact, 92% of the total number of questions it has received have been via text message.

Since its start five years ago when CHANT411 received 8,601 calls, texts and questions, the volume of calls and texts has grown. In the second year of operation, the desk received a 162% increase to 22,548 and last year its volume grew to 57,382. Daily this year the desk receives 150-200 calls or texts on an average day but that numbers grows precipitously at the start of a semester when it receives questions from “Can I bring xyz to my dorm room”, to locations on campus, events, financial aid concerns among other issues like “how do I reach Prof..z and what are his office hours?”, even “I heard there is sis there a shuttle to the airport for students. Is this true?” (BTW, there is a shuttle at the beginning of a semester as there is during major school breaks to make it easier for students). There is no question CHANT411 does not get or won’t answer.

CHANT411 has a staff of 14 students and 1 professional. The desk is held down by two students with a third added during peak periods. These students are chosen through a fairly rigorous hiring process. Potential receptionists must display excellent critical thinking skills. They must know how to listen well and ask the right question to narrow the caller’s issues down to the actual critical concern. They must know how to tactfully drill down to focus the caller and get to the nub of the issue rather than respond too quickly. They must also have the persistence to gig through and get the correct information and answer for the student the first time. This can require many calls to get the correct response. Giving an incorrect one is simply not acceptable. They must also have excellent spoken and written grammar and spelling skills. Coastal Carolina does not want to be represented by someone who will not provide it a good representation.

And finally, and almost most importantly, they must be passionate about Coastal Carolina University and helping others.  

Each question and response is recorded and entered into the system for review and monitoring by the staff’s one. non-student, professional. He checks each response to assure it is accurate. If it might be not quite correct, the information specialist  needs to get in touch with the caller and provide the corrected information. This by the way does not happen often but “CHANT411 does not want to misdirect or not give fully accurate information so each response is nitpicked” according to Betsch.

To experience CHANT411 for myself, I called on a Saturday at 6:00 p.m. I asked a question that I thought might be from left field but the information specialist picked it right up and answered it completely and quite politely. I asked if the University had any programs for seniors. She told me about the OLLI (Osher Life Long Learning program she also gave me its phone number and politely cautioned that I should wait to call on Monday after 8:30 because they were not open until then. She then went on to assure that I was completely satisfied with the information which I was.

“The main thing CHANT411 has done for Coastal Carolina, its students, staff, faculty and anyone who calls in is take the I don’t know out of Coastal” said Betsch. And I fully concur. CHANT 411 is the best student information center I have found on any campus.

Well done Coastal Carolina University which, by the way, is a national leader in academic customer service.

Become a leader in service excellence and increase your retention and graduation rates, call us today at NRaisman & Associates at 413.219/6939 or at  Don't wait to increase service excellence and retention. Do it NOW.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Call Backs - The Right Way to Get Back to Students

There is actually something worse than delivering poor or weak service. And that is promising great service and then not delivering. Or mollifying the customer by telling him or her you’ll look into the situation, will get it resolved and either do not get it resolved or not get back to the customer.
Say a student or customer comes to you and asks for help. Perhaps a student leaves a phone message or an email account of the problem asking for you to assist in a problem he or she has. You get back to him or her by telephone but miss the person. So you leave a message.

I am sorry to hear that you feel you may have a problem……..

(Yes we do use the conditional all the way through to protect ourselves as the HR and lawyers taught us to do. May, perhaps, could, maybe, might, possibly, or combinations might possibly may perhaps have an issue…..But never simply say, holy sh%t, he did that? Never commit or accede. That’s the way to please the lawyers but perhaps, maybe, possibly upset the customer more.) But then we go and commit to look into it and make what the student takes as a promise.
…I will look into the issue, see if anything can be done and get back to you as soon as I can.

Granted soon is… well to us it is a sensible period of time as we see it. Soon as I can get the information, or contact the person, or find if there is a problem or even if there is a solution. To a customer or student with a problem, soon is now or by the end of the day, if not …well if not sooner.
Or the person tells the student, I’ll look into it and get back to you by Friday. If you make that commitment you’d better get back by Friday. That is a promise of delivery of service that the student customer will expect to be fulfilled. And rightly so.

Or the person has been to the legal seminar on commitment so he says I’ll get back to you by Friday if I have anything to tell you. There’s the conditional again. If I have anything to tell you. Covers you. Right? Nah it doesn’t because what the student hears is I’ll get back to you by Friday period. The expectation is that you will have something to tell him or her even if it is I have nothing to tell you yet.

This is the psychological background the student brings to any conversation in which service is offered/promised. Offered by you. Promised in the mind of the student. And soon is now. Oh yes, let’s not forget, the student expects a solution especially if you or your school tries to claim it cares about it students. And well you should because we are there for student success which is our success.

What is above is essentially the same we expect from service providers we pay. For instance right now I am getting quite frustrated by a guy who put in some tiling in a bathroom so I could work on my new book. There were a couple tiles that were not quite right. They need to be taken out and replaced. He said he’d be here at 9 a.m. It is now 11:25. He has failed. I will let him know so by the rating I will give him on Angies’s List. I will also tell anyone needing a tile person not to hire him. For him and a college that disappoints on promised service the Malthusian Custopmer Service Progression definitely comes into play here. Students may not go to Angie’s List to comp-lain. They will show their dissatisfaction by ending up on the drop list. Then they will tell everyone who even hints at asking about college or why he dropped out.

So here it is.
The Six Point Solution to Proper Call Backs
When you tell a student you will look into IT:
  1. If you are not sure when you will have an answer - say you are not sure when you will be able to get back but I will get back to you.
  1. If you know you can get back on a certain date – say you will get back by XXXXday but I cannot promise I will have an answer/solution. Then, MAKE DAMN SURE YOU CALL ON THAT DAY even if all you have to say is I don’t have answer but I am working on it. Then provide an update on what you and/or others have been doing.
  1. If you get a resolution or answerer sooner than when you told him or her to expect an answer it is okay to give good news early.
  1. If you are not able to call back on time, it is imperative that someone calls for you and givers an apology and an update for you. Though do realize the      customer will surely believe you just don’t want to talk with him. Not a god thing but better than no call at all on the anointed date.
  1. You can let someone else call back with good news. No one complains if you let someone else tell them good news.
  1. You cannot let someone else call with bad news. If you do, you will create a      doubly angry person who will eventually come to see you anyhow as if to check if what he heard was really true.
Finally, DO NOT SAY YOUI’LL CALL AND DON’T DO IT AT ALL. That will make the student feel like a jilted lover. And you’ve seen the movies about the rejected lover and the rabbit or the guy in the hockey mask.
That’s right. Michael Myers was expecting that call from the Dean that never came. Look what happened!!!

BTW, I am waiting to hear from a major communication (internet, cable, telephone) company that has promised to call back and said it will try to help on two issues. If the company which I won’t name just yet but WOW, they were named as the best by Consumer Reports for service. But at this time, it seems local service is good but WOW, some of the corporate…. They may be trying but need to read this piece and not let passive aggressive types work with customers. Nor should you for that matter. I mean WOW, use the right WAY to do things.

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

Neal is a pleasure to work with – his depth of knowledge and engaging, approachable style creates a strong connection with attendees. He goes beyond the typical, “show up, talk, and leave” experience that some professional speakers use. He “walks the talk” with his passion for customer service. We exchanged multiple emails prior to the event, with his focus being on meeting our needs, understanding our organization and creating a customized presentation. Neal also attended and actively participated in our evening-before team-building event, forging positive relationships with attendees – truly getting to know them. Personable, knowledgeable, down-to-earth and inspiring…. " Jean Wolfe, Training Manager, Davenport University

“We had hoped we’d improve our retention by 3% but with the help of Dr. Raisman, we increased it by 5%.” Rachel Albert, Provost, University of Maine-Farmington

“Neal led a retreat that initiated customer service and retention as a real focus for us and gave us a clear plan. Then he followed up with presentations and workshops that kicked us all into high gear. We recommend with no reservations; just success.” Susan Mesheau, Executive Director U First: Integrated Recruitment & Retention University of New Brunswick, CA

“Thank you so much for the wonderful workshop at Lincoln Technical Institute. It served to re-center ideas in a great way. I perceived it to be a morale booster, breath of fresh air, and a burst of passion.” 
Shelly S, Faculty Member, Lincoln Technical Institute

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Class Distinctions on Campus Hurt Morale and Customer Service

After a webinar on customer service I gave last week, an email question came in from one of the participants. It dealt with an important issue of class distinctions in universities and colleges  that hurts morale and retention. The issue is an extension of George Orwell’s description of colleges as an animal farm. As stated by Dean Snowball.
All members of an academic community are created equal, only some are more equal than others, and I’m not just talking about faculty here.

Here is the question:
One of my co-workers would like to know what you think of a school policy that requires some staff personnel to log in their hours each day, while other co-workers (considered professional staff, mainly because they have earned a college degree) are not required to keep weekly time sheets. It is a matter that many consider unfair and somewhat demeaning.

I believe that is a mistake on a number of counts. First, it hurts any possible sense of a team throughout the institution. Having two or three classes of people in a college makes a statement that the institution has a sense of a class system. Sort of like Orwell – "All animals are created equal but some are more equal than others” A tiered structure like this has to have harmful effects on at least some of the people at the college. And that will in turn harm the levels of service to students and the internal community as well. I am willing to bet that this procedure also has a negative effect on employee and student retention.

The system also says that some people are more trustworthy than others. Those who do not have to punch in are by inference more honest than those we make punch in. We believe the non-punchers will not cheat on their time sheets. There is no evidence that this is true at all by the way.

It also separates “professionals” from “non-professionals”, a very false distinction. Nothing is more destructive than demeaning the contributions of the staff who fall into the non-professional designation. Everyone is a professional and has value and a purpose within their work area and concentration and should be so recognized. Those who do not act in a professional manner, no matter what the title, role or salary, need to be replaced. Anyone who does not do his or her job well, should not have that position.

The systems are usually put into place because of management problems. Usually supervisors cannot manage and be responsible for their staff and their time reporting. Some are afraid to direct people to show up on time and work their hours. They are concerned that if they have to reprimand or direct someone to remedy their behavior, they will either not be liked or a bad worker will rebel, maybe even quit. They simply do not know or want to do the hard part of the job which is to direct and manage the staff. Breaks the “family” feeling after all. Need to train them to realize that they will be a family either way – just a dysfunctional family at some level, as are all families. And dysfunctional is not so bad after all. Just the norm.

Bottom line. Install a team and instill a drive to do good work by appropriate leadership and customer service to employees. Again recall that customer service does not mean pandering. It means treating people with dignity, honesty and when needed, clear, firm yet humane correction. If people are cheating on their time, correct them. If they cannot be corrected, that is an issue of integrity and honesty so start progressive discipline and have them move on rather than harm the entire internal community which in turn has a negative effect on retention and population. That would serve the community better than a caste system.

Hope that is not too blunt but it is what I know and feel. If I can help out, just let me know  at  or call at 413.219.6939

Get a copy of the best selling academic customer service books The Power of Retention and From Admissions to Graduation today by clicking here

Monday, January 22, 2018

Admission Attrition Costs Quantified

CSFactor 2
CSF2 = [(SL x CA = -E) + CSL1]
There is a universal law that it should take less energy to sit on a flagpole than to climb it. Seems logical. Climbing it numerous times to gain four different views would require burning more
calories than shinnying up once and sitting up there to look around for the views.

Yet there are certainly those who seem to have not learned the lesson. Colleges that have not yet focused on the value of retention which can be increased through some simple customer service training rely on the old churn and burn approach. Keep bringing in ever increasing numbers of new students and don’t worry if they just drop out never to return.Just get some more. These schools make admission folks in particular climb the pole over and over, burn calories and just plain burn out trying to meet ever-increasing admission goals. 

You’d think some universities had never heard of flag pole sitting on a pillow called retention. Or the stabilizing element of customer service that creates the toochas-saving cushioning in the pillow. Or ever concerned themselves with little issues like revenue, budgets and paying for things. Or the energy-saving and budget building value and cost-savings of retention. Because flagpole climbing not only burns calories and people, but piles of revenue.

Admissions Costs – Retention Saves CSF2
Another simple reality here. Every student a college enrolls costs it money to do so – big money too! Every student retained costs from nothing to quite little.
In fact a study we did two years ago found that the average cost of enrolling a student is $5,460. This study of 40 randomly chosen colleges, universities and career schools included ALL cost of enrolling a student. Most colleges just look at direct marketing costs per student and forget about all the associated costs. They divide marketing and advertising, maybe lead costs too, by the number of students and voila – a miscalculation.

The real costs of enrolling a student include the marketing costs yes, but also the marketing staff, advertising, publications, admission staff, clerical people, travel, orientation, printing, allocated time and effort from bursar, registrar, academics, counseling, advising, student services, financial aid, orientation, registration, and so on; mailings, emails, phone calls, website and so on and on and on. Fixed capital costs associated with most all of this add another 7-9% on the average. There are in fact very few parts of a college that are not involved at some point and time in admissions. We also found that schools were not including all students who had made inquiries to the college. Every time a student is responded to there are costs. These all add to the time and costs. Considerable costs. At least an average of $5,460 worth of costs to recruit and enroll a student. These costs were calculated six years ago so costs have indeed gone up.

For some schools, the cost of recruiting a student can actually equal or even outweigh revenue received from them. The ones that survive are generally assisted by some public assistance based on an unduplicated headcount formula. But even with public assistance many schools still lose money on student acquisition when he or she who drops out. (I suppose they intend to make it up on volume?) This is especially so if the student leaves before providing tuition and fees at least equal to the acquisition costs. And every student who leaves must be replaced with at least another at another additional expenditure of $5,460. But it usually required more than one re[placement student and associated acquisition costs.

In fact, to obtain one FGE (full time graduate equivalent) at the average annualized attrition of 32%, it will take 3-4 students acquired to get one FGE at a two-year school. 6-8 will be needed at a four-year school, with an average graduation at 5 years. If average graduation is more than 5 years, add another admission needed to get the FGE.

By the way, annualized tuition is the number a school should use to figure its real attrition. Not the retention between the freshman and sophomore years which is a very popular one. That leaves out all the students who already dropped out before the end of the second term or semester. That number fudges failure. For instance, if a college began a year with 100 new freshman and 99 left in week one but the remaining student stayed the whole year and returned, the freshman to sophomore percentage would be 100%.

Annualized attrition includes all students who left. It does not look at a starting class such as the freshman class as an isolated entity. It recognizes the Sophomore Bubble, the junior jump, senior slide, super senior slump and the “I’m not sure what I am except outta here” slump. Students leave at all times and should all be counted in the attrition number to be able to not just be real but to really understands how a college and its budget are actually performing.
The cost of retention at one school was reported by a participant during a workshop I was presenting at the Small College Admissions and Retention Conference (a very good enrollment management conference by the way) said her university spent an average of $35 per retained student.

The Growing Importance of Retention to Graduation
The public, employers and legislatures (local, state and federal) are starting to catch onto the fact that the number of students who start or attend a college or university at headcount day is a meaningless statistic. Granted it may improve a person to get some education and even a drop out may have added value before leaving a university. But it is the diploma that is the real indicator of the success of a student and a school. That is the certification that everyone uses to determine someone has been educated and trained enough to contribute to the economy, the culture and society. It is the diploma, indifferent to whether it really indicates the holder is truly educated or really capable, that is the sign this person can be considered for a job and add to the economy.
This is our own fault to some extent. We keep telling society and legislatures that higher education is the fuel for the engine of the economy. And they have started to believe us to the point that they want to put the emphasis on the number of graduates that schools put into the economy. This is where political accountability is starting to move. The number of grads, not just attendees. Support formulas are going to start moving to the number of graduates and work backwards to entering students.

Starting with the number of graduates will make retention and even more important issue than it is now. This is due to retention rule 4 – students who drop out from the school tend not to graduate.
CSFactor 2 Using the formula.
CSF2 = [SL x CA = -E) + CSL1]

SL - # of students lost
CA – Cost of acquisition
-E – Enrollment $ lost
CSF2 – Total revenue lost

So using the numbers from the prior CSF1 example:

[198 x $5,460 = $1,081,080 + $2,574,000) = -$3,655,080.

This school has lost $3,655,080 along with almost 200 students. If it had retained the 198 students, it would have saved the $3.6 million. Even if it did cost $35 a student to retain them, that would have cost them $6,930. Even if we wish to extend that out of four years, the $27,720 is still just a bit less than $3.6 million.

Seems again that retention saves while attrition costs. And one hell of a lot of money.
But let’s not forget the human costs of people working very hard to bring students into the school just to see them leave. We have not even worked in the costs of replacing admissions and enrollment people who simply burn out from the ever-increasing new student goals and the psychological pain of climbing the ever-growing flagpole every start when they should be able to just sit there every so often and enjoy the retention view.

Start on a course to increasing your retention and revenue today by contacting me today at or 413.219.6939. We have helped over 450 colleges, universities and the academic-related businesses  in the U.S., Canada and Europe increase their success since 1999.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Figuring How Much Revenue You Are Losing Due to Attrition

Following a recent workshop presentation on customer service and retention, I was asked by one of the attendees if I would supply the way I figure ROI from retention and customer service. She wanted to compute how much money customer service issues were costing the university so she could  show literally that poor service costs money. She was not the only person who has asked for the formulas I use in my work so I decided to post this one for everyone’s use.

The following is about Customer Service Factor 1 (CSF1) The Value of Retention (or the Losses from Attrition). CSF1 helps a college figure out how much revenue/money it is losing from its actual attrition.
The formula is expressed as
CSF1 = [(P X A= SL) X T]

In the formula, P represents the total school population; not just the starting fall freshman number. Most schools use the fall incoming freshmen numbers and that is an error. The assumption is that attrition occurs most in the first six weeks of the freshman year. That may be close to correct but the reality is that students are leaving colleges and universities in any one of their six plus years of a four-year degree and in the four plus years of a two-year degree. 

Students leave your school throughout their experience at the school. In fact, some schools are beginning to realize this and worry about the Sophomore Bubble. But the really need to worry about the super soph sluff, the rising junior jilt, the junior jump, super junior split, the fourth year flee and so on. Colleges need to be concerned with every student every day of their attendance for it could be his last.
So we look at the total population.

A equals attrition. Again not just from freshman but an annualized attrition rate. And this rate is to include ALL students who leave for any reason. It does not matter if the student says he or she will be back. They are not back in the population and bringing in revenue until they actually do return. If they pay a “place holding fee”, that does not count them as an student until they are actually back in classes.

If your school is like most everyone I work with you likely do not have a clear fix on an annualized attrition rate. Many schools have never figured it A simple way to figure annualized attrition is to look at graduation rates and subtract them from 100. This will show an attrition rate. 100% minus graduation rate of 62% equals a 38% attrition rate. If you want you can average it out by taking an average of five years of graduation rates to subtract from 100%.

SL stands for students lost annually from total population and revenue production. And equals tuition at the school.

So here is what showed up when we analyzed CSF1 for a particular college which for our purposes we will call Mammon University. You may know it. Its motto is Omnes Por Pecunia. Anything for a Buck. More on Mammon U later.

Its total population was 500 students.
Annualized attrition was at 39.6%
So SL (students lost annually) was 198.
Times an average tuition of $13,000. 
The school uses a differentiated tuition scale per program.
So, the formula becomes:
[(500 x 39.6% = 198) x $13,000] =
a revenue loss of (sound of a trumpet flourish but on a kazoo since Mammon U cannot afford a real trumpet since it has lost) ($2,574,000)!!!!

To carry this forward a bit into a more positive note, we can plug in other numbers and see how an increase in retention could add to the bottom line and thus the ability to pay for full time faculty, staff, their benefits, increases for adjuncts, instructional equipment, tutors, research release, new curricula and programs, maintenance, …. All those pesky costs that make a college or university better.

If attrition dropped by 5% for this school and we substitute 5% increased retention for attrition percentage in the formula.

CSF1 = [(500 x 5% = 25) x 13,000] =
$325,000 more revenue.

Any school, college or university that doesn't want at least another $325,000 in the budget?

Plug your school’s numbers in and see how increasing retention affects your budget and instructional strength.

If you are not happy with your retention numbers and the large revenue loss from attrition, call us today and we will help you increase your success. NRaisman & Associates, 413.219.6939 or email by clickinghere.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Is the Customer, the Student, Always Right?

Which of the following is true?

  1. The customer is always right. True False
  1. If there is a question, refer to number 1. True False
It has been an inviolable adage found in the backrooms of most retail outlets and restaurants that both number 1 and number 2 are correct. The customer is always right. It is therefore our role to do all we can to please the customer; to make her feel we accept that she and her business are number 1 to the store or institution by fulfilling every wish if at all possible. To go the extra mile to make the customer happy. To indulge, pamper, spoil and if necessary, to even pander to each whim to assure the customer is satisfied and will come back. This has been the concept that has been central to Business 101 and been hung on posters and fliers in backrooms across the country almost since it was reportedly created in 1908 by French hotel owner César Ritz (1850-1918) when he stated 'Le client n'a jamais tort' - 'The customer is never wrong.” The current, more American usage was established by the Marshall Fields store in Chicago and then popularized by Harry Gordon Selfridge who left Fields to create London’s Selfridge’s department store in 1909.

It is this time honored concept that is so strongly at odds with many people on college campuses. Influential segments of the college community believe this idea that the customer is right imposes a construct of business on a very non-commercial institution – academia. A basic bastard of business which has money as its goal forced upon intellectual institutions with our ideals of intellectual pursuit and learning, in that order. Obviously not just a mismatch but an attempt to undermine the very nature of the academic environment and “corporatize the academy” as one faculty member told me prior to a workshop he refused to attend. Colleges and universities are not about money and revenue after all.

In fact, money corrupts the purity of the intellectual community, (except when it comes to my office or department’s budget perhaps or my salary, benefits cost or equipment). But then the money is only needed to be able to provide education or services to others to make the institution stronger to be better able to meet its mission. And after all, we do not have customers many academic say."Students are not customers". Students do pay for an education so they must be customers. According to the basic definition of a customer, they qualify. They exchange money for goods and service like courses and services and that makes them customers. Call them students or clients if that makes you feel better, but they are our customers and that changes the equation quite a bit. So don’t pick 1 or 2.

 And we are in a business, an academic business,a service industry which is underfunded in too many situations,  so we must "do business" to make sure the revenue comes in. After all, without money coming in how are we to fund budgets, pay for salary and benefit increases and all the other things we need to meet the mission. So we need to consider that number 1 may have some merit. Perhaps we need an ad hoc committee to study……. (Lord save us all from even one more committee!) Let’s just realize that in typical academic reality, the positions above are all or nothing postures that are both wrong, and yet still sort of have some validity. .

Consider that if you checked number 1 as correct, number 2 necessarily follows as acceptable. But if you chose number one as true, you are wrong to begin with. The customer is not always right. Yet, that does not make the faculty member who derided customer service as illegitimate in higher education right. Not at all, for he is also wrong. Very palpably wrong at that. And in this case, your wrong and his wrong do not make the customer right.

The reality is that the customer is often wrong. Particularly in higher education. Just think of your last quiz. I am sure you found many students were wrong in many of their answers or guesses. That is the nature of a quiz or a test after all. Though we would hope that the customer would be always right and prove that he or she really understood the lectures, the readings and the assignments, such is not the reality of most classes and schools. Students, our customers, are often wrong.

And students are wrong by very their very nature as students. They come to college to learn what they do not know; to become more correct in their knowledge and abilities. They are in school to replace erroneous or uninformed notions with information and learning. In fact, if they already knew, if they had the skills prior to coming into school, they would not have to enroll.They would not become students, our clients and customers.

So they old adage is wrong in higher education. But there is a saying that does fit what we need to know to keep our students satisfied and in school. "The customer (the student) comes first". That is a statement I hope we can all get behind.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

It is not an Admissions Problem but a Retention Problem at Southern Illinois and Other Universities

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale has an enrollment, and thus a revenue problem. Student population is shrinking. They have lost around 50% of the freshman population over the past three years. Official fall 2017 enrollment at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is 14,554, a decline of 9% percent over 2016.  Their new Chancellor, Carlo Montemagno is saying it is “because we are not offering programs that are distinctive and relevant to today’s students.” 

But is that the reality they are facing at SIU-Carbondale?

They are losing 56% of every entering class the graduation rate is only at 44%.  The University also recognizes that it is not necessarily a problem of underprepared or incapable students because it stated there is “a continuing increase in ACT scores for new freshmen and ongoing growth in freshman retention rates” which is at 68% freshman to sophomore year which is not all that great really. The University if losing almost a third of every entering class before sophomore year.

What his all means is that attrition is losing the University $113,801,801 annually. (To calculate how much attrition is costing your school click here.)  It is losing more than it has to spend. That is a financially dangerous situation to be in.

The Chancellor’s response is a radical restructuring of the University out of individual departments into groupings that will cut the overall number of departments and colleges.  He has proposed that the University collapse its existing eight colleges and 42 departments and schools into five colleges and 18 schools, two of them being law and medicine to cover the lost revenue. He further plans on eliminating some departments entirely. He hopes the new structure will stimulate synergy and cross thinking to generate new ideas and programs. These, he believes will stop the population erosion.

The Chancellor believes new relevant programs will attract more students.

But this does not make logical sense since the problem is that the University is losing students after they come to school. The students originally chose the school for its programs and degrees to start with but something else made them leave. The offerings were sufficient to get them in the door but then something is happening to make them leave.  Attracting more students will just lead to more dropouts. It is not admissions that is at fault. It is something else.

The issue is not how to attract more students but how to keep them? How to increase retention from 44% to some rate that will begin stabilizing, then growing the student population. The University cannot keep losing over half of its students annually if it is to succeed no matter what the structure of its departments and colleges.

It, like most every college and university, needs to focus on retention to stabilize its population and revenues and that will not come about by re-organizing the departments and colleges. It needs to find out why students are leaving. If it does and corrects the issues, it can and will increase population making a radical restructuring that will turn faculty against the Chancellor unnecessary.

Southern Illinois has an engagement problem that is made worse by poor or weak services that would attach the students more fully to the school. A large part of what is occurring  very likely is that the University is not providing students what they need and expect especially in how they are treated, i.e. academic customer service. We already know that 76% of attrition is caused by poor or weak service provided to students as shown in the chart below. The major reason students leave a college is that they believe the college does not care about them and that is very probably a factor at Southern

Illinois as it is with so many other schools we have studied to see why students left them. The University is not providing an ease of service and procedures that make the students believe the school does not care if they succeed or not. They are probably putting students seeking help into “the shuffle” of having to go to office to office trying to find the services they need.

If we were to do a study of the University’s student attitudes I would be willing to bet our fees that a major concern students would express is that “I have not been treated and helped very well. The school does not care about me. All they care about is my money.” I can make this offer because we have found this to be the situation at just about every college that we have studied with a high attrition rate. The University likely does a good job of recruiting students but not as good a job reselling them on the school every day by providing the services students want, need and expect.

We also know this is quite likely true because closely behind the reason for leaving “The school does not care about me” is the category of “weak to poor customer service”.  Students report that they cannot get the services they need to complete a needed function for example. They go to an office to get help and are given less than good service, maybe even abrupt and indifferent treatment students report.  This in turn feeds into the belief that the school does not care about them. Just think how you feel about a business or a restaurant that treats you poorly or gives bad service. You don’t go back. Well, students make a buying decision to attend class and stay in school each and every day. If they are treated poorly, they will not want to invest their tuition and fees in the school and leave as you would a store that ignores you or gives you bad service.

All of this makes the students believe that it is not worth it to put up with a school that does not care and treats them poorly and they drop out. It is also quite likely that at Southern Illinois they are cutting sections to try and save money. This is a normal, but wrong way to save money because it also cuts students out of classes they need to progress in their major quite often.

We observed a school recently that decided to only offer some required courses once a year in the Fall but did not fully communicate that to students, and advisors did not seem to know of it either. One of those was in the senior year.  Students waited to take the course the next semester when it could fit in the schedule to find it was not offered. They had to wait until next year to get the course which often meant they had to take some course that might not fit in their major to remain full-time to get full financial aid. They had to stay longer in school to get the course complete their program. This caused problems because they had to stay another year to make up courses but their financial aid ran out in four years and they had trouble affording the cost of the extra year. Many could not and had to drop out to earn money to pay for school often not coming back.

This is all indicative of a school not with an admissions problem but a retention and customer service problem.

Would this be the situation at Southern Illinois or your school for instance? It is likely that weak or poor academic service is leading to much of your dropout/attrition rate. If Southern Illinois found our precisely what services were not being done well and fix them, it would increase its retention rate and the revenue needed to operate instead of causing major upheaval which likely will not solve its real problem – retention.

To uncover why students are leaving your university or college, call us today at 413.219.6939 or contact me by email at

Monday, November 20, 2017

Retaining Students Over the Thanksgiving Break

Thanksgiving is approaching and it may not lead to many thanks for some students and schools. Thanksgiving is going to be the most extended time
away from school for many students. It is a time when students get together with family and friends. It is a time when there is time for questions and thinking. And a major topic is going to be “how is it at….?” Some students are going to think “actually, not all that great.”

Thanksgiving turns out to be a major tipping point in the decision to stay or leave a college. With that knowledge, it is also a time you should engage students to keep them from dropping into the attrition side of the decision. You could also leverage relationships with parents and families to bring them into any stay or drop decision. 

Send every student a personalized letter or formal card. The letter should of course be stationary and the card must be printed with the name of the office or person in raised engraved letters such as Office of the President.
 The letter or card should have a brief written statement such as
I want to thank you for the honor and pleasure of having you as a student at ………………….. If there is anything I can help you with, please contact me at (EMAIL SET UP FOR RESPONSES)I look forward to seeing you on campus and at your graduation. 
Sincerely, AND THEN SIGN IT.
Mail it to the student AND FAMILY. This way family members will want to see it too. This helps enlist them as supporters. With luck, you will get some responses in the special email box you set up. There may even be some thanks to you but what you are really seeking are issues that could get in the way of staying in school at your school. If you do, you can find solutions and keep that student in school. 

BTW, these letters and cards really work. 

If cards are not feasible, phone calls to the house work too. Just a quick thanks like what is written on a card will work. Especially contact any students you know are at risk. Making contact with them might be just the thing that will keep them in school. Remember, the major reason students leave a college is the belief that the school does not care about them so a call or card home states very clearly that you care.

If for some reason you can't do any of the above, crank up to CRM system and send out an email blast with the statement above. This is not as strong but it can help make students understand that you care. 

There is just enough time between now and Thanksgiving weekend to get it done and increase retention,enrollment and a family's hopes and dreams

Let me know how the letters, cards, calls and email work for you.

Call me at 413.219.6939 and I will help over the phone at no cost to you to keep retention and success rising as my way of saying thanks to all my colleagues and clients.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Student Engagement Depends on How Well They Are Served In and Out of the Classroom

Though some faculty deride academic customer service as a noxious import from business, it has been found that faculty who provide
increased levels of customer service will have a better and more satisfying teaching experience. And their students will learn better with greater desire, compliance and increased retention.

When students believe a faculty member provides them good service and cares about them, they are more willing to listen and learn. Students are also more compliant with the teacher’s instruction, more willing to engage in-class and complete assignments.

I recall a master teacher and academic customer service provider named Dr. Taffee Tanimoto at the University of Massachusetts in Boston back in 1969. Dr. Tanimoto was the chair of the math department. He loved math and was always bothered when we students had problems with algebra. He also loved teaching. Our diffidence bordering on hostility toward math baffled him and he admitted it in class. He also said that he might not make us become mathematicians but he would do all he could to have us learn algebra and maybe even like some of it if we would just work with him.

To back it up, he started 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. tutoring classes that met every Tuesday and Thursday. He lived over 30 miles away from the University and took the train in to be in the classroom by 7 if any of wanted to show up early. He would also be available in his office until 5:30 every day to go over problems with any student who needed help – even if they were not in his class. He even tutored me once at the Back Bay train station over coffee as we both waited for trains.

He was patient but did not pander – no physics for poets type of classes. Full bodied algebra, calculus and trig. He demanded but did not reprimand. He provided excellent and extremely important customer service that made us want to learn algebra. And we did succeed and as he said, he succeeded. I even got a C+ but even more I learned to like math even if it didn't always like me because of Dr. Tanimoto. His extra service made me want to learn algebra and trig even though they were foreign languages to me. If nothing else, his going beyond my expectations not only made me inclined to want to learn, they made me fell an obligation to do so.

Dr. Tanimoto was going out of his way to provide us extra help and thus academic customer service so we could understand algebra. As a results, I felt I needed to do all I could to try and learn the material.  I did not learn to love algebra even if I did learn it but I did have feel a great affection for Dr. Tanimoto.

I also grew to love the University because of the customer service I was given in and out of the classroom. And the faculty loved the University too where they could take some maybe not the always most brilliant kids and make them into educated future successes.

Dr. Tanimoto made me want to learn from him. As a result,customer service helped me and a group of math clods pass algebra. And it helped him and many other faculty like their jobs in the classroom much better than many others who saw teaching as just a job.
The customer service/willingness to learn contention is supported not only by the Taffee Tanimotos of academia whose customer service engages students by providing extra service in learning and success, as well as the results reported from colleges that have engaged faculty in customer service training. There are other formal academic studies and reports that help forward the case. Studies such as the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and another by Hombury, Koschate and Hoyer in the April 2005 issue of the Journal of Marketing on customer service and WTP (willingness to pay) alongside consideration of interactional equity theory support our contentions with their research.

The studies have found that the greater the feeling that one received good service. the greater the willingness to pay for that service. Thus, if a college provides good academic customer service, students will not resist tuition payment, or even increases, much. They will feel they are getting a good fiscal return on their money as a result of being served well in and out of the classroom.

In the 2006 NSSE Director’s Report (P10) report, the following is stated  "For years, researchers have pointed to involvement in educationally purposeful activities as the gateway to desired outcomes of college. Students who engage more frequently in educationally effective practices get better grades, are more satisfied, and are more likely to persist. Two decades ago, this literature prompted Chickering, Gamson, and their colleagues to compile a list of “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” which are reflected in many NSSE survey items. Recent findings from independent studies have corroborated the relationships between engagement and indicators of student success in college such as grades and persistence with undergraduates in different types of institutional settings. These studies also show that while engagement is positively linked to desired outcomes for all types of students, historically under-served students tend to benefit more than majority students."

We have no disagreement with this observation. Instead we add that the same is true for faculty when they become engaged with their students. Moreover, we add that though there is no disagreement with the NSSE panel's recommendations of curricula and pedagogy they feel would add to engagement, true engagement comes from appropriate customer services to students.

The 25 Principles of Good Customer Service in Higher Education begins with:
“where everybody knows your name
and they’re awfully glad you came”

This is the type of service engagement that must be created before pedagogical or curricula engagement can be achieved. If students feel that no one knows their name, i.e. no one cares about them, they will not engage with curriculum or pedagogy. But if students do feel that the professor cares, that will increase the willingness to learn leading to greater learning and increased teaching satisfaction for the teacher.

If you would like a copy of the 25 Principles of Good Customer Service in Higher Education, click here to request.

To increase retention, graduation rates and enrollment get in touch with us now at 413.219.6939 or email me at