Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Customer is Always Wrong - Passive Bad Customer Service

Charles Cezar who owned the Ritz Hotel in Paris back in 1898 became famous for saying  "le client n'a jamais tort" (the client is never wrong). Granted he may well have said this because his Parisian employees treated the hotel’s clients poorly because they were not Parisians and thus in the staff's minds wrong all the time, but the motto became the standard by which he ran the hotel.  Harry Gordon Selfridge remade the phrase to make it more emphatically positive with the better known “the customer is always right”.

Now considering the state of customer service in the country today’s phrase might well combine the two mottos to become “the customer is always wrong”. This seems to be the operative concept of most companies if they even think of the customer at all.

This was obviously the operative belief of United Airlines when it dragged a paying and seated passenger down the aisle on his back injuring him enough to put him in the hospital.  This action was taken because United wanted to get some of its employees on board to another destination. The employees could have taken another flight on another airline to get to their destination but it was United’s belief that this would cost them money and inconvenience the flight crew they wanted to board so the passenger had to go.

This is an egregious example but there are many instances of “the customer is always wrong” or what I think is the most common belief  “the customer does not matter” that we all run into everyday life. The waiter who ignored us at the restaurant; the bagger at our local grocery store who complained about working there and snarled at us, the person who answered the phone with “what”? But those are all examples of actively bad customer service.

It is the passive bad customer service that has enabled the negative attitudes toward customers and encouraged active disparaging service. Passive bad service does not have another individual included but you are provided bad service just the same.

Airlines are among the worst offenders with passive terrible customer service even if they do not drag all customers off of planes. They have taken an attitude that the customer does not matter at all. Just this morning I received an email from American Airlines telling me they had changed my times and flights for a trip I was to make. The new flight times puts me to my destination late for a meeting I was going for. No reason given.  No concern at all for the customer.

Passive poor customer service is the result of changes in business models and technology. The new business model takes customer service completely out of the equation and has the customer supply his or her own service.

For example, there once was a time when if you went to get gas for your car, an attendant would come out, fill the tank, wash the windshield and check your oil. When the business model changed to self-attending gas stations where you did all the work yourself at no cost savings, this was a step to passive bad service.

The same change in business model affects the way we shop too. Companies have replaced customer service with either “do it yourself” or technology. When stores started to lay off sales people and having the customer do all the shopping work him or herself such as at a TJ Maxx, Macy’s or most any retail outlet, this is passively poor, or actually non-existent service. Amazon is testing stores that do not have any service at all. The customer finds the item, takes it to the check-out counter and checks himself out just like many big box and supermarket self-checkout-out lines.

McDonalds has taught us how to be our own waiters and  bus our own tables and many food chains have caught onto having the customers do the work. Panera has taken this one step further by removing the counter server who might say hello and thank you out of the equation completely. Now they have computer stations at which customers enter their order and wait for a bag of food to be brought out or taken to the eating area.

When you try to contact a company with a problem but are not given a customer service number to call but are told to “open a ticket online”. This passive bad service again. Or when you get a phone number, call it and get lost in the labyrinth of technology not allowing you to talk to a person just an android voice who never quite understands what you are saying, again passive poor customer service.

Or now it is not considered rude or bad service to not return letters our phone calls from customers. Three weeks ago, I wrote two letters to two different companies about bad service and false advertising I received at two stores. No one has written back. I left three voice mail messages at another company but no one has called me back.

What companies have realized is that we will put up with passive bad service and not say anything about it primarily because there is no one to say it to. Companies claim that they are replacing people with technology to “enhance the buyer’s experience and speed up the interaction” but in so doing they have taken customer service out of the interaction.  Kiosks for instance have replaced sales attendants in airports supposedly for our convenience but really for the airline company’s fiscal gain.

In replacing service with self-serve they have been training us to not expect customer service at all and we have been much too acquiescent. We accept the lack of service and have been taught to feel as if we are being independent serving ourselves.  This is a false belief. By serving ourselves, we are encouraging passive bad service and hurrying customer service to the point at which when we go into a fast food restaurant we will make our own burgers and pull ourselves of a United flight.

Monday, April 17, 2017

People Make Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Don't Overlook the Physical Aspects of Customer Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What is a Service Excellence Audit and What It Includes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

Quick study of Email and Voicemail Habits in Bursar Offices

All the talk about money, job losses, and deficits as well as schools cutting budgets, jobs, sections and people is definitely having an effect on student and family attitudes and their anxiety levels. One cannot get away from the
economic news of Trump's new budget, increasing college costs and the difficulty of completing FAFSA's now that the IRS has closed access to past tax records for parents, never mind the pundit chatter. People cannot help but be affected and make money a larger issue than it normally would be on campus. This is creating new demands for service and services assistance.  And in most every case, schools are not meeting the demand in either style or substance.

The past week, we made actual person to person telephone contact with 50 bursar offices in colleges and universities posing as students or family members. We focused here as a result of the fiscal anxiety we are hearing from families. We called 78 schools. At 31 schools, we left a voice message on the phone. The message said the caller was very concerned about the family financial condition and needed to understand what to do to be able to pay bills if a job was lost. In each voice, we did also leave a clear call to action. Please. It is very important that you call me back today or tomorrow and left a number.

The voice messages led to three, that’s right THREE call backs in twenty-four hours.

We also emailed 50 colleges and universities. A week later, we are still waiting for responses from 28. TWENTY-EIGHT. Oh sure, we did receive the automatic response telling us we are very important so someone would be back as soon as is possible. For twenty-eight schools, it simply wasn’t possible to get back to us I guess.

The very worst thing a school can do at this time is not to respond to people. In normal times, non-responsiveness is a customer service sin that should consign the person at the school that ignored a request for help to getting all faculty to wear pins that say STUDENTS ARE MY CUSTOMERS?

In times of high stress such as right now, people are feeling depressed and less significant. Psychologists know that the way we establish value in others is listen to them and then respond to their issues. When we do not respond, we are telling people they are not important, not valued. Additionally we know that for students and families a major attrition tipping point is whether or not they feel they are valued. And when colleges do not return calls and emails that leaves people feeling less valued.

The simplest customer service value you can provide your students and their families is respect. Not returning calls or emails is disrespectful.  By not returning or responding to their calls or emails, you are telling your customers they do not matter to you and thus the entire college. In do doing, if money becomes tight for them, you will be less important to them. The result - Expect more drops and unpaid bills.

Yes, unpaid bills and more collection fees. Because willingness to pay (WTP) is based on whether or not the customer believes he or she feels valued in the services being paid for as well as whether or not he or she feels valued.  If a customer i.e. student feels he is getting a full return on investment, then WTP will be high. Conversely, if a person believes that the college is not providing value, it will be hard to pry the dollars loose to pay bills. The emotional ROI is equally important. If a person feels valued, he or she will not have resistance to paying for the service - even if the price i.e. tuition goes up. But again, if the student or family feels the college does not value them as individuals… You can fill in the blanks but it will not be with payments on bills.

So, the message here. Value your customers, your students and their families.
Answer the phone. Call back all voice mails within 24 hours. Respond to emails. Do not let any opportunity to communicate with students and families get lost. Every time they reach out to you – reach back. Especially when the calls deal with anxiety points such as money.
5 Ways to Improve Customer Service Communication

  1. Make certain that people know how to use email and the telephone, listen and help. The art of professional telephone communication has been lost for most people. We no longer are good at greeting, listening and responding with the correct tones, attitudes and even use of language. People may need to be trained, or retrained on how to answer and use the phone.  The same is true of email.  At the least read Here's Looking at Me: A Simple Soultion to Phone Rudeness.

  1. Be certain that people use the correct customer first tone, attitude and language. For example, have people avoid academic-ese . That’s the language we use with one another. The argot, slang and specialized language that is part of our culture and not anyone else’s. So avoid acronyms and technical terms.

  1. If you are not sure that folks are not responding appropriately, you may want to set up an accountability system to log incoming and outgoing communications.

  1. Conduct a contact to conclusion assessment. Find out how long it takes for a call or email to be responded to. Then shorten the time.

  1. Do a follow-up study to the callers to see if their request was appropriately and positively responded to and resolved. This does not mean that they got what they wanted since it may not be possible to do so but that they were treated with respect and the person did all he or she could to help.
Ignore phone and email protocols and rest assured that you will lose enrollment and revenue.
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