Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Starbucks and Enrollment Increases

The way students look at the world has changed. What they are looking for has changed. How the act and interact with their environment has changed. Colleges and schools have.....not changed. And they wonder why enrolling and retainingh students is getting tougher. Duh!

I have been preaching that we need to get away from old worn out admission and retention approaches. They are not helping. The market mind hs shifted and we have not kept up... and create an atmosphere that is more informal; one in which a potential student can relax yet still feel as if it can be a formal, getting business done arrangement. As I studied high school and college students to see where they seem to be comfortable yet able to do school related work. I needed to find a model that would convey to students that this is a place in which I can see myself and also create an affective bond to from my own experience. A place that feels like what I know and with which I can identify.

The answer- Starbucks or a coffee shop.

If you observe the target market for schools, these locations are where the potential enrollees go and spend large amounts of time talking with friends, reading, doing homework, tutoring or getting tutored, IM’ing, WIFI-ing and generally hanging around. It is surprising how much work, often collaborative work, is done in a Starbucks-like atmosphere.

So it became obvious that this should be the structure. Get out of the cubicles. Dump the formal desk that evokes negative affective responses. Set up a Starbucks-like zone area. Small intimate round tables (or small squares/rectangles) where potential students can sit with an admissions rep or even better, two and just talk. Create a Starbuckian-like atmosphere with colors that relax, photographs that will set a calming atmosphere and even music playing quietly in the background. Keep in mind that today’s students have grown up enveloped in music so much that it is de rigueur in all they do – even watching TV. It will not intrude. It will enhance.

Get a multi-purpose coffee machine than can make lattes, and other frou frou drinks they are used to having. They are available in numerous formats from school owned to vended and a range of costs. And use a premium grade of coffee. Potential students have grown up on Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, Pete’s and other quality brands, Sorry Maxwell House and Folgers. Also, for non-coffee or tea drinkers, get a small fridge so you can offer soft drinks. Oh yes, a cookie or some nosh will certainly be a value-added.

To those who are saying, he’s nuts, maybe I am. But to create an affective connection and increase the A-ROI, we need to connect not to our values and world but to theirs. Starbuck-like places are where they connect so bring that to them. And reap the increased enrollments as Herzing is.

By the way, also think about setting up student lounges in a similar way if retention is of any concern. These can be set up as profit centers too. Want to learn more on how to increase enrollment and revenue through changing the correlative function of your physical set-up, just call me 413.219.6939 or email me. Be glad to tell you how.

Herzing College Got Out of the Admission Cubicle and Increased Enrollment

I had the pleasure of talking with Roger Gugelmeyer today. Roger is the VP of Operations for Herzing College, a college system with 12 campuses in the US and Canada that focus on career education. Roger was telling me about a new admission’s structure that is a variant on what I have been advising colleges to go to for over a year now. And Roger says the new approach is working very well. (i.e., increasing enrollments & starts).

What the College is doing is getting out of the cubicle/individual office approach to admissions. That’s where an admissions person sits in a cubicle or office behind his or her desk. In the cublicle mode, the potential student generally sits to the right or left side in a typically non-descript office chair. Both have to strain a bit to look at one another and make good eye contact. This traditional set-up almost always reminds students of Dilbert or a movie favorite of theirs, Office Spaces. A space that is connotative of a dull, business-like, corporate, uncaring, undesirable work situation.

Potential students have told us they also relate the cubicle to negative k-12 experiences like a high school student would do when called down to the vice-principle’s office (i.e. in trouble) or when a teacher is tutoring or explaining something. They are recalled as superior/inferior situations. And the student is the inferior. Not a good memory to evoke.

Neither is felt as a positive experience yet we in college admissions do all we can to recreate it.

Herzing is doing away with the individual offices for admissions advisors. At Herzing, all the admission advisors share a “bullpen space” rather than have private offices. The private territories were replaced with nicely appointed interview rooms that are used by all the admission reps on an as-needed basis. The interview rooms are more relaxed, intimate and less corporate in their furnishings (round table, floor lamp, plants, etc.) and design. Much in the way that some companies like Steelcase, and many of their clients, have done away with cubicles and replaced them with common workspaces and shared meeting rooms to create a greater sense of community and cooperation.

The result has been that Herzing admission advisors have enjoyed an increase in applications and enrollments; greater cooperation and increased success, personally and by teams. It is not quite the zone approach discussed in an earlier posting (Basketball as Admissions Metaphor), but it is a variant with solid success

Herzing is headed in the right direction. No question. Tomorrow, we'll discuss combining some of what they are doing, with the objective correlative of Starbucks to "vente-size" admissions. (Not sure that is a real word but then again I'm not sure most of the coffee-related terms are real. I am sure of Starbucks's success and how it can help school admissions. Tomorrow or email me know at

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Greatest Gift of All - Saving Student Enrollment

Give a student, the school and yourself a present.

If you believe that students get a great education at your school, better than elsewhere. you should do all you can to keep students at your school. You don’t wish them an inferior education do you?

To really give students a present, give the school the population it needs for next term and to make yourself feel as if you really have accomplished something, start by getting a list of every student who has indicated he or she may or is leaving. Call every one of them personally but as if you do not know they are dropping out. A personal call is often all they need to change their mind.

Here’s a script that works. Change it to your tastes.

“Hi _________, this is ___________, president, dean, professor at _________________. Just calling to wish you a happy holiday and thank you for the honor of having you as a student at ____________. If it weren’t for you, we would not have meaning and value as a college/school. We exist for you students. So I look forward to seeing you next term/semester. Oh by the way, if I can help make next term/semester better, just email me at ______________ or call at _______________. Look forward to hearing from you and seeing you on campus .”

Call every one on the list and sit back. Wait for replies. You’ll get some and every one you get is an opportunity to retain a student in the college where they will get the best education any where.

Yes you can send a similar automated message to every student that is coming back But for the drops, a personal call is needed.

Oh by the way, if you feel that personally calling students I not for you or below your position, you really don’t care about students or the school. Get over yourself and call. If you don’t believe students get the best education at your school, you better be doing everything you can to change that. If you don’t think it will happen, why in the heck are you staying there?

If students and their education are not important enough for you to take the time to personally call them, you’re in the wrong job.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Web Sites, Signs, Objective Correlatives Hurt Enrollment

Let’s take one of the first correlatives students see – the web site. Most school websites are, well since it is the holiday season I’ll say they are not as good as they can be in working as objective correlatives for students. Why? Because they were created by people who believe in words and in linear realities. Not metaphoric leaps based on correlating objects and images.

We create webs as if they were documents, packed with words and minimal graphics or pictures. We even include entire catalogues on web sites as if anyone would want to read them online. Students hate catalogues and their page after page of, you guessed it, words we believe are important. They don’t nor do they believe catalogues are helpful or speak to them. That’s why catalogue personalization programs such as Leadwise are being adapted by schools. They speak to each student’s personal world and provide graphics and photos students can identify with.

Just look at where students go to on the web-YouTube, Facebook, Shoutwire - and you’ll see few words and almost all visuals. Moreover, the pages are packed with small boxes and thumbnails of choices to click on and download. We may have some trouble with this visual overload. They do not. Nor do they have trouble with the crawls at the bottom of screens during TV shows that can drive us nuts. Not them.

And the web is one of the first contacts with a school. Thus it is a very strong objective correlative. It has the power of the law of primacy – that which is first encountered is first and most powerfully to come to mind. And what most college websites do is create a picture of a school as very “old school.” Not good.

Another powerful, primary objective correlative that is almost universally overlooked is the signage, a fancy way of saying signs. When a potential student first comes to a school or campus, the first material object they see are the signs used to direct them, to inform and to welcome them. If the signs are unattractive, too small or not quickly and easily informative, they generate a negative metaphor for the school’s concern for people.

When we do a college service audit, we find that schools usually don’t even have adequate or enough signs to guide people to locations. It is sort of like a test to see if you can find your way around to qualify for going there. After all, we who live at the school now got lost at first because there were no signs for us and we found our way around. If we could do it, new students can too. Dumb belief.

The lack of signs, uninformative signs, outdated signs and so on, create a very powerful correlative to how much the school cares about helping and assisting. So much so that we have found poor signage such a very dominant force in forming early metaphors that we would rank poor signs as a major negative factor leading to lost enrollment. We have found that if students can’t find their way around with signs, they often just trace their way back to their car and leave. Remember that as posted earlier, as much as 12% of enrollment is lost when students make actual contact with a school.

These are just a few examples of the objective correlative in customer service leading to loses in enrollment and retention. It is a topic we will come back to in later postings.

Enrollment, Metaphors and Poetry

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 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 objects could 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 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 tour. But what most people don’t realize is that students have started 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.
There is an inherent conflict that leads to problems. Examples of a couple of them in the next posting tomorrow.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Make Them Complain to Better Customer Service

A college president called me about having a workshop at his school. They are looking at a potential large enrollment drop following the end of the first semester. He said he wanted me to only focus on the positive aspects of the school’s customer service. “I always believe in focusing on the good. What we do well. Use that as a basis to build.”

“Ahhh” I replied. “There is part of your problem right there. You need to focus on the negatives. On what students are complaining about. We need to set up a system that encourages students to complain.”

He was aghast. “You want us to get our students to complain? But that will just encourage them to be unhappy and focus on the negatives. Besides, I don’t need more problems. I want fewer of them.”

“Exactly the reason to elicit as many complaints as you can.” I replied. “You cannot fix a problem until you know about it. If you aren’t aware of issues, they sit there, fester, grow and then explode in attrition rates. You need to get as many complaints as you can get. Then check into them.”

“To see if they are valid before we go ahead and fix the issue” the president asserted quite presidentially. “No sense putting time and money into an issue if it’s not a real problem. I mean just because a student says something is so doesn’t make it so”

“NO.” I empathetically responded. “If a student thinks it is a problem, it is. If it is only a problem for that student, it is still a problem even if only for that student. Keep in mind that if that student is unhappy, has a complaint. He or she may well get to the point of saying goodbye. That’s how attrition rates get up there. Individual students decide to leave.”

“But if I send a lot of time on one student, I’m not sure that’s an efficient use of resources. Shouldn’t we do a survey or something and see how a larger group of students feel about things. What if that student is wrong and a change makes others unhappy?”

“Okay, first off, if one student complains about something, it is likely that others feel the same way. They just haven’t said anything. And at the very least, they have heard of the problem and will give it credence since it came from a fellow student. Complaints are Malthusian after all. The complainer tells another and another and the “anothers” tell yet others and so on. So they need to be dealt with.” Then I added “But first you need to develop a way to flush out the complaints”

“I see. We have a student satisfaction survey we’ve used before. Our VP of Students developed it with her staff. We generally do well on it so maybe there just aren’t that many issues out there.”

“Well, maybe there aren’t. Surveys can be used as a starting point but they need to be developed by someone who does not have a vested interest in the answers. Your student services group may be the best in the country but I hope you can see that they could have a vested interest in the results. They could have, subconsciously of course, devised items, topics and issues that would lead to certain types of responses. You need someone who is detached from the results. Who is interested only in getting valid results. I can make some recommendations of good people if you like.” Didn’t want him to think I was saying this simply to try and get some more work.

We discussed some consultants and then went on to some other methods of gathering complaints such as comment cards like the Applegrams at Lansing (MI) Community College, or an email address set up just for complaints, or even better, a blog to discuss issues students have. I mentioned that in any of these or other methods, they should not be anonymous if at all possible.

“But will students give their names?” he questioned.

“Some will, some won’t but if you can get a name, it is always better. First you set up a community. Second, names provide a level of integrity to the issue. And third, you have someone to get back to with a solution or a description of the review and resolution of the issue.” I let the pause of silence by note taking go by and continued.

“You’ll want to always acknowledge the complaint. Best to do so in a way that can let others know of it so they can join into the discussion. But also to let them know you are taking the issues seriously.” I added.

“But that will broadcast any problems. That’ll tell everyone we have issues. Won’t that just multiply the problems and hurt our image.”

“Only if you don’t respond to and don’t resolve the problems. If the school accepts it’s not yet perfect and let’s students know what they already know, you will get honesty points. Then when you resolve the complaint and publicly let everyone know you did and what you did, that makes the school a hero.” His “ahh” let me know to go on.

“The research is clear that when a business, in this case a school owns up to an issue and solves it to the customer’s benefit, you turn a complainer into a supporter. Maybe even an advocate. Let the issue stay out there and fester and you could create a group of insurgents dedicated to hurting the school by exploding their complaints to everyone they can reach.”

For further discussion of the benefits of complaints, contact me or just wait for more postings. If you know of any other complaint gathering ideas or stories of how handling a complaint turned a potential insurgent into an advocate, let us all hear.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Basketball as Metaphor for Admissions

In basketball, two common defense setups are the man-on-man and the zone. In the man on man, each defensive player has a specific opponent to guard. And the defender stays with that man no matter where on the court he goes. In the zone defense, the defender works on whatever player comes into the zone he or she is assigned to.

In customer service, these approaches also come into play. The man-on-man or woman calls for a service provider to stay with the customer no matter where he or she roams to. If it is a clothing store for example, the service provider would go with the customer from say dresses to blouses to shoes to socks back to shoes to sweaters and back to shoes again. The provider is usually in a commission situation and does not want to take a chance of losing out on some commission or credit for the sale.

In schools this is seen most clearly in admissions. If an admission’s rep starts with a student, he or she will want to stay with the student to get the credit for the enrollment. The rep may allow others to assist him or her in closing the sale but will certainly stay on top of the process. This is because each rep is usually “goaled” with an enrollment target to hit. Though there is no allowable commission (federal rules) a person’s position and salary can be influenced by hitting goals or not.

The strength of this approach is that the student has a face to get to know. That can provide a personal tie to the school as well as a clear point of service when it is needed. The weakness is that if the rep is busy or not there, the student ends up as an orphan that no one else will really accept ownership of. I have seen too many instances when a student in a man on man service situation ends up sitting around in a lobby waiting for “his or her” rep to become available. Or worse, the student wanders about without really getting the help needed.

The zone defense comes into play when a student goes to an area and whoever is there waits on him or her. To follow our admissions example, the student sees whoever is there at the time to get the service he or she needs. Say the student needs to drop off a form. He would be able to leave it with whoever is there. This can occur when the admissions department works as a team toward whatever the goal is and everyone helps one another because all succeed when an enrollment comes in.

The strength here is that the student will never be without a rep to help out. That could be good. But the weakness is that a student may not get to have a single individual that she believes cares about her personally. That could weaken the personal connection that can be so important to a student bonding with the school. The zone approach would only work if an entire admissions department had a common goal and thus saw the value as a team. Sort of like profit sharing.

But wait what about another approach? Double teaming. Like in basketball when the other team has a really important player, the defense often throws two people up against him. Well, every potential student is a very important player in the school’s success so assign two reps to each. Each of the two reps shares in the success or failure of that potential student. That way there is incentive to share the responsibilities. Further, if one has to cover something else or out of the game then, the other is there to help the student so he or she is never “open” to non-service.

As my friend John says “Seems like a plan to me.” Does it to you?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Positive Power of Names

After a customer service and retention workshop for faculty and administrators in Virginia, Prof. Bob Loomis of EPCI in Roanoke provided a powerful example of the value of names. Prof. Loomis was responding to a discussion of the Give a Name – Get a Name technique. (more on this by clicking on the underlined words)

It seems that he supplements his teaching income by doing some computer repair and consulting for businesses on the side. He will go to a business and do all he can to repair a computer or software issue right then and there. From what I can figure, he is rather successful at doing so. (People in the Roanoke, VA take note – Bob Loomis at EPCI)

There are however times when he has to take the computer back with him to make the repairs. In those situations, he provides solid service by leaving a computer behind so the customer has something to use. This loaner, he has named Freddie since it travels with him on all calls just in case and he is with it a lot. Though Bob checks it each time to maker sure it is fine, there have been a few times when the loaner may develop a problem since it is used by many different people with different preferences and networks. He can be sure he will hear about it rather quickly.

One time Bob had mentioned to a client that he was going to leave “Freddie” behind as a loaner. The client was a bit confused until he realized that Freddie was a computer. Well, the next day Bob received a call from the client. “Freddy is having a bad day” he said. Not “the damn machine isn’t working right.” A kind, understanding “Freddie is having a bad day” instead.

The client was not dealing with a soulless machine after all but with Freddie (a soulless machine but with a name.) Ever since that experience, Bob does not leave a loaner computer behind but lends the customer “Freddy”. Complaints with Freddy have dropped and Bob attributes it to giving people a machine with a human name.

It has been pointed out to me at times that it is true that Give a Name – Get a Name may not work with spineless, ineffectual soulless machines and tools with personality deficits who have names and work at schools. There are some folks that have less personality than a computer. For working with people who have less personality and customer ability than Freddie, Principle 15 may be worth considering even if you know their name.

Not everyone is capable of providing good customer service

That does not mean they may not have value somewhere

For a copy of the 15 Principles, just click here.

That does not mean they do have value either but that is a decision you make. Just get them away from interacting with your customers. Or your students and colleagues will develop names for them that are not very flattering, though possibly very indicative. When a person has a name like Quasimoto, The Thing or The %$#&#! take that's a powerful statement too -of the person's ability to negatively affect customer service. Move them away from people.

By the way, check your job descriptions and position requirements. It may be that you are creating some of your own problems by the way you hire. Being too mean to work at the DMV is not a job qualification one should seek for those who provide customer service.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Popping the "Sophomore Dropout Bubble"

The Chronicle of Higher Education (9/8/06) had an article focusing on the large number of sophomores who drop out or transfer. The article looked at a number of reasons why there is an attrition bubble in the sophomore year. There is a very telling quote from Laurie A. Schreiner, Prof of Higher Education and Organizational Leadership at Azusa Pacific University. Professor Schreiner states “It’s a gradual weaning process…all of a sudden the gloves come off, and this is real college.”

Ahh, there it is. Freshman year is not real college? And real college is tough – meant to wean out the weak that should not be in college anyhow. Most every freshman will disagree. It was a tough year. But what she may mean is that in the freshman year students are treated with care, concern and customer service. Sophomore year… Well, screw ‘em? Let them sink?

What is clear here and at most every college is that in the freshman year customer service is considered by many colleges sort of like the Xmas spirit. For a week, people are kind to their fellow man and woman, give donations for the poor, help out those who may need assistance. Then after the holiday, it’s back to WIFM and “hey I gave at the office”.

Now, some people will be kind and helpful all year long and those are the colleges that do not experience the sophomore slump. They pay attention to students, their needs and expectations and provide good customer service throughout the freshman, sophomore, junior, senior and super senior years as if they all mattered.

The solution to the sophomore attrition bubble is easy. Treat students as if they matter every day, every year.

Education is a service industry in which the clients/students make a decision about the level and value of the service everyday, and even many times a day. They skip a class for example if they do not feel it is worth going. They actually judge the school’s concern for them every single day. They decide daily if they are currebtly getting and believe they will get the requisite financial, emotional and affective returns on their investment. If the answers are not at least, "I guess so" the bubble pops right then and there - sophomore year or not.

Then when they have a break – weekends, vacations, semester breaks – they determine if they are going to return on Monday. If they feel they are at Cheers University “where everyone knows their name and is awfully glad they came” they return. Or if they are being forced to attend Dr. House’s clinic where he may be a good doctor but clearly does not give a damn about them, they will seek new doctors.

It is customer service, care, and concern that is the major determinant of the attrition rate as indicated in the blog article Why Students Leave and What You Can Do Today to Retain Them.It shows that 72% of students leave a college due to poor customer service – each and every year. Actuallly, each and every hour of each and every day.

Care about students and retain them.

If there are any issues or topics I can help with, feel very free to call 413.219.6939 or email.

I will be pleased to help out and do it for the pleasure of helping keep students in school.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Article on Parking in University Business

Just heard that University Business will be publishing a piece on parking and customer service as soon as this coming Monday, 12.04.06. The article on one of the perennial customer service/student complaint topics will appear on their website. May well be worth going to the site read it. By the way, if you don't yet subscribe to UBDaily or the UB monthly, it is well worth the free subscription. It would even be worth paying money to read!

In every study and survey we have done and others have conducted, parking is always in the top 10 - even for non-commuter schools. Many a student is lost somewhere between C lot, way out there in the fields with its signs ONLY FOR STUDENTS WITH OFFICIAL STICKERS. OTHERS MAY BE TOWED!!!!!!!!! and the classroom. Especially in inclement weather or during the initial potential enrollment visit.

I am always amazed at how schools do not make sure the reserved spots for potential enrollees either exist in appropriate number or are not filled by staff or current students.

I have seen the piece (actually, I wrote it) and thus I believe it has some value for everyone who may be concerned with retaining students. But the again, the piece comes out of my and my team's experiences turning retention and enrollment around for schools. And, well, keep in mind that legs have become vestigial for many students - faculty, staff and administrators too.

Look forward to hearing comments on the University Business piece. By the way, my 4 year old grandaughter took the picture with the piece. Let me hear from you at And, oh yes, Emma is available to photograph tea parties, gatherings of dolls and gradparents.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Three Last Minute Solutions to Retain Students

This is the time of year when attrition is one of the most important issues. How many will drop out between now and the start of next session? The answer to this question will have major impact on the budget, purchases, hirings, firings and anything else that has budgetary implications. i.e. EVERYTHING. If more drop or step out than expected (which is the case for most schools as I am hearing) then there is a tough year ahead.

What I am hearing from schools in the past few days is “Is there anything we can do now to try and save some of the drops?”

Well, starting to care about this issue back in June would have been a good idea. But YES there are some potential solutions. Here are three quick and effective solutions.

Final exam good luck card

The first thing to do is for the president of the school to send a good luck in final exams card to every student. A simple card signed by the president can do wonders in helping a student feel valued during the “decision period.” Keep in mind that Customer Service Principle 1 is a powerful one. (For free copy of the 15 Principles of Good Customer Service in Higher Education, just click here)

The card needs to be mailed to the student personally. Send it right to the dorm room or home. None of this Dear Occupant or an open email to everyone. How personal!? We are talking a personal wish from the president and signed in real ink!

Presidents serve the students

If you want to take an additional step, invite students to a free late night, say midnight, coffee and cookies/pastry/ice cream…..event the night before the first final exams. The president should be there to help hand out the coffee and food. Little says we like you to students than free food handed to them by the president.

You may not get every student that night but the word will spread and you might get to them all over a period of nights. And do not be afraid to say Good luck and looking forward to welcoming you back next semester/term. If a student does not respond with “Yuh.. See you then,” that is a student who may be thinking or even planning to leave. This is the time for the president to ask if there is a problem. Listen to it. Try to solce the situation. At least get some response to that student ASAP.

Immediate help

If the issue is a problem in a class, have some faculty tutors around that night who can help the student right then and there. After all, though poor grades is not the major reason why students leave if they fail courses, they may have to drop. Besides our goal is knowledge and skills through learning even on the night before finals.

This will not save every student who might be tottering, but students will find these such positive statements they will tilt be some students into the positive zone. And that can help tilt revenue into a more positive zone too.

If there are any particular issues you are facing, please call me. I will be pleased to give you a solution to the issue or refer you to someone who can. I recall well the anxiety of this time of year, so if I can help anyone, feel free. 413.219.6939

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Give a Name-Get a Name - A Core Issue for Success

Last week I did a workshop at the ECPI Technical College group’s conference. To their great credit ECPI, a 14 campus group of career colleges in Virginia and the Carolinas was focusing on increasing student learning – a topic most every school should be looking at. They had read my article Learn and Earn; not Churn and Burn and my book Embrace the Oxymoron. So they asked me to address the conference. I was providing information on the value of customer service in the teaching/learning process and how it adds to student accomplishment, the enjoyment of teaching, as well as the school’s retention and thus revenue.

One of the techniques I was teaching is called “Give a name; Get a name." This is a technique that should be used in all customer service situations. It is especially useful when confronting an angry student or client. Give a name-Get a name is just what is says. The service provider creates a “community of two” by entering the interaction by giving his or her first name to the student. The surname name can be given but only as a reinforcement of the first name. And after a pause so the first name takes precedence and primacy in the listener's mind.
Last names are for business interactions or to place yourself in a power relationship to the student. Like what we do in classrooms. "Refer to me as Mr. or Dr. Somebody while I demean you by using only your diminutive first name."

“Hi. I’m Neal.............. Neal Raisman. VP of Somethingorother.”
Then the person asks for the student’s name

“And you are….?”

If the student is angry he or she will often respond with “Pissed off.

"Okay, Pissed. What can I help you solve?” (More on why this response in another blog but need to stay on topic here.)

Once first names have been exchanged, a small, maybe tentative, yet real community of two is formed. If nothing else, it is much more difficult for an angry student to retain a full level of anger when you have exchanged first names. You are no longer just a nameless representative of the anonymous school. The YOU or U, if you will. You are a person with a name a first name. You could even be a friend when I have your first name. The exchange of first names is the initial step in creating a friendly relationship. Just picture a bar or social gathering where you wish to get to know someone. What do you do after checking your breath as you walk over to the person? "Hi, my name is ......"

It is much harder to be angry with a real person with a name than an entity, a thing that has no feelings to hurt and no heart to break. So, giving and getting a name can defuse anger and allow you to provide better customer service, actually solve a problem and not get yelled at and insulted as the nameless representative of the school.

I knew that this worked with people but I found out from a faculty member at one of the ECPI branches that it also works with machines! Check out the posting “Freddy is Having a Bad Day.”

Community-cating With Angry Students - A Technique

Last week I did a workshop at the ECPI Technical College group’s conference. To their great credit ECPI, a 14 campus group of career colleges in Virginia and the Carolinas was focusing on increasing student learning – a topic most every school should be looking at. They had read my article Learn and Earn; not Churn and Burn and Embrace the Oxymoron. So they asked me to address the conference. I was providing information on the value of customer service in the teaching/learning process and how it adds to student accomplishment, the increased enjoyment of teaching, as well as the school’s retention and thus revenue.

One of the techniques I was teaching is called “Give a name; Get a name." This is a technique that should always be used and is especially useful when confronting an angry student or client. It is just what is says. The service provider creates a “community of two” by entering the interaction by giving his or her first name to the student. The second name can be given but only after a solid pause to provide the first name precedence and primacy in the strudent's mind. The second can then be used as a reinforcement to the first name.

“Hi. I’m Neal............ (PAUSE) Neal Raisman. VP of Somethingorother.”
Then the person asks for the student’s name

“And you are….?”

If the student is angry he or she will often respond with “Pissed off."

"Okay Pissed What can I help you solve?” (More on why this response in another blog but need to stay on topic here.)

Once first names have been exchanged, a small, maybe tentative, but real community of two is formed. If nothing else, it is much more difficult for an angry student to retain the full level of anger when you have exchanged first names. You are no longer just a nameless representative of the anonymous school. The YOU or U, if you will. You are a person with a name who could be a friend. Think about it. The first step in forming a relationship is almost always the first name exchage. Picture a bar, a party or any social occassion. There is someone you wish to meet. You check your breath to see if you need a mint. Walk over and introduce yorself by starting with your first name. Not the last unless you wish to create some formal distance like in a business relationship. And here, with students, the goal is a freindly, more social interaction.

It is much harder to be angry with a real person with a name than an entity, a thing that has no feelings to hurt and no heart to break. So, giving and getting a name can defuse anger and allow you to provide better customer service, actually solve a problem and not get yelled at and inslated as the representative of the school.

I knew that this worked with people but I found out from a faculty member at one of the ECPI branches that it also works with machines! Check out the posting “Howie is Having a Bad Day.”

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Touchy Feely Customer Service Costs Schools Millions

Just before a recent presentation at a college, a member of the institution’s business office told me he thought it was nice I was talking about customer service, but he didn’t see how it applied to him. His concerns were more basic. Like the budget, revenues, you know – the real stuff – money. He didn’t deal with the “touchy feely” stuff that excited others.

“Ahhhh” I replied. I always try to be nice, polite and provide customer service since to do otherwise would be…Well, it wouldn’t be keeping with my subject.

So I asked him if he would give me five minutes tops to help me with a financial issue that hits some schools. “It would be helpful” I said. He agreed to help me.

I asked him what the population at the school was the beginning of the fall semester.

“About 920” he said.

“And tuition is how much?”

“14,838 with fees”

“The college’s attrition average tuition rate is what?” That he didn’t know but grabbed a colleague in enrolment management. She told him it was averaging about 14% a year.

“Okay so 920 minus 14% attrition is 129 students X $14,838 tuition lost in a year per student which is about $1,914,102. Now let’s multiply that times 72% which is the percentage of attrition that is rather directly related to customer service issues. So the school lost an annualized $1,3781,533 from customer service-related issues. And that doesn’t include the lost costs of acquiring each student, enrolling them, orienting them and so on. Nor does it figure in bad debt written off from attrition or the costs of collecting the debt and other business-related activities from attrition. That’s a chunk of change too. And, if you are like other schools, you lose at least 12% of potential enrollees when they make contact with the customer service at the school. So I would peg the customer service value at the school at well over $2.5 million. That’s a lot of “touchy feely” I would say.”

He listened very closely to the presentation.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Random Acts of Customer Service

The other day I was banking at a Chase Bank branch in Bexley, OH. While I was standing in line, a young man with management potential carried a tray of various coffee drinks from Starbucks to the counter. He efficiently distributed the coffees, lattes and achiato something or others to the tellers behind the counter and behind glass in their office areas. I asked him if he were the manager. “No I’m not but if I were I’d be doing this a lot more often.”

Now here is a person who the value of random customer service for colleagues. He knew that doing something nice for those he worked with would pay significant benefits to Chase and its customers. A simple act like bringing coffee to staff or faculty can be an amazingly simple and effective morale and good service booster. It says “you are valuable. I appreciate you and what you do.” And that act of random customer service pays off in better service to students. Happier students = better retention.

A person who feels valued and rewarded for what he or she just does as his or her job is a much happier worker. Sure money and raises are always welcome and bring smiles but they disappear when costs go up and the raise is absorbed by living. So let’s discuss some easier and even less costly methods that I guarantee will improve service, productivity and retention.

Happier employees will always treat students with greater care, kindness and attention. People who feel good about themselves and their contribution to the company will try to pass that feeling of pleasure and pride of recognition on to every client they work with for at least the rest of the day..

So the message here is simple. Anyone who supervises others, commit yourself to performing random acts of colleague customer service.

An example. The first week of any semester is a hectic and difficult time for staff at a school. The rush of work, the flood of students lined up before them and they student issues they have to solve simply wear them down. This is especially so of offices like registrar or bursar/ Bursar in particular has to face hundreds, thousands of students and parents who suddenly realize they have a bill to pay, or still owe money and can’t come back to school. Bursar personnel are especially hit. They have to tell people they must pay to go to school and hear how tuition is too high and all you care about is my money. Granted, some bursar folk were selected from people deemed to cold and ruse to work at a DMV, but even they feel the heat.

When I was a college president, I used to make sure I got to all the offices to thank everyone for doing a great job. Bursar’s and registrars twice a day at least. Then, in the middle of all the crush and rush of business, I would take orders for coffee and pastry. Then I would go, get it and deliver it personally to each worker. This simple gesture of random customer service really paid off.

PERFORM RANDOM ACTS OF CUSTOMER SERVICE FOR STAFF AND WATCH THE GREAT RESULTS. It can be unannounced buying of coffee for everyone, or some doughnuts/bagels or whatever will please people. A few pizzas for lunch in the break room. Take workers to lunch as a thank you for great service and work. Try telling a worker that he or she has done a great job today and should take a few more minutes for break, or even let the person leave early for the day to say thanks. Most of the time, the person will be so thankful for the attention and offer that he or she will not leave early – might even stay a little later because he or she feels the work done is appreciated. And if he should leave early, I can assure you that his productivity will certainly improve more than high enough to make up for the time off.

And the simplest and least expensive way, just remember “please and thank you”. A very simple “thank you for the way you handled that. It is appreciated” will boost spirits each and every time. And by the way, thanks for reading this posting. I and the readers of this blog would like to hear your valuable thoughts and your random acts of customer service. . They are always

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Customer Service, Retention and Thomas Malthus

Good customer service increases enrollment and retention arithmetically while bad customer relations decreases both enrollment and retention geometrically. This inevitably leads to catastrophic events as Thomas Malthus, a population economist (1766-1834) predicted in his Essay on Population. Malthus explained that strife between countries and people occurs because agriculture increases arithmetically, one plan by one plant ionm one season while population increases geometrically over time. Though he was discussing why wars and strife occur and could easily have included college attrition rates.

Colleges gain enrollment one student and then one more and then one more We retain them the same way, one by one. Students stay if they are individually pleased with the treatment they receive and their learning. The decision is an individual one made by each student.

But, colleges lose students in a geometric progression. An angry or upset student tells another student, and another, and another tells a friend, family member, and they repeat it to others whenever the college is mentioned. It is the Rule of Six. When a person is upset, he or she will tell at least six other people. They tell at least four others and so on until we have one heck of a lovely pyramid that looks like a Ponzi scheme gone bad. What was one upset student quickly multiplies geomterically and the image of the college is hurt and enrollment is affacted negatively.

And what do students complain about? Why Students Leave and What You Can Do Today to Retain Them The way they are treated. Insensitive staff, uncaring administrators, long lines, getting the run around, poor communication, bad information, lack of assistance, inadequate student space, parking, uncaring faculty.

Malthus recognized the destructive force of weather as a major negative effect on population. In colleges, he would have investigated bad customer service. And he would have found that bad service is not just a wind the blows no good, it is a hurricane force disaster.

We know weather can create major disasters if we are not prepared for them. We all want to know what the storm will be like so we can be ready. We work hard to be aware of bad weather knowing full well that we have no control over it. We want to know even though there is nothing we can do to stop a hurricane, tornado, high winds, flooding, snow.

Yet, when it comes to customer service, a major cause of enrollment and retention disaster, most colleges really don't know where the ill winds are coming from. Or for that matter, they are not aware if their customer service will lead to sunshine and warm feelings toward the college.

Do you know whether the customer service provided your student and potential students is helping or hurting you?

You should. Maybe you should find out.

Your students will thank you for it with increased enrollment and retention.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Hunter Nursing Selects Leadwise Personalized Website Platform

Hunter College’s Bellevue School of Nursing (CUNY) selected AcademicMAPS to create a new Leadwise™ powered web site to increase awareness of the academic and professional strengths of the program and increase its enrollment.

AcademicMAPS was selected as a result of its understanding of customer service and how students “shop” for colleges as well as for its innovative Leadwise™ web technology. Leadwise™ is an enrollment and award-winning on-line program that takes a college’s catalog and marketing materials and integrates them into on-line individually personalized college catalogues/plans based on individual each potential student’s interests. In so doing, Leadwise™ helps colleges create a personal bond between the school and student increasing the probability the student will want to apply and attend.

Potential students complete a customized questionnaire that keys into the digitized catalog and materials. The system then generates a personalized on-line document that responds specifically to the self-identified students’ interests from academic issues, to personal goals, to entertainment interests. The personal catalog appears on the student’s computer along with enrollment and financial aid information and forms to complete application.

The system also sends all the responses entered by the potential student to a college’s admissions office at the same time. This allows the admissions representatives to have all the information needed to “close the sale” while the student is still looking at his or her personal college catalog/plan. Admission reps have reported that the detailed Leadwise™ information and the “script” it creates has sales cycle time cut up to 34% while increasing lead to applicastion conversion up to 14%.

Leadwise™ also generates a continuously updating Student Response Management Database that aggregates all responses into a single database the college can use to target marketing, plan events, as well as potential classroom and retention needs based upon student interest indicators. The real-time aspects of the database provide schools the information they need to better target their marketing dollars to where their potential students really are.

Leadwise™ is a flexible system that is customized and personalized for each school to integrate it into the college’s visual identity. It has been shown to increase applications and interest in enrolling by 14% and has cut admission’s representative time by as much as 34%. This allows admission representatives more time to follow up to increase show rate or enroll more students.

The system was developed by AcademicMAPS and COREdataCenter in New York. Jerry Alloca is the award winning president of CORE and wrote the technical software for Leadwise™ in partnership with Neal Raisman, president of AcademicMAPS.

The Bellevue-Hunter College of Nursing (CUNY) is an internationally renowned urban nursing school with an excellent faculty and program in NYC. It is one of the mots highly regarded, oldest and most diverse programs in the country.

For more information on Leadwise™, academic web design or customer service, contact Jerry Alloca at or Neal Raisman at 413.219.6939.

Monday, October 02, 2006

5 Kindness Selling Approaches for Admission Reps

Ethical Selling, Campaigns of Kindness

Unabashed, unencumbered kindness can make for a very profitable sales strategy.

We estimate that around 3% of the sales population is psychologically immune to rejection. The rest of us have to build personal strategies to deal with this gruesome little gremlin. It's not a coincidence that selling is one of the most avoided activities within any organization (and probably the cause of the greatest amount of missed opportunity to build enrollment). But as the cliché goes, everything in business begins with a sale.
While it is crucial that those tasked with selling must perform, one must also protect their emotional health so reps don't burn out and get waylaid due to fear of rejection (call reluctance). To make life easier for the people responsible for generating sales at your school, here are five ways to make selling painless.(Be forewarned, you most likely would not learn this in B School)

1. If you as an Admissions rep go out into the world every day to be kind and compassionate to others, it is pretty close to impossible to get rejected. This practice makes for a pleasurable experience for everyone, and by extension makes call reluctance a smaller issue.

2. We know that 80% of an effective selling program is simply getting in front of prospects. An inexperienced sales person will be successful simply by "showing up." If the process is pleasurable for both the sales person and the prospective student, sales activity increases and referrals follow. That's because we humans naturally resist that which is uncomfortable, and in turn seek out that which is easy.

On the other side of the ledger, prospects give opportunities to people they like, respect and trust. (vs. those wanting to lift money from their wallet.) This process is communicated at an unconscious level through tone of voice body language which is in turn driven by intention. Intention to help someone get ahead in their lives.

3. When an Admissions rep genuinely demonstrates they have the prospects interests at heart, high quality, positive relationships develop very quickly. This overcomes the biggest hurdle to converting a prospect, which is trust.

4. When treated in a respectful manner where long-term mutual interests have equal weight, a tremendous referral machine quickly develops. Even if the rep can not "convert" a prospect, she becomes a source of referral because of the reps intention to help the prospect clarify her career path.

5. Once a rep has practiced perpetually kind for a while, leaving small gifts and insights for prospects, the Law of Reciprocity starts to kick in automatically. The Law of Reciprocity states that people will naturally seek to reciprocate when provided a gift, consideration, or an unexpected kind turn.

But there is a bigger piece to the Law of Reciprocity and it is to do with the psychology of the person doing the selling. (Get ready for a bit of pop psychology). When in your heart of hearts, as a rep you know you have helped people day in and day out with ideas and insights in terms of their career path, you have in turn created for yourself at a certain level, an expectation of reward. You are deserving of abundance because in part you are generous and help people.
Self sabotage can kill many deals. Prospects can sense when they are dealing with high integrity people and that sense combined with allowing yourself to succeed make for many sales successes that would otherwise never come about.

So, using kindness and giving insight and helpful advice to prospects can trigger all kinds of favourable activities for you. A sales strategy where you are creating value form the first point of contact creates for the rep an environment where others feel compelled to give back. Either as customers, or as prospect/referral sources or for yourself. Within the ethical selling philosophy, you get to aggressively increase sales but in a pleasurable way. You can make your community a better place, do your best to help individuals, and build market share. A by product you have enjoyable days at work and make lots of friends along the way.

Guest Posting by Gregg Meiklejohn
Enrollment Resources Inc Gregg and his business partner Shane Sparks work with schools and associations teaching them how they can increase sales and revenues often just by adjusting their budgets and approaches. Good people doing good work.
ph: 250-391-9494

Friday, September 29, 2006

Top 5 New Freshman Concerns

Here are the five top customer service issues from new freshmen commuter students we interviewed at 4-year not-for-profit public and private colleges, community colleges and 2 +4 year proprietary career schools. Students could indicate more than one concern. These are the ones that came up the most.

So now, (drum roll please!)

Top 5 New Commuter Freshman Concerns
AcademicMAPS 6/29

1. Paying for college
2. Parking
3. Faculty that care
4. Belonging
5. The right courses

1- Paying for college is the greatest top of mind response. No surprise. Money is very top-of-mind now in particular. Maslow could have predicted that. Tuition is up. Cost of books is obscene and disposable income is not strong for students and their families in September. Not that college is disposable. Just right now, at the start of the real New Year in the US (Labor Day), bills had to be paid, books bought (or not) and many students are going through their money fast. “I’m set for this semester but the next ones….?” was a common theme of many students.

2- Parking is a perennial issue. Colleges do it all wrong and make students (the customers) park in the worst, most distant lots. Moreover, since most schools plan parking based on average per day over a year and the first weeks are far from average attendance, students actually want to be there the first month, there are normally shortages of parking spots. And what is available is way out at the rear of C Lot. Students (faculty, administrators, staff and the rest of us) don’t like walking. Add these all up and no wonder parking is a constant problem. I suggest buying old drive-in movies and using them as classes. No one even has to leave the car. More on this next week on a posting only on parking.

3- Faculty that care This is one of the big issues for later, weeks 6-9, when grades start to solidify but it starts now. Students want to like and respect their professors, but they have already begun to wonder if some of them give a damn. Since most faculty learned to teach by osmosis, they learned some of the worst habits of past faculties. One of these is to try and establish authority by being somewhat distant, professionally aloof, or even all-knowing. They learned to start by writing your full name on the board - “I am that I am”.

Others start being out outgoing and approachable but as part-time adjuncts, the serfs of education, most get worn out quickly driving from school to school trying to make ends meet and their exasperation quickly shows. Or they are TA’s who are more concerned with their dissertation into the lack of boat shoe images in Moby Dick than in teaching composition for example. Others have no idea what to do anyhow so they get lost, frustrated and fall back on osmosis induced bad habits. Most all faculty are concerned by the recent cut backs at the school so they are always concerned about their own well being and that cuts into caring for others.

Other faculty are great people and may even succeed at being engaged and caring but they, unfortunately, are, too often in the minority. And since we remember the broken arm at the fair rather than all the candy and rides, the negative learning experiences are primary. But thank god for them all. They give students hope. Thank you.

4- Belonging is related to faculty that care. Students want to feel they are wanted at a school and therefore belong. Uncaring faculty, administrators who ignore them (see past posting), staff who look through them and are not helpful, poor signage so they get lost, parking issues, books not available and too expensive,,, Actually most anything can make a student feel he or she does not belong, does not fit in. (send me 15 Principles of Good CS). Alienation or feeling rejected or unimportant is a major cause of why students leave a school..

5- The right courses Too many schools demand that freshman get the okay from an advisor on what courses they should or can take. But at most every college or school we have studied, the advisor system does not work. Most advisors are faculty who want to help students but cannot because they are not up-to-date on curricula changes, course equivalencies, requirements outside their own department, course content or program graduation requirements. As a result, 37% of students reported they were misadvised and put into the wrong courses. Most do not know add drop procedures so they will suffer through the wrong course and add money, time, frustration and perhaps another school to their future.

These are the top 5 now for commuting students. They will change over the semester and we will be there to let you know how they have changed.
If you have any additional thoughts, questions, issues or whatever is on your mind,please post it, contact us at or or call at 413.219.6939.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Customer Serving is Customer Service

Great Service Matters. I agree. It’s the name of this blog, but more importantly, it is a true statement. It’s what retains students once they have arrived and begun their academic pursuits. Great Service. And that’s why I concur Great Service Matters.

But, what makes service great? What makes our interactions with students different from the way they might be treated in any other college? What is it that allows us to deliver the kind of service that leaves students feeling good about their experience rather than disappointed.

What I have found as a college president and now as an academic management coach is the key to delivering great service is serving others. To become the servant to others.

I knew that as President of Macintosh College, I served the faculty, staff and students. I led by being a servant to their needs and in so doing, not only did I deliver customer service, more importantly I helped others serve our mission and learning.

Providing great service requires us to see the needs of others and to engage in each interaction with them from the place of their interests rather than our own. It requires us to get outside of ourselves and to put others and the needs of others before our own.

And to do that? People want to be heard and to know that their concerns are seen as being important. We all want to be treated with respect and patience. And we would want to feel as though there may be a reasonable solution to even the toughest problem.

So the next time you are faced with the opportunity to serve one of your students, put yourself into the role of servant. Set aside your agenda and step into their experience. Then, make their experience the best possible experience they could have. They will know they have been served, and you will know you have provided Great Service.

Guest Posting by Marylin Newell,
President of Life Matters- Coaching for Maximizing Performance
Marylin is a great academic coach and has helped colleges, their presidents and community members become better and stronger leaders as well as better and stronger people. She is also one of the best and brightest people I know. It is well worth contacting her at or at 207-345-3100

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen -Start Your Search Engines

Though it may not exactly be customer service in the usual sense, I want to reference a new study put out by Sherpa Marketing on search engines, search optimization and using search engines like Google, Yahoo and the like as web site marketing tools. Consider this customer service from me to you.

The executive summary, the 2006-2007 Search Marketing Benchmark Guide can be found at . The executive summary is of a benchmarking study completed with 3053 marketing people and 891 search marketing firms. Some good information and data in here especially if marketing is important to you. And if it isn’t.... Well, enough said.

Every school uses its web site as a marketing tool but not everyone has a good customer friendly site nor are many of them properly optimized to search engines to help guide potential students to them. Two major mistakes. The article above discusses SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and how it is being used currently, how viewers look at search engine entries along with other data on search engine marketing.

Won’t take long to read and it is informative on a subject schools should learn about.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Banking on Good Customer Service

Just wanted to enter an event that illuminates Good Customer Service Principles #1" Everyone wants to go to Cheers University - where everyone knows your name and is glad you came..." (For a copy of the 15 Principles of Good Customer Service, just click the link . Be pleased to send it.) We opened a second AcademicMAPS office in Columbus, OH. As a result, I needed to move my bank acounts to Columbus from Long Island. At first I was ambivalent about moving the banking acounts from one bank because I enjoyed banking at the North Fork Bank branch in Nesconset, NY. And it wasn't because they had free Vermont Coffee wating for customers. The people, especially John Lugo and Corrie Wong made it very easy, convenient and even pleasurable to do my banking there. As a result, I actually thought about staying with North Fork and banking by distance.

Now that was a dumb thought because of the issues of banking from Columbus to Nesconset, NY but I considered it because John and Corrie actually treated me with service and personal attention that banks used to provide rather than the cold, commercialism of the current corporate industrial bank complex. Those two obviously provided a level of customer service that made me feel personally welcome and valued to the point that I would consider a decision that was not necessarily in my best interest.

And what did they do? Took the time to learn my name. Always said hello. Asked to help and then did. Suggested additional services or banking assistance to solve any problem and make my life easier. And took an extra minute to talk with me not as a banking customer but a person.

The result. I was not happy to leave their branch. Hope you see their point. If you want to call them and ask about great service mattering try them at North Fork Bank, Nesconset Branch. Knowing them they'd be glad to help.

Have a comment, thought or question? Write and Post it here or the link below, or call me Neal Raisman 413.219.6939

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Techno-Eco Extremism- Cut Down All PhoneTrees

I admit it. I am willing to be known as a techno-eco extremist. I hate trees

No not the green ones outside my window. They are just fine. Them I like. It is the technological trees. The telephone ones with trunks rooted in poor customer service. Trees with unfathomable branches of saccharin-voiced recorded messages that schools and companies use to keep people away from real people and real service. The trees I want to cut down are technological phone trees that are designed to do everything they can to make sure you cannot talk to a person, or obtain the information you seek, or solve a problem you called about.

I want to pull out my virtual chainsaw and cut down whole forests of phone trees that make certain callers obtain the very worst service ever available; never gets the information he or she wants; and makes sure the caller slams down the phone with the gusto of frustration and anger. And as a result, have major deleterious effects on customer service and enrollment. Potential students turn away from schools that can’t hear or see the student from the trees.

Telephoning is the second most common method of contacting schools. The most common is the web. People are often directed by the web to call the school and talk to an admissions counselor. A practice that makes little sense by the way for two reasons. First, the student is on the web and seeking to obtain particular information. If they have chosen to use the web, they have indicated a preference for it so why make them leave it? The answer from many schools is that they cannot supply the particular, personalized information the student is seeking. Their website is not capable of doing that. But with a simple add-on such as Leadwise™ (
) a website can become a powerful provider of detailed and personalized information requested by potential students. Excuse gone.

The second reason given for directing students to the telephone is that it allows more personalized contact. Students can speak to a real person. If they can make it through the forest of telephonic horrors that defy allowing the student to get the warm, fuzzy of speaking to a person. The welcome of “Listen closely, our menu has changed” (as if anyone really cares about your menu) is a real compassionate opening for creating empathy with a school. Will the menu be on a quiz during orientation I wonder?

Students do not give a damn about your menu. All they care about is getting some particular information or a solution to a problem. So they have to listen to the long drawn out list of what numbers go to what possible extension. “If you wish to talk with the bursar, press 4. If you wish to talk with the registrar, press 6. If you wish to talk to a person and tell them why you are calling because you don’t know that academic office you need is titled, press your tummy and make a wish because we are trying to keep you from talking with an operator so we can save money while we lose you as a potential enrollment….”

Realize that students dislike answering systems and phone trees as much as you do. They despise holding on the phone trying to get to a person as much as you do. They want to talk with a real person a much as you do. They do not want to have to enter their student number in an attempt to gain assistance only to be connected to a person finally who starts the conversation with “may I have your student number?” They enjoy that about as much as you dislike entering your number and being asked for it again and again.

They do not believe the phone message which tells them they can get their issue resolved by going to your web. They were probably just directed by the website to a phone number that is now telling them to go to the website. They know it is a continuous loop designed to make them go away and leave me alone.

They also loathe the statement that is heard when a caller finds a way to get to an operator. “We are experiencing unusually high volume but your call is important to us and will be answered as soon as possible in the order it was received. Your wait time should not exceed 12 minutes….” If a call is important, it should not have to take twelve minutes to get to it. What the caller hears is “Frankly you and your call do not matter to us at all. If it did, we would hire enough people to answer the phones since we always experience high volume since we only have one person answering the phone.” If the student does wait on the phone, you can be certain he or she is on the web looking for another school.

The answer? Get rid of the automated phone system. Hire real people to answer the phone but make certain they are trained appropriately. This is what FACTS Tuition Management (
800-624-7092) did after it tried a phone tree and found out that its client colleges were not happy. FACTS president David Byrnes realized he didn’t like talking to a machine so why would anyone else want to do so. FACTS brought in some great receptionists whose abilities on the phone make every caller feel valued.

Columbus State Community College (OH) (
800-621-6407) solved any and all phone answering problems by setting up what is likely the very best call center of any college, and maybe any business too. All general calls go to the phone center to assure every caller is treated well and really helped. The people who answer the phones at CSCC are empowered to solve most any and every issue or problems from class schedule changes to paying bills by credit card to buying books and more. It’s a great model.

But, just having a person on the other end of the phone does not guarantee good customer service. They must know how to use as an instrument of customer service. And this is an art that is missing in the lives of many people. Having a person answer the phone with “State College. Yuh, what dya want?” or “Hold on for a minute please. I’m busy” as I heard during a school doesn’t help much I agree.

The answer- read the previous blog posting and educate people on how to use the telephone. There are training programs out there that can teach most people how to answer a phone. If you want to find out about some of them, call me at 413.219.6939. I will answer the phone myself and will help you.

If it is a business necessity to use telephonic technology, keep it simple and always provide a shortcut to a real person. More on this in an upcoming blog or contact me for help.


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You can reach Neal Raisman by email at
or 413.219.6939