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.


Have a comment or question? Please post them.
You can reach Neal Raisman by email at
or 413.219.6939