Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Here's Looking at Me - A Simple Solution to Phone Rudeness

Schools can lose 12% of potential enrollment when potential students make their first actual contact with the college. That’s right. Your school loses students who are interested in attending when they take the steps required to make a positive decision to enroll.

This should not surprise anyone who ever heard about first impressions or has read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. But oddly enough, when I talk with school administrators, “12% off the top” comes as a surprise. Until they objectively look at their web or call into to an office on campus.

The web issue is a larger topic that will be discussed at greater length later on the blog but telephone problems… I have been getting plenty of calls lately from administrators who have been getting complaints from callers to their schools, staff members and trustees. There are numerous issues people call and complain about. But a recent common theme has been complaints over phones being answered in a rude, indifferent, and offensive manner. It seems that people answering phones have been doing so while distracted, angry or apparently annoyed at having to answer the phone. And these attitudes clearly affect tone, and voice style.

I don’t know but I guess there is something offsetting about a person answering the phone with “Yuh. What?” or with a very bored and indifferent “SchoolOrTechnicalCollegeWhatCanIDoForYuh?”

And little tells a person he or she is unwanted than being “dissed” on the phone. If a student gets the feeling that he or she is not wanted from an early or first phone call, it can be an uphill battle to retain the student’s interest in attending the school. And it is so simple to assure that people answer the phone in a friendly manner.

Here is one quick and inexpensive customer service solution. Mirrors.

Yes. Mirrors. Go to a local craft store and buy simple, small mirrors and double-sided tape. Give the mirror with the tape to everyone who might answer a phone. Have them tape the mirror to a spot level with their face or where they could easily see their face when they go to answer the phone. Then have everyone look into the mirror and smile before picking up a phone. All they need to do is retain the smile when saying “hello, how can I help you?” Problem solved.

It is a simple fact that when a person is smiling, he or she cannot answer the phone with an angry or negative tone. In fact, the caller will hear the smile come through in the voice. This may not eliminate all the phone protocol issues a school will have but it will certainly help.

Any comments, questions or other customer service issues? Contact me at

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Why Students Leave and What You Can Do Today to Retain Them

The above is a compilation of all the research we have done to date on why students really leave a school. This is not what they might tell you since they will generally "play to the interviewer" during their meeting with your exit counselor. (If you have one) Students will generally fall back on "personal reasons" as the excuse for leaving the school. They assume you will either not dig into their personal lives or will buy the soap opera they spin because they know we are basically voyeurs rather than intervention people. We do love a good sob story, even if it may not be true or the real reason the student is leaving. But then again, if it is "personal reasons" we are happy to accept that since then we aren't really accountable for some failure in the department, school or our so-called systems. Can't be held responsible for their personal problems, can we?

But when we dug a bit, the personal problems fall into into a few major categories which indicate that leaving students do have a sort of personal issue, a customer service issue - with the school. They don't like the way they were treated and that they take personally. They tell us that they feel the school was indifferent about them as a person, as a learner or as anything but a tuition revenue. That is the major reason they leave. They feel you don't really care about them individually. Once they feel you do not care, they are on the way out the door. This feeling violates Good Service Principle 1 "Everyone wants to attend Cheers University where everyone knows your name and they're awfully glad you came." There are 15 Principles by the way. If you'd like a copy of the 15 Principles of Good Customer College Service email me at or call at 413.219.6939.

The second major reason students quit a school is dissatisfaction with how the staff treats them. Staff here means anyone who works at the college. Generally students will point out some clerical or management staff as the prime meanies because they will be more lenient with faculty in general until one of them blows it big time. Then all hell breaks loose and its call the lawyers time. They want to believe their teachers, their doctors, care about them even if they don't seem to really show it much. They will remember the slights from staff, fixate on them as examples of the school's belief that "this would be a great place to work if it weren't for the students." (Heard that one before didja?) The students who leave feel they are being maltreated and will not pay for that. How many times have you heard students refer to how much they are paying and how much they deserve since they pay so much to go there? So they leave.

Leaving does not mean they don't go to another school although they will tell you they are taking time off. The don't want to insult you or have to explain their real reasons for leaving if they can avoid it. Confrontation is not a sought after event.)

The 2006 NSSE study indicates that over 60% of students attend more than one college. That should not comfort anyone if their school is one that loses more than receives students. Misery likes company but there are no revenue dollars in the misery of losing a large chunk of your enrollment, especially to those who get laid off to meet budget.

The third major reason students attrit (isn't that such a nice euphemism for run out the doors complaining about the school) is they are just plain unhappy with the school. You have spent so much time and money to get them to come that the school forgets it is much easier and much less costly to keep a student than to get them to begin with. Before classes, there are numerous communications, well planned orientations, events, even celebrations to make sure the students will show up. Once classes start, schools seem to forget that the happiness factor is important. And it is so simple to maintain actually. In fact, all the reasons for leaving a school can be alleviated rather easily.

When one thinks about the chart above, it indicates that 72% of students leave a college - your college - for customer service reasons.

72% If you could reduce attrition by even just (just he says, how ironic) by just say 50%, would that help your revenue and bottom line? Might customer service be an issue you should do something about?

Here is one way to start to reduce your attrition today.

Years ago, a colleague named Bill Schaar at Landing Community College taught me a secret of overcoming the feeling of indifference, of making people feel staff and everyone else cares and of making students feel happy about being at the school. SMILE. That's right - smile. Smile at students and one another as you walk the halls, walk on campus or anywhere you encounter a student. And say "good morning or afternoon or even just Hi". Then ask the person how he or she is. If the person answers with anything less than great, ask if there is anything you can do to make it better for him or her. That's right, stop and ask why it isn't great today and what can I do to make it better. That often surprises and delights right then and there since "how you doin'" is generally phatic language and not a show of interest. If there is something that you or someone else can do, do it. If there isn't, the very simple act of showing concern will start to make that student feel important, wanted and a valued part of the school. Thereby overcoming three of the major reasons why students really do leave schools. There are other ways of course but this is a good starting place. It can even make you live longer.

Any questions or comments? Need someone to make customer service a priority at your school. Contact me at or 413-219-6939.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Why Should I Care About Customer Service?

Two simple reasons- students care about it and they act on it. So, if you are in admissions, population management or have any budgetary concerns, or reading the question and nodding as if to say “Yuh why should I care? That’s touchy feely foolishness that businesses talk about. This is not some retail store after all. This is a college, an academic environment, not a business.”

You may want to brush off your resume. If service is not a top priority throughout the school, it may have a tough time making enrollment and retention goals. And if population goals are not met, fiscal objectives cannot be met. And, everyone has to be concerned about the school’s fiscal condition. Lost revenue can mean frozen or lost positions, budget cuts, postponed equipment, defrayed maintenance, decreased levels of maintenance… Bottom line, more work and less money.

Quick momentary reality check. Right now, many of you are looking at the population projections for next semester. Some of you are happy. You'll hit your goals. But from the phone calls I have been receiving, many colleges are concerned that their numbers may not hold or even if they do… They aren’t quite good enough.

For them and even for the successful schools, would an additional 12% increase in potential enrollment have helped? That is the percentage of enrollment lost in the enrollment process due to perceived weaknesses in your customer service. Research shows that 12% of potential enrollment is lost as soon as a potential student who had indicated an inclination to attend makes direct contact with the college.

These are enrollments the school had – but lost. All the hard work was done and the money spent to attract the students. Then they came into contact with the campus and…..It could been an additional 12% initial enrollment with just a bit additional attention to customer service for students and staff.

Would an additional 12% make for easier meetings with your staff, colleagues, supervisors, Board members…. Twelve percent more?

Take your projected enrollment, multiple it by 12%. Than multiply that number by tuition cost. That number, those revenues are not touchy feely. That is a clear statement about the value of customer service at the college now.

And not to scare anyone, but customer service will have a 72% affect on your ability to retain the students the school just worked so hard to bring in. Seventy-two percent! You do the math.