Thursday, May 31, 2007

Simple Customer Service Tips to Increase Retention of Students Who Hate Lines - THAT'S ALL OF THEM

As we do college customer service and retention audits, some common issues pop up. As well as some simple solutions. One problem we find at most every school that has lines for anything is...well, lines. Students hate them and you should too.

Colleges lose as much as 3% of enrollment from students having to wait in lines. You don’t like to stand in lines I don’t like to stand in lines. Students HATE to stand in a line. Unless it is to be part of some major historical event. Like tickets to the Stones. But paying a college tuition bill or registering for courses or adding/dropping a course…

But your school does not need to lose enrolled students to lines. In this case, we are talking physical lines as opposed to virtual lines caused by poorly designed web sites.

Here are a few customer service tips to help you retain students who would leave a line and never come back.

Appoint a customer service assurance person or two at the school. Provide these people both training and the authority to use that training. Place one or both of the service assurance people smack dab in the middle of any line. Have the person continually moving up and down the lines talking to students to assess your process, their progress and their level of frustration and/or readiness to bolt.

If the customer service assurance person notices a student who seems upset, the assurance person should go right up to him or her and try “Hi, I’m (name). Can I help you?” Next move the student away from the lines before the grumbling becomes viral. Let the student know that his/her place in line will be saved. “I want to help you and can do so better over here.”

Go to a quiet place, away from others and hear him or her out. Normally the issue will be having to wait in line. Agree. Then ask what he or she is trying to get done. If you can solve the problem, do it. If you cannot, let the student know you will see what you can do to help out. Then walk the student back to the line. Say “thank you for letting me help you. I’ll see what we can do to speed up the line” so others hear. That’s the message to get out.

By the way, if the student has an idea to get the line moving faster – try it.

Also have the assurance people act like an airline agent during busy travel periods. Review the paperwork students have with them to see if the documents are complete, the information required is there, and that they are in the correct line. Nothing ticks people off more than standing in the wrong long line!

An airline agent after talking with a traveler and ascertaining that the person is in the right area with the right paperwork may send that person to a digital kiosk to get a boarding pass and save time. In the same way, the customer service assurance should see if a student can complete his/her business by computer or college kiosk.

Or consider letting students whose paperwork is in order to step out of the line an drop the paperwork off to be processed later. Your clerical and administrators can enter the information when things quiet down and the lines end. Mail and email the acknowledgment that the paperwork is completed and entered. Also make sure that if there is a financial transaction, a receipt is sent.

“Yes. But what if the student is trying to register for courses and one of them is closed?”

Easy. Simple customer service answer. Call them as soon as possible. Offer them another section. Provide them an alternative. If that one won’t work, continue with the student until you both agree on a replacement. Closed sections are a major source for walkouts by the way. But, when you provide the service of making the decision for them, odds go way up that you will keep them.

Here’s a way to make the time go by faster in line. Turn the line into a “party”. Hand out candy. Provide free coffee or soft drinks. Pipe in some music. Not MUZAK stuff but music students actually listen to. Make it feel more pleasant than the drudgery of lines.

And, DO NOT FORGET THE WORKERS! Keep thanking them. Encourage them. See if they’d like some coffee, a coke, juice, cookies, whatever. Make sure they know you appreciate them and their work. If they are happy and feel appreciated, odds are better they’ll make students happier.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Retention Customer Service Conference

Folks have asked that I let them know when I will be speaking at a conference or some public venue they might attend. So, I will be doing that. Here's one for the second week in July in Boston. I will be giving three presentations there on aspects of customer service, retention, marketing and technology to support them.

Blending High Tech and High Touch:

Improving Customer Service and Student Retention

Boston, MA

July 12 & 13, 2007

Register by May 29th and save $100!



Due to the increasingly competitive atmosphere in higher education, providing excellent service to students is more important than ever. Institutions must provide good services that initially attract students to their institutions, but they also must continue to offer students the services and support that make them feel valued and help them achieve their educational goals.

Conference sessions are designed to showcase the innovative customer service strategies that institutions of higher ed are implementing (e.g. alternative delivery systems and 24/7 customer service hours) while staying committed to building relationships with students.


Institute Topics

· Customer service essentials

· Applying corporate customer service models to higher education

· Low-tech strategies that work

· Cutting edge technology solutions

· Why students leave and what you can do about it

· Developing a customer service training plan

· Potential obstacles to implementation

· Successful customer service assessment strategies

· Engaging parents in the college experience

· Designing a college-wide plan to create a customer service-focused culture


Who Should Attend?

- Vice Presidents

- Deans

- Admissions Directors & Staff

- Enrollment Management Administrators & Staff

- Marketing & Communications Professionals

- Student Services/Affairs Administrators & Staff

- Financial Aid Advisors

- Faculty

- Recruiters

- Front Line Staff

- Advisors

- Anyone involved in improving customer service and student retention



Dr. Neal Raisman

Most importantly, Dr. Neal Raisman is Emma’s and now Jack's “zaddi” or grandfather which he considers his number one job. But Dr. Raisman is also the leading authority and consultant on customer service in higher education. Dr. Raisman’s number one selling book Embrace the Oxymoron: Customer Service in Higher Education has been purchased by 52% of all colleges in the US. His customer service blog, with its discussions of recent research and solutions to customer service issues, is very popular and widely read by colleges, universities and business that work with academia.

His work in customer service began in 1999 when hired to figure out why a large multi-campus college was losing students. The answer he found was customer service. Not the customer service of the corporate world but of the academic enterprise where the customer can be wrong – especially on quizzes and tests. Since then, Dr. Raisman has worked with over 150 colleges in the States and Europe to research and solve customer service issues. He also works with corporations and businesses that wish to better understand the higher ed market and students.

He has a PhD from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in neurolinguistics; was a Fulbright Fellow in France; has published three books and over 80 articles plus the blog; won numerous academic and marketing awards and accolades. But, little makes him prouder than his family and when his dog Pip listens to him.

Dr. Geri Anderson

Geri Anderson currently serves as Associate Vice President and Provost for the Colorado Community College System. Prior to that, she served as Vice President for Student Learning at Front Range Community College, Associate Director of Undergraduate Academic Affairs at the University of Colorado, and Director of Competency-Based Teacher Education at Regis University. She began her career as a middle school science teacher, has served as an associate and was co-founder of the Regis Institute of Chemistry Education and has over 25 years of higher education administrative experience.

Geri was instrumental in the development and implementation of customer service strategies at Front Range Community College. She designed a call center, which focuses on developing and sustaining customer/ student relationships. She also created the great communication plan, which is a marketing strategy based on customer service principles. She has over 22 years of higher education administrative experience and has a unique and fun perspective regarding customer service. Geri earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Science Education from the University of Nebraska and holds an Educational Doctorate from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Susan Brown

Susan Brown has sixteen years experience working at Northeastern University. As the Associate Director of Parent Programs and Services, Susan is responsible as serving as a campus liaison to its 15,000 undergraduate parents. She has developed a comprehensive and needs based program to involve parents and students in the Northeastern University community.

During her time there, she developed Northeastern’s first Parent Advisory Board and the university’s first Parent Association. Susan also developed the national APPI conference (Administrators Promoting Parent Involvement). She has spoken at several national and regional conferences, including NASPA, AACRAO and NODA. In addition Susan has contributed to many articles relating to parent involvement.

Susan believes a supportive family helps students succeed and that parents need to be involved in the college process. By providing parents with information and services they are able to help their students achieve their academic goals.

Robert McCullough (aka Bob) is Dean of Admission at Ursinus College, a highly selective liberal arts college near Philadelphia. He has worked in college admission for over ten years, specializing in strategic usages of technology to connect with prospective students. Both at Ursinus and during his previous post as Director of Marketing and Communications for Undergraduate Admission at Case Western Reserve University, Bob has implemented a variety of solutions, homegrown and vendor-based, to achieve aggressive recruitment and enrollment goals.

Eric Hodgson helps colleges and universities with Web strategy, content management implementation, site maintenance, training, and staffing. Serving multiple industries, Eric has kept a firm grip throughout his career on using technology to accelerate marketing strategies. Eric specializes in the higher education market as an Interactive Consultant with Estrada, implementing specialized Web strategies and solutions for his clients ranging from small liberal arts colleges to four-year public institutions.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Serve Customers When They Are Hungry

Want a positive response from students?


We have found that colleges are like fast food restaurants in the minds of students. They are places they go to learn when they are hungry for knowledge.

When they are hungry. These are the key words. Not when the restaurant feels like serving but when the customers are hungry.

Sure we older academic folk still adhere to notions of breakfast, lunch and dinner. But then we love traditions and traditional structure.

Not so the students we seek to recruit and retain. Breakfast. Not time for that. Lunch. Gotta run. I’ll grab something. Family all gathered around the table for dinner. Ahhhhh, that Norman Rockwell picture will not be seen on

And the old burgers with the ketchup, mustard and pickle sitting wrapped under the warmer? Nope. I want it my way not the way it is easiest for your production line and workers. Won’t do it my way? Someone else will and I will go there. I will think beyond the bun.

Yet oddly enough the product is basically the same. The thin, high fat, low nutrition burger in a bun or ground up, seasoned in a taco shell. Quality is not the issue as Mickey D found out a few years back when it tried to sell a low fat, more nutritional burger. Health? Certainly not. Just try to find a veggie burger even at B’King which tried to launch them a few years back.

“When I want it” is the issue. Have you noticed yet how the fast food places have expanded their hours to serve those burgers and fries when the customer is hungry? Fourth meal anyone? Two a.m. at the take-out window? Ready when they want it.

Why? Because they like long inconvenient hours for management and workers? No. Because that’s when they want to eat. If restaurants want to sell burgers they have to do so when the customer is hungry. Not simply when they feel they would like to serve.

Okay. A true example, observed a few months back while at a client college that is trying to increase its retention but will likely fail if it doesn’t recognize the time needs of its client students.

An adult student was talking to an advisor. Students could not register for courses without the okay of an advisor. The student explained that “my job is changing and I need a tech writing course as soon as possible.”

“No problem. We have an excellent one.”

“Great. When can I start?”

“Well, let me see. The next semester starts in June.”

“JUNE! No you don’t u8nderstand. I need the course now. I need to the course now. I need it for my new job. I can’t wait until June.”

“Well, I’m sorry but it’s too late for this semester. June is the earliest. We had to cut back on sections because of financial issues….” She said to his back as he walked out.

Where did he go? To another educational restaurant ten miles down the road that would serve him when he’s hungry.

Would you stay in a restaurant that said it decided to not serve lunch today co come back later for dinner? No. You’d find somewhere else that’ll serve you lunch now, when you are hungry. When you want it. And distance is not the question anymore as much as time is. If the commute is within 15 to twenty minutes, maybe up to half-an-hour and the place has the course when I want to be there… Give me the car keys.

An example. I taught in an executive MBA program that met all day, one weekend a month. Students drove over two hours to get there. Stayed overnight. Were in class all day. Gave up their weekends because the timing fit their schedule. It met their educational appetite.

Our campus customer audits have found college menus (i.e. course schedule and offerings) are not designed to meet student hunger at most schools. For instance, we offer the wrong courses at the wrong times. You can get an introductory appetizer in the fall in early morning but in the spring, the next course in the sequence is available for brunch and the student just has twenty minutes for lunch because other required course were scheduled in overlapping times. Or even worse, the first required course is offered in the fall but the second half of the required sequence is not even offered in the spring.

One thing we have realized is that if courses are not offered, students cannot sign up for them. And if they are hungry enough to learn and graduate, they will go elsewhere to get the course. Especially if that is one course that they will need to graduate.

So what to do? Here are some suggestions.

Learn more about your students’ educational eating habits. Find out when they may be hungry rather than simply when you might wish to serve. And you may even wish to find how long they feel they want to feed as well. It may surprise you.

Stagger the start of some basic courses like English composition. They do not have to all start on the same day. Try offering a start every two weeks with varying time commitments and class lengths that match student hungry times.

Schedule to the customer. People want education when they need it ad the hunger is there. Some colleges have realized this and schedule to need. They offer staggered starts throughout the semesters, condensed programs, variable formats, in class and on-line, fully digitized and hybrid. They are succeeding with their students, building market, enrollment and a reputation for great customer service that will lead to even greater success.

Study your offerings and schedule. Se if you can provide students an educational menu with the right choices in the correct order for proper nutrition and pleasure. And oh yuh – do not substitute candy for real leaning meat. Don’t weaken content in an attempt to say you are meeting student needs.

Oh yes, to those who shake their heads and say “learning is not like fast food. It takes time to develop and maintain quality. Anything less than a semester length in normal times will lack integrity.” Right! What about the three, four, five and six week summer courses we are offering to students to try and maintain some enrollment during the summer? If we can do it in the summer, why not all year round? And if the summer courses are not as good as “regular semester courses” why do we offer inferior education in the summer? Hypocrisy anyone?

Bottom line here – if you want a positive gut reaction. Schedule offerings to meet the customer’s hunger.