Easy Grades are Not Customer Service - Never Ever!
Leading international expert/consultant and best-selling author on customer service, retention, enrollment and academic marketing shares thoughts, insights and how-to’s for increased success
Easy Grades are Not Customer Service - Never Ever!
Know Their Name
A basic aspect of customer service in colleges is the creation of service equity between the customer and the school, its personnel and certainly the faculty. Service equity then resides in the perception that the college and faculty put as much into the relationship as an indidudal styudent does. If students perceive a level of service equity in the way they and the faculty interrelate such as through the“give a name/get a name” technique" (a basic customer service tactic) there is a corresponding incrase in willingness to learn (WTL).
Faculty often present their names in large, hard to read chalk letters the first day of classso students can see they are open and friendly, “Hi call me Dr. Professor Fred, PhD” but as often make little effort to learn the students’ names. Not much equity in that.
Learn who they are. If your memory for names is not all that great, set up a seating chart. It’s okay. You can even tell students you are doing this so you can learn their names because they are important individuals. And will get rid of the chart as soon as you do so. It’s also okay to admit your memory for names is not as great but it is important that you get to know each of them as an individual. Look at the list it to call on students by name. First names! Not last unless you teach at a British boarding school in the 1920's.
Names create engagement and shared sense of value. The result will be that students will follow professors’ assignments, rules and lectures more fully. i.e. they engage. Faculty will have students who are more involved in class, compliant with their instructions and requirements, and engaged if faculty get to know their names. It shows not just sharing but respect.h
Be Glad They Came
Make the students feel as if you want to teach them; as if you are happy they came to your class. And indeed all faculty should be. After all though the dumb adage goes “This would be a great place to work if it weren’t for the students” there would not be a college if there were no students. It should be seen as an honor for students to choose your class or as an almost equal honor if they are assigned. You’ve been given the chance to really make a difference in the rlives through your teaching. If a faculty member does not feel this honor, this opportunity to help students grow and become stronger intellectually and personally, one should find out what the heck he or she is doing teaching.
Faculty should develop and show a recognition that the students are valued and important. Students should never feel as if the faculty member looks down on them. The mean, austere, demeaningly dictatorial teacher might be good for movies but not for classroooms. Students want to feel as if the faculty wants to reach them and will work as hard as they with respect given and expected. In more technical terms. they expect and demand a sense of service equity.
If faculty feel they should have better students in their classes to teach, they have it wrong. The goal should be to do all you can to make the students faculty teach in their classes better. That is really the job anyhow. Learn to like the students you have and enjoy life more. The students will learn more and maybe even look forard to going to classes.
The customer service/willigness to learn contention is supported not only by the Taffee Tanimotos of academia whose customer service engages students by providing extra service in learning and success, as well as the results reported from colleges that have engaged faculty in customer service training. There are other formal academic studies and reports that help forward the case. Two fairly recent studies such as the 2006 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and another by Hombury, Koschate and Hoyer in the April 2005 issue of the Journal of Marketing on customer service and WTP (willingness to pay) alongside consideration of interactional equity theory support our conmtentions with their resaerch.
In the 2006 NSSE Director’s Report (P10) report,the following is stated
"For years, researchers have pointed to involvement in educationally purposeful activities as the gateway to desired outcomes of college. Students who engage more frequently in educationally effective practices get better grades, are more satisfied, and are more likely to persist. Two decades ago, this literature prompted Chickering, Gamson, and their colleagues to compile a list of “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” which are reflected in many NSSE survey items. Recent findings from independent studies have corroborated the relationships between engagement and indicators of student success in college such as grades and persistence with undergraduates in different types of institutional settings. These studies also show that while engagement is positively linked to desired outcomes for all types of students, historically underserved students tend to benefit more than majority students."
We have no disagreement with this observation. Instead we add that the same is true for faculty when they become engaged with their students. Moreover, we add that though there is no disagreeemnt with the NSSE panel's recommendations of curricula and pedagogy they feel would add to engagement, true engagement comes from appropriate customer services to students.
The 15 Principles of Good Customer Service in Higher Education begins with:
This is the type of engagement that must be created before pedagogical or curricula engagement can be achieved. If students feel that no one knows their name, i.e. no one cares about them, they will not engage with curriculum or pegagogy.
Though some faculty deride customer service as a noxious import from business, it has been found that faculty who provide increased levels of customer service will have a better and more satisfying teaching experience. And their students will learn better with greater desire, compliance and increased retention.
When students believe a faculty member provides them good service and cares about them, they are more willing to listen and learn. Students are also more compliant with the teacher’s instruction, more willing to engage in-class and complete assignments.
I recall a master teacher and academic customer service provider named Taffee Tanimoto at the University of Massachusetts in Boston back in 1969. Dr. Tanimoto was the chair of the math department. He loved math and was always bothered when we students had problems with algebra. He also loved teaching. Our diffidence bordering on hostility toward math baffled him and he admitted it in class. He also said that he might not make us become mathematicians but he would do all he could to have us learn alegbra and maybe even like some of it if we would just work with him.
To back it up, he started 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. tutoring classes that met every Tuesday and Thursday. He lived over 30 miles away from the University and took the train in to be in the classroom by 7 if any of wanted to show up early. He would also be availablke in his office until 5:30 every day to go over problems with any student who needed help – even if they were not in his class. He even tutored me once at the Back Bay train station over coffee as we both waited for trains. He was patient by did not pander – no physics for poets type of classes. Full bodied algebra, calculus and trig. He demanded but did not reprimand. He provided excellent and extremely important customer service that made us want to learn algebra. And we did succeed and as he said, he succeeded. I even got a C+ but even more I learned to like math even if it didn't always like me. I also grew to love the University because of the customer service I was given in the classroom. And the faculty loved the University too where they could take some maybe not the always most brilliant kids and make them into educated future successes.
Customer service helped me and a group of math clods pass algebra. And it helped him and many other faculty like their jobs in the classroom much better than many others who saw teaching as just a job.
Colleges and universities lose millions of dollars a year from poor customer service that pushes students to drop out of their schools. Students who feel schools do not care about them, treat students poorly, are perceived as not worth their time or money, or are not perceived as providing for their fiscal and future career needs, leave colleges and take their money elsewhere. The schools lose millions of dollars. And the number of students who drop out, step out or transfer is rising as school revenues are sinking. A correlation for disaster that too many colleges are not doing enough or anything about.
As a result, most schools find themselves without enough money for instance, to hire more full-time faculty, purchase new equipment, fix up buildings, start new programs, even provide services for students that might keep them in school. They just figure high attrition into the budget as lost revenue.
“Connecting students with traditional professors during their freshman and sophomore years could reduce Metro's high drop-out rate,
said. Metro loses 38 percent of its students during their freshman year.” Jordan
What Dr. Jordan is referring to here is one aspect of customer service which in college certainly does include the deliver of learning services to students. But teaching quality is only one factor for students quitting a school as discussed in an earlier posting Why Students Leave and What You Can Do About It
So let’s take a look at Metropolitan as an example of the sort of money that is involved with what I would propose is a need to focus more on customer service. Using some institutional research information from Metro’s website and working out some correlations and calculations using Dr. Jordan’s 38% attrition rate, Metropolitan lost at least $7.63 million, and likely more, from dissatisfied customers we call freshmen. It would be more when sophomore-senior drops are included.
Here is how we figured this out.
Using 2002 enrollment figures since the budget available was for 2002-3, it appears the school received a total of $72,735,132 in tuition, fees and state support. There were 11,246 full-time and 8,144 part time students with a state headcount of 16,663. We then calculated that each student was worth $4,365 in tuition and state revenues. Assuming the attrition rate of 38%, that meant that 2,428 freshmen dropped out. At a revenue value of 4365 that means Metro lost $10,598,220 in potential revenue for the next year and up to $5,299,110 in the second semester since most students drop after first semester. So total two year losses could have been $15,897,330 but for our purpose, we will just look at the $10.5 figure. (We didn’t calculate lost investment in admissions, marketing, processing and other freshman year school costs which often outpace per student revenue.)
Our studies of students who transferred to another school, stopped out or dropped out indicate that poor or weak customer service accounts for 72% of the reasons why students leave a college. That means that $7,630,184 can be attributed to customer service-related reasons for leaving Metro.
If Metro and other schools concentrated more on customer service, they could have cut that $7.6 million down. Maybe only by 50% at first but that would still be an additional $3.8 million. Even assuming a total full-time faculty annual cost at $100K with benefits and costs, that could mean Metro could potentially hire 38 more full-time faculty. Okay, so even if they just reduced customer service attrition by just 25%, that could be $1.9 million it did not have before. Any president want to leave $1.9 M on the table?
Customer service is a clear fiscal issue that can have major positive impact on a school. Your school could be more or less than what we figured at Metro. But it is clear that an investment in customer service pays significant fiscal dividends from a small investment.
I get many requests to give talks and keynote addresses especially at colleges’ staff training day or week. Now I love to do these talks because it gives me a chance to get the word out on the value of customer service not just to student and retention and enrollment but also on staff morale, retention and productivity. I love them too because I still wonder if I should have stayed in stand-up and not gotten involved in teaching then administration. They give me a chance to use something we don’t have enough of in academia – humor. We take so much so seriously, especially ourselves. And sometimes, don’t take our customers and the services they demand to stay at the school strongly enough.
Proof? For one, we have things like Employee Development DAY or WEEK. Sort of like Tom Lerher’s National Brotherhood Week parody in which he sings "thank goodness it only lasts one week." Wouldn’t want to have to be nice to everyone too long after all. And we wouldn’t want to focus on developing new and better skills everyday just as we do in the classroom. That would be… well, what we say we do in colleges- educate people and help them grow to their potential.
Yes, it is great to have a day when we close most, at least some offices, and have people focus on customer service. Like I said, I love doing the talks and they do have some long term effects. Especially since I follow them up with check-ups to see how things are going. But the right way to do customer service training is daily with a good plan and reward system. The plan should come out of a review or study of what the real problems are. And then developing and constantly focusing on a simple message such as the Standing on One Foot part of my training or talks.
It is from the story of Rabbi Hillel for whom your own
Don’t do to a student or co-worker what you would not want done to your son, your daughter, your mother or your father. All the rest is commentary.
The commentary is important as I am sure all who have read the Torah (Bible Part 1) would say. And then there is very important interpretation and how to apply it running forward form all three major Western religions. But, variations of Hillel’s statement form much of the core of every religion and customer service as well.
But, as religion takes daily application, devotion and training, so does customer service and development. Sermons and teachings are often daily or at least weekly. We teach our classes at least twice or three to four times a week. Let’s give employee growth and development their due and focus on them every day. Be glad to help.
The book is good and would save schools thousands in retention and enrollment costs but it can be obtained for less. Frankly, I think most books are over prices now-a-days especially texts but that's another topic.
A comment came to me from the postings on bathrooms.
“I heard you talk at a recent conference and your message about getting the good news out to build a stockpile of morale and service with students and parents is one that certainly rang a bell. We have been trying to increase our “school pride” communications to students and parents as you recommended. We use the college website, the student portal and emails to get out the information but I am not sure anyone is noticing. Any recommendations on how to better serve our community on a limited budget?”
I am not sure there was a direct relationship between the question, bathrooms and my keynoting at a conference, but the concern is an important one so here is a response for everyone.
Students and their families do use technology more and more. But, we have found they do not use college websites once in school, seldom use the portals except when they must (registration, payments…) and skip over most school email as spam unless they know the sender by name or are interested in the sender. They assume emails from colleges usually have to do with bills, or something they have to do but don’t wish to, or will just be boring. So they delete them. They are intrusions into their on-line world.
Well-designed, brightly colored, picture-filled, newsletters with brief headlines that tell it all and short, simply worded pieces mailed home and slipped under dorm doors. Showing up under the door first thing in the morning like a menu from a Chinese take-out or a US Today at a Hilton will get attention. They will be read, or at least scanned too as students often seek reading material as they head into the bathroom. We take the US News. They’ll take your newsletter into the bathroom with them. (AHHH, maybe that is the connection between the posting and the question!))
By mailing the home, parents will read them too.
Newsletters can put forward the feel good about your school messages that are so very important. They provide a very necessary customer service by informing readers about the school, its activities faculty and accomplishments. Newsletters are very important vehicles to build up and stockpile morale and pride in the school that will be needed when tuition goes up for example.
If done correctly, newsletters have built upon a wall of good news that can help block the full impact of bad news. If people feel good things are going on at the school they will feel they are getting a good ROI on their investment. The newsletter is also a prime customer service vehicle because it reaches out to the students and families. They do not have to seek.
Moreover, our studies have found that reading all the good things that are going on also increases WTP (willingness to pay). There is a direct correlation between WTP and perceived value of service and ROI.
When I was the president of a college, I worked with a PR firm to develop newsletters we could mail to the community to gain support for the school. We created a series of images based on billboards that told the whole story in one quick image. We also used the newsletter images and articles for ads as well as advertorials. The result? A top of mind increase of 21% and positive recall went up 24%. Equally important, the coomunity learned about what we were doing and supported the request for a new facility.
If you are like many schools and do not have the staff to write, photograph and produce newsletters, not a problem. Don’t hire someone to do the newsletters. Save the money to hire a faculty member instead. And don’t dump it on the short-handed PR staff person or some staffer who may not do a good job on it anyhow. It takes skill and experience to know how to create a good newsletter.
Outsource the newsletter and save time, money and the hassle. There are a couple good groups out there who could handle it all for you from creation though fulfillment at a cost that is not bad at all. If you need or want a recommendation, just ask. I’ll be glad to help out.
When the committee first met, one problem came up immediately and forcefully. It seemed the hinges on the door to the women’s staff lounge (euphemisim for bathroom) were out of adjustment. So, the door never closed completely. There was about an inch or less opening between the door and the doorframe. Though no one would ever be exposed in that slit of an opening, it left the female staff who used the bathroom feeling vulnerable.
I had the door fixed that day and the effect on morale was immediate and very positive. When we then had the bathroom painted, put in a small couch, side table and table lamp put in from stuff we had in storage. The response was amazing. Morale shot up. Other staff issues seemed to fade away for a while anyhow. Just from a bathroom, I mean lounge upgrade.
Often the solution is simple and apparent. Take a look at and your bathrooms and see what can be done to make them function better. Actually go into each of them to check them out personally. See problems or aspects that might make you feel at all hesitant to use the facilities there, broken stall doors, dingy paint, dirty sinks or floors, doors without locks, no toilet paper, paper towels on the floor or an overflowing waste basket…. – get them fixed. The effort to upgrade such personal areas will be noted and make a strong statement about your dedication to customer service.
A few pieces of furniture in female bathrooms can turn them into “lounges” as well; places of quiet retreat where female staffers or students can sit, relax and share thoughts. Again like at better restaurants. Remember that women prefer to use the lounge together so make it comfortable to do so. You will be amazed what that would do for staff or student morale.
Across town in Cinci a few years later, another school,
Any school can buy some flowers to spruce up their bathrooms and make them look like lounges in better restaurants. This works best in a women’s bathroom. In either, men’s or womens’ rooms, pictures and or photographs on the walls help spruce up and class up a bathroom.
Uhhh, in the men’s room, leave some brochures or memos you have been wanting to get students to read. They will pick them up and read them while in the “library” (read stall) Men like to read while otherwise engaged.
We had the bathrooms painted a bright color. Too much to drink blue might not have been everyone’s favorite shade in the men’s room, but the facility director chose it for its bright stay awake quality as well as its ease of cleaning. I also think he got it on clearance to save a few bucks in the budget and it sure covered the walls well. A few gallons of anti-graffiti paint made the walls look new and clean. Replacing the light bulbs with higher wattage natural balanced fluorescent bulbs made the area brighter and more relaxing. A good scrubbing of the floor followed by a waxing added a sense of clean. Sinks and toilet seats were scrubbed. A daily check removed any new graffiti and touched up any scratched paint.
Bathrooms came off the complaint list. Retention actually went up. Of course, there were additional customer service changes put in place but we were able to recognize a positive response to the inexpensive (paint, cleaning, light bulbs) improvements.
Below are some pictures of the bathrooms at
The result? Students feel better about the school and themselves. They see their worth reflected in the shiny marble.
By the way, if there were an award for the cleanest and most consistently neatest bathrooms at a school, the award would go to Temple University. Granted I did not see every bathroom and none of the dorms but what I saw was reflective of the pride students and the staff seem to take in the campus. Temple has had a push on customer service going for a few years now and the results seem to be clearly paying off.
As I have performed customer service audits at colleges, one area that is significantly important to our customers (students, staff, faculty, administrators, visitors……) – external as well as internal – is usually one the most ignored. This important area is the area itself and the actual services we provide within it. Too many colleges overlook or ignore the objective correlative and customer service aspects of facilities, grounds and how we use them to serve our customers – students and employees.
This was extremely well summed up by a student who said the biggest problems at his university were “classrooms and bathrooms”. The classrooms were poorly lit, hot in the summer which made people sleepy or cold in the winter so it was difficult to write with mittens. And, they were filled with furniture that neither fit the students nor the faculty needs. (More on furniture and how we use it later. For discussion on admissions and furniture, click here.)
And the bathrooms…!
Well, at this school, the easiest way to say it is students and staff probably would have preferred a shovel and an old Sears' catalogue to what they had in the bathrooms. The men’s room in the Student Union had holes in the wall, scratched, woobly and loose toilet seats that threatened to slip off, crude and rude graffiti covering walls and stalls and a general feeling of dirt and dust that pervaded the place. The women’s room was not much better, just no holes in the wall, but two fluorescents were out making it even darker than its usual gloomy, medieval chamber appearance.
From an enrollment and retention and retention point of view, these were killers. And though these may have been extremes, they are not that far off from most of the colleges I have worked with on customer service. Simply put too many schools miss the very important concepts involved with the Objective Correlative factor in enrolment and retention, especially in bathrooms.
Bathrooms are uniquely important to people. They are places where people can feel exposed and vulnerable. Because, well, they are more or less exposed. (To save space and explanation that may be too explicit for some, just think on it and emote.)
Bathrooms are essential and primary to students. At one school, a survey we did had as the top two problems, not enough challenging classrooms and too challenging bathrooms. When asked what they wanted dealt with first, students overwhelming responded the bathrooms.
At another residence hall school at which students were fleeing the dorms, students said they could deal with the cramped, old dorm rooms but not the old bathrooms and dingy showers. Some students said they would not even use them. They would actually forgo showers and take their gear to the newer student union and use the toilet facilities there and shower at the athletic facilities.
Staff and everyone else will judge a school negatively if they feel uncomfortable in a bathroom. If it is dark or dirty or littered; not good at all. If the faucets drip or the sinks are dingy, stained or ringed, bad. Lack of toilet paper – enough said! The stalls and commodes, well as Lenny Bruce had a convict say to a man on the way to the electric chair “Just don’t sit down”.
Studies and surveys of staff show a consistent level of dissatisfaction with working conditions that correlates with their rating of bathroom facilities. When we probed staff concerns at a school with discussion of a union among staff and middle management and asked what would staff change immediately if they could do so, one of the top three requests when bathroom facilities were rated as inadequate was “upgrading restroom facilities”.
College employees care about bathrooms at work as much as they do at home. And why not? Consider that actually more awake time is spent at the workplace than at home and you’ll start to catch on.
Tomorrow – some solutions and how to’s to make your bathrooms positive parts of the admissions and retention process.AcademicMAPS has been a leading provider of retention, enrollment and morale solutions for students and employees since 1999. Its campus audits have proven to be extremely valuable tools for schools and colleges that wish to strengthen their positive customer service ratings. For information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413.219.6939
It is my belief that maybe colleges should buy unused drive-in movie theaters so everyone could stay in his or her car and never have to walk. This would not only end the parking problem, it would be an economic boost for many towns while giving older professors more time for their earlier passion--teaching. The drive-in movie screens would allow for intimate, personal, small classes of up to 500 students so popular in college these days. And so well documented by TIAA-CREF ads playing the "West Side Story" tune "There's a Place for Us" in the background. Yuh, there is. The place is row RR, seat 43. ("Please use the microphone in the aisle to ask a question or send it to me by e-mail. My teaching assistant will get back to you. The TA's will be available after class.") It amazes me that someone didn't tell TIAA-CREF they were fortifying a negative impression of college.
If we used drive-in theaters, faculty and students alike could just pull up to a spot, put the speaker on the window and watch the professor's PowerPoint lecture on the big screen. This is a convenient and a potential goldmine, what with the ads for the concession stand embedded in the lecture. Maybe they can even locate the old countdown movies with the three minutes left to get a delicious hotdog ... two minutes left to get a piece of hot pizza.
The drive-in approach would be at least very democratic and customer-oriented since students would have the same service and convenience allowed for faculty and staff. By the way, TA's would drive up and down the rows in electric carts taking attendance and picking up assignments to make it easier for the faculty member.Failing the drive-in approach, appropriate customer service says the paying client should not have to be the one most inconvenienced. That includes having to park in the furthest lot out. And then paying for the "privilege" of parking discrimination. That creates unhappy and even angry clients who, as you know, ask "Why do I have to pay to park way the hell out there? I am paying thousands of dollars. I pay your salary after all (collectively anyhow)." Students should get to park closer to the campus.
Look at it this way. You go to a restaurant, or for that matter almost any supermarket. The food there is supposed to be as good as it is at other establishments. Prices are about the same. You chose your restaurant or store because it is close to home and easiest to drive to. You get there and drive around looking for a place to park close to the entrance. As you drive down the first row of cars, by the front of the place, you see signs in front of spots closest to the entrance. They say "No parking except for Head Chef--All others will be ticketed or towed." Others are reserved for the sous-chefs, or the manager, maitre d', owner, day-time director, evening shift director, veggie buyer, meat buyer.... "So you have to go to the next row.
There the signs say, "No parking except for head bartender, assistant head bartender, afternoon bar waiter, evening bar waiter, waiters, waitresses..." and so on. The next row is reserved for busboys and kitchen cleaning staff. So now you are circling around to row four and it is full of other patrons of the restaurant. Row five just happens to also lead by the exit from the parking lot and onto the road where there is another place just down the road.
What do you do?
Most people would be aggravated and angered enough that the workers get the best spots. The patrons have to drive around looking for spots way to the back of the lot. That tells you that the place cares more about its staff than the paying guests. If you have trouble getting a parking spot and the place works harder to keep the staff happy than the clientele, will things get better once inside?
"There's that place just down the road and I could do take out for even greater convenience...."
Unless the restaurant has something on the menu that no one else has, or has the best something that you crave, or is the only place in town, you are heading for the exit. What are this place's priorities? Not the paying customer.
As I and the team walked in across the hot asphalt, I wondered how many potential students had similar thoughts about this college and other schools like it, decided to head for the exit and purchase their education somewhere else. Our studies indicate at least 12 percent might just book. Now, 12 percent isn't a big number. But 12 percent of, say, 300 students is 36 enrollments. At say $10,000 each...that's a mere $360,000. I mean what school could use an additional $360,000?
Oh, and those 36 students will tell another six each that they had a bad experience. Malthusian losses? But that's for another time. I am too tired from the long walk from the C lot right now.Maybe even too tired to enroll.
Maybe I shouldn't be writing now. I have always been told not to go food shopping when I am hungry, or swim right after eating, or take action when upset. I am upset. But then is writing really action? Just for my fingers I think. So I will let my fingers do the squawking and write this while distraught. Besides, I don't want to lose the immediacy of the moment.
I was at a school to conduct a customer service audit. The school was losing enrollment and population was dropping. Sure, they planned on a 32 percent attrition rate in the budget. I think that a 68 is a D+. Passing but not by much.
And when translated into dollars and jobs, it seemed they were actually planning for failure. Easy to hit that goal-- a goal to fail, that is. Maybe failing to budget but failing nonetheless. So I was hired to come on campus with my team to find out why this college was failing so badly.
This particular college is primarily a commuting college with very little public transportation access. So, almost everyone drives his or her car to come to the campus. We started out in our rental car to find the place. Turns out, that was a real chore. The directions on the website were not clear. They included the usual false assurance that, "Oh, you know the way.-You'll find it." There was no indication of the correct exit off the highway or the correct road that leads to the college. There were no clear directional signs pointing the way once we did figure out what exit we should have taken.