Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Two Ears and One Mouth

For the past five, AcademicMAPS has done a study into student desires and expectations and ours are never broken. Of course, we may be cheating since we have a better attitude and opinion of students from all the work we do with them for colleges and universities trying to improve their customer service and retention. We do something that too many at the schools themselves do not do – LISTEN.

In most of my training seminars and workshops I tell the audiences that people were given two ears and one mouth for a definite reason. To tell us to listen twice as much as we speak. Now, I realize that is not what we in academia do well. We are speakers; not listeners. After all, it would get very quiet in a classroom if faculty did not speak and lecture. But the same is not true for administrators. We forget that the job is no longer to lecture to others but to minister to their needs.

I would be remiss if I didn’t state that I learned that by acting like I had two mouths and one ear. I like many other administrators thought was an administrator because I knew things and was capable of getting them done. So my assumption was that what I had to say was important. More important than listening to others and learning from them. Took me a while but I finally learned the lesson. That was not just important to me as an administrator but now in life as a student and consultant of academic customer service.

If I hadn’t learn to use my ears I would have done what so many schools do and assume I know what students want and need. There would be no need to find out what students think or really want. I would already know. Even if I felt it was important to hear from students, I would create surveys that would be self-fulfilling prophecies for example. I’d already know the answers after all. But I did learn and so I and my entire group really ask and listen to students. And here is what we learned this year.

The study compares what 400 faculty and administrators think the 600 students we interviewed want and need versus what students said they actually want. The differences are illuminating.

What Faculty ad Administrators Think Students Want

5. More Parking

4. No reading assignments

3. Short classes

2. A minimum of homework

1. Good grades with little effort

And What the Students Said They Want

5. More parking

4 Safety in the parking lots and buildings

3. Instructors who know their names and staff/administrators who care

2. The correct course on time

1. An environment that encouraged and supported their learning.

The only area that there is correspondence of opinions is in the area of parking.
It seems that legs are becoming vestigial. No one wants to walk. In fact, behind the correspondence is a wish to be able to park right inside the classroom or office. Maybe we should all be building drive-ins so no one would have to even get out of their cars.

The differences belie some very interesting points. The faculty and administrators’ views of what students want indicates a rather negative attitude toward the students they are supposed to educate. It seems they bought the stereotypical belief that today’s students are under-prepared, lazy, coddled children who demand high grades. That should not surprise mist people since that is a rather prevalent belief on most campuses. It is usually expressed by the statement that admissions needs to recruit better students.”

With a belief that the students are sub-par, it is no wonder that schools fail to meet their real needs. They don’t care to do so. If a person feels that another is below them or not up to their expectations, they will necessarily treat them in an inferior manner. This degraded attitude is a definite cause of weak customer service that leads to retention problems.

Review the thoughts the students presented. Taking them seriously and learning from them will help any school.

AcademicMAPS has been providing customer service, retention and research training and solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits; workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. AcademicMAPS prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services.www.GreatServiceMatters.com413.219.6939 info@GreatServiceMatters.com

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An Apple A Day......

While reading an article on Apple- Evil Genius: How Apple Got Everything Right By Doing Everything Wrong by Leander Kahney in the April 2008 WIRED, I came across the following statement.

…the tech business itself more and more resembles an old-line consumer industry. When hardware and software makers were focused on winning business clients, price and interoperability were more important than the user experience. But now that consumers make up the most profitable market segment, usability and design have become priorities. Customers expect a reliable and intuitive experience — just like they do with any other consumer product….. giving customers what they want before they know they want it…. And in a consumer-focused tech industry, the products are what matter.

Education is an old-line consumer industry. I know that will really irritate some folks. But higher education is like Apple in many ways. We are sales oriented vertically integrated businesses that wish to control every aspect of the educational product and the consumer’s access to the product. In fact, if Apple’s strength is in total vertical control, we make Steve Jobs look like an everyone is equal, open access, keep it free Googlite.

We demand total control over our product – graduation. From the design and creation of the parts (courses) to deciding which parts will be sold when and where and by who to determining what the operating system will have or not (majors) as well as when and where the who can buy them (admissions). Even Steve Jobs who is reputed to be a total control person will sell Apple products to whoever wants them. Not one Apple customer has to prove he or she is capable of or good enough to be permitted to buy an IPhone before the buyer is allowed in the store.

Maybe we are really the evil geniuses not Apple. By the way, that phrase – evil genius – was meant to be a back handed compliment to Apple. I use it in a similar way and more so about the professors and staff whose intelligence blinds them to the fact that we do have clients/students who depend on our products. Not for entertainment like an I pod but for their very lives and futures.

I can hear it now. HEY!!!! We aren’t an industry. We are an educational institution not a business. Products? We do not create products. And what is more, we do not care about our clients. Most of them do not deserve to even be here.

Well three out of four is not a bad average except that it is three out of four wrong statements. The only one that seems to be correct is We don’t care about consumers. Left out and I will prove it to you every day and every way. But perhaps I am being too harsh. Perhaps there are some schools that do care about the students and their experience. At least until they enroll.

I did say we are sales industries. We sell the customer on buying our product (enrollment) Once the sale is completed the customer is most usually on his of her own. We may provide a quick into user sheet (orientation) but not much after that. Once the product is out of the box, it is yours and no refunds!

We do not intuit there real needs as does Apple. We do not figure out how to help our customers gain their fullest use of our products. We just sell it to them, often in a beta testing stage and then turn them loose to try and figure it out all out. Sort of like using Microsoft VISTA.

What we do not do is to intuit the real needs and desires of our clients. Not the momentary needs, the real needs like what knowledge and skills graduates will need to succeed in life at college and then in society, culture and most significantly, career. We do not identify the real needs the students will have. What we do is give them what we think we need or really what we want to give them as long as it does not upset any of us.

Oh don’t give me the usual stuff about how the core curriculum is designed to assure that they are well-rounded students. Well-rounded is the job of the overly starchy food in the cafeterias. But I shouldn’t criticize cafeterias since at least some of them have actually determined how students eat, when they do so, and what they need for nutritious and good tasting food. Businesses like Aramark have made intuiting student eating needs a priority to not simply make students pleased but healthier.

Core curricula are like auctions with those with the most campus capital able to bid up to get what they want in there. There is little rhyme or reason to most every core except what campus politics dictates. Requirements are slipped in to make sure that a department has students taking their classes or to maximize the revenue from some required classes. Most core curricula have become smorgasbords from which students pick.

In his very important book Shakespeare, Einstein and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education David L Kirp discusses what happened when some universities changed their budgeting models to let departments keep more on its per student revenue. Departments created required core courses to bring in students and money. At the University of Southern California for example

At the beginning of each semester, as students signed up for courses, campus units paraded their wares with the fervor of discount merchandise. Full page ads in the Daily Trojan touted courses such as the drama course class that required no reading (“Tired of reading Shakespeare. Kill off your [general education] requirement, sit back, eat popcorn and watch it performed….(p.116)

It seems appropriate that the ad was in the Daily Trojan because students were certainly getting screwed. This was not customer service in any way. It was not quality education. It was just an example of how the core requirements that are supposed to form the core of student learning and preparation for life is not about student learning. Outrageous perhaps but an example of what does go on in putting together a core at most colleges.

And I repeat, the above was not customer or client service that focused on meeting the needs of the primary customers, students. The above and many other core inclusions or courses are in there to meet the needs or desires of the secondary customers, the college community. Sure, the course at USC was portrayed as giving them what they want but it in no way was based on what the students really wanted. It was based on what some faculty or administrators thought would pander to the base instincts of students. They violated Good Academic Customer Service Principle 13 (click here for a copy).

Do not cheapen the product and call it customer service.

No cheap grades. No pandering.

Colleges do not intuit or anticipate what students will really need later in life as users of the primary college product called education. They do not design core requirements or much else based on how the consumers will need to use the product. They fail in a very important aspect of real customer service – designing the product for how it will be used.

If there is a group that does a better job of intuiting needs it is community colleges and career colleges. They work more with the final end users of the educational product – employers – to design some of the courses. They do just as weak a job for the most part in the core requirement areas as do universities but they generally limit the damage but not have as extensive core requirements.

If we are to provide real customer service we must intuit the real needs. These are based primarily on why a customer buys a product or a client pays for service. Students go to college or university to become something; to get a job, a career. Just we like we did. Our something was a career in academia. We need to intuit based on this reality rather than bargaining and pandering in areas such as core requirements.

Apple is successful because it does just that. How will this be used? How do we make it work simply and efficiently? How do we make it so people will be able to get full use and value from it? In return, Apple is very successful. And though many in academia would appropriately find the Apple way undesirable and I am not necessarily recommending the Steve Jobs Way as a model for college, the intuiting aspect of Apple’s success is something we all should all use.

Yes college is not an IPod but wouldn’t it be nice if we functioned as smoothly and met customer needs as well as it does?

By the way, if you are not yet reading WIRED, you should to better understand your students.

AcademicMAPS has been providing customer service, retention and research training and solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits; workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. AcademicMAPS prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. www.GreatServiceMatters.com413.219.6939 info@GreatServiceMatters.com

Monday, April 14, 2008

Requesting Your Assistance

I am conducting a study of customer service in and for on-line education. This is an area which we have studied before but need to update. So I am asking for your help.

Have you ever taught, taken or been involved in on-line courses? If so, we want to hear from you about any issues students or faculty might have brought forward concerning their experiences with the courses.

We are conducting additional research into on-line service issues and need your assistance. We are particularly focusing on problems students and faculty have with the technology involved as well as any people-related service issues that have arisen. Please let me know about any you have encountered. Thank you!

Just click here to reply.

To thank you in advance, we are offering our latest booklet Customer Service Factors and the Cost of Attrition by leading academic customer service expert Dr. Neal Raisman which usually sells for $7.95 plus H+S for just $5 and FREE shipping. The digital version is available to you for just $3. Just go to http://www.adminbookshelf.com/bookshelf/shopbooks.html to order.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What We Can Learn From Failed Airlines

Three airlines just went out of business last week. Over thirty colleges, universities and career colleges will do the same this year. High gas prices were certainly one culprit but not the only, nor the major one. Client retention, or lack of it, was the final issue. They did not have enough repeat business nor advocates to assure enough booking and revenue for the days ahead. Why? Weak and poor customer service. Same reason why colleges and schools lose enrollment.

We can eliminate cost as a factor for choosing not to return to flying at least one of them. Skybus which was an airline that sold tickets for as low as $10 – yes $10 – yet it was having trouble getting people to repeat flying. You could fly from its base in Columbus, OH to California, Florida, Massachusetts, NY or many other states for less than it would cost you for a few gallons of gasoline yet people were starting to choose more expensive airlines. The last two times I flew Skybus’ full size Airbus planes, the flights each had fewer than 40 people. That includes crew.

When I perform a simple customer service mini-audit on Skybus, some sad issues come forward that can also inform colleges and businesses losing students and clients.

The first contact with Skybus was its web. In fact, for Skybus that was its primary means of contact. In a move to reduce operating costs, it chose not to have any actual people answering phones or addressing questions of potential or present customers. It relied much too heavily on technology when the reality is that technology is not as well received as a customer service provider as Skybus, People want to talk with people. People want to be helped by people. And even when using technology like a website, cell phone or email, people want to know thnat a person is somewhere on the other end and WILL get back to them.

Skybus unfortunately believed all the hype of the people who create and build technology and tried to use it as the main means of client business contact just as too many schools do. Though technology is ubiquitous, it is not as used or even as well known as the people who sell the same technology want you to believe. Most people do not use or even know what much of it is! For example, when you are IM-ing….Oh, that’s Instant Messaging. Point made? But that does not mean you should not be aware of the latest in student contact technology. Just use it correctly in ways that emphasize people talking with people.

People know people. They trust people. They want to talk with and be served by people – not technology though most colleges have replaced people with technology. Maddening phone tree anyone? For yes, press 3. Skybus removed the people. A very bad customer service error. People consider electronic phone answering with its instructions to listen closely…as if you were a child with telephonic ADHD

Skybus and you would have improved client acquisition and retention numbers immensely if it had just hired some people to answer the phone and talk with people; answered questions; resolved problems; been human.

Colleges have similar problems when they replace people answering phones with phone trees or automatons who might as well be. Keep in mind that we hate phone trees. Moreover, we really believe we have some value and when we get an electronic voice telling us what to do, we feel diminished and do not like that. Furthermore, it tells us so much about you. The first thing it says it though you say the call is important, we know it isn’t. Therefore, we know you don’t think we are important. And if we are not important enough to talk with now, what good can there be in the future.

Moreover, the technology that we do use it people to people technology. Cell phones and email are great examples. When we call SOMEONE on a cell phone, we expect to engage is a person and person discussion. When we send an email, we expect a response. Skybus provided neither. They did have some email response but it was so slow and irregular using boiler point replies that it was not acceptable or helpful. Phones must be answered and emails responded to. This is a basic rule of customer service which if broken will certainly hurt you.

And though this does not pertain to Skybus which did not have phone answering, when someone answers that phone, that person must at least sound polite, happy and welcoming. A simple “Yuh” or “Yes?” or “Welcometofillintheblank.CanIdirectyuh call?” is as bad as Press 34 for… People do not answer the phone well and that does not reflect well on you.

Moreover, the Skybus web site was not a good one. It was difficult to navigate. It did not supply the information the visitors wanted and/or needed. The visitors not the company. Websites are for people to visit and learn about you. They are not for you. They should be designed for people who do not know what you do and not assumptions should be made. For example too many, way too many college web sites were designed by and for the campus community. They were set up to make campus constituencies happy not potential students or other visitors. In some cases, this is obvious as every department or office designed its own page making sure there is no consistency in design, information, font, links or anything that could make a positive statement about the college. Most college websites are like Skybus’ was – terrible. And the result, your university or college loses potential students, even donors, when they can’t navigate your web site Click here for more on webs

Skybus also did not train its first contact people very well and dressed them even worse. The people at the Skybus counters in the airport ticket areas were few and not very helpful. Their primary job it seemed was to tell arriving passengers to use the self-check in machines and collect money for checked baggage. Sort of like when we tell students to go on line and do whatever they sought help to get done. That is not to say that some of them were not helpful but not all like receptionists and other first contact people at your school.

The next people the clients encountered were the young people at the gates. They were not rude really. Their level of indifference and lack of concern did not have enough energy to be rude. Too much effort. They just ignored the passengers until it was time to board. Then they gathered up enough energy to call out the boarding groups in a bored monotone.

The company dressed all their employees in cheap black tee shirts with slogans on them such as Only Birds Fly Cheaper or Ten Dollar Tickets to….. Somehow indifferent young people dressed in inexpensive black tees did not inspire a sense of professionalism. Couple that with indifference to customers and Skybus had achieved a level of customer service that helped lead to its financial doom. Always keep in mind that every employee of the college whether they be a president or one of the more important front line service people is a living objective correlative for the institution. Skybus did not do that and cheapened the company and its people with its cheap appearance.

People may want to pay less but they do not want to feel as if they purchased something cheap. Or worse, they were cheap in their buying decision. Skybus’ lack of professionalism in action and appearance made its passengers feel as if they were getting their ten dollars worth but not any more. The company made one feel as if you paid little so don’t expect much. This is a basic and destructive customer service flaw. When we purchase a bargain, we want to feel as if we got a good value for very little money. Just because we saved money by going to say a community college rather than a private baccalaureate school, students do not want to fell either cheap or cheated. They want to feel valued, important and intelligent for choosing to go there. This is the Target approach. Well laid out and lit environment with an upscale look and lower prices. Discount shopping in an upscale environment. That’s also how our schools should look. People do not want to feel cheapened by the appearances of staff or facilities.

This also leads to a problem for many schools. Faculty and staff dress in a manner that says we do not take this enterprise seriously nor did I even bother to try and look professional for you. You are just not important enough for me to take the time to look professional or even semi-professional. Granted it is quite difficult to make anyone on campus especially faculty dress in a manner that reflects pride in what they do and the people they interact with. There is even case law that allows people to dress as they wish but that does not stop an institution from trying based on the reflection of pride in the college, the mission and the work we represent. There is some case law that does allow a college or business to provide guidance on appropriate dress for some positions such as receptionists and basic standards. Role modeling can also be effective. And when a school employs students in offices or other visible areas, they can be instructed to dress for work not play. Moreover, one way to help solve the situation is to supply students and others college logo shirts, blouses, etc (BUT NOT TEE SHIRTS) to wear. That is not only a strong suggestion; it can be a clear statement.

In any case, Skybus did not do any of the above and placed its emphasis on the lowliest part of its name BUS rather than Sky. Not a good service or client retention approach.

Finally, Skybus had some service delivery problems. Too often the airline offered a flight, the client agreed to take that flight and paid for it but later had cancelled it. Too many flights were canceled. How many is too many? For the passengers, one is too many. When they planned a portion of their lives around a scheduled flight only to find out it is canceled, that is a sure first step to never coming back. The same is true for colleges when they offer a course or section, students choose it, pay for it, plan their schedules, their lives around that decision only to have it canceled by the school. A VERY bad decision. And one which is seldom supported by the usual excuse of fiscal concerns as was discussed in the article How many Students Does it Take to Put in a Class?

So what can we learn from Skybus’ bankruptcy?

  1. Fiscal problems are most usually the result of poor customer service problems
  2. Technology is not the savior and can even hurt when not used wisely.
  3. Have your web checked with a WebEval Just mention this blog and it will be free.
  4. Have trained people answer your phones and have them do it correctly
  5. Return calls and emails
  6. Have people ready and happy to help
  7. Make the place look more expensive than it is
  8. Work at making employees look professional, engaged and proud to be there
  9. Do not cancel classes
  10. Train everyone on academic customer service and keep training. It is not a one time brochure!
AcademicMAPS has been providing customer service, retention and research training and solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits; workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. AcademicMAPS prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. www.GreatServiceMatters.com 413.219.6939 info@GreatServiceMatters.com

Skybust tee shirt designed and sold on http://www.cafepress.com/

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Is College the AAA League Preparing Students for Jobs?

First a quick apology for not publishing anything last week. I have been busy working to finish another editing of my new book The Power of Retention which is to be published by The Administrator's Bookshelf in July. I always find editing to be a tough thing to do since I not only cut things out but end up adding whole new sections of thoughts and ideas. That creates an entirely new section to edit! As a result, I keep rewriting the book. So I decided to share a new section with you.

Any and all thoughts on this are welcome. In fact, I believe strongly in collective wisdom so anyone who wishes to get involved in editing the new book, I would love you help. I can share a copy of the finished book and an acknowledgments for your help too. Just let me know. nealr@GreatServiceMatters.com

“Ahhh but, we in academia know that attending college just to get a job to make a lot of money is a crass, unintelligent motive for attending says my colleague the humanities professor. To get a job! That’s not what we are here for! Not why I went to school. The corporatization of colleges and universities is demeaning the role and value of education. If we were to agree to that as acceptable we would be lowering the value of higher education to become just a minor league for business, corporations and the economy.

We believe that higher education has been corrupted enough by the business-like attitudes of administrators and trustees. Trustees we can understand somewhat. They are from outside the academic community. In private colleges and universities they are usually business people, social and corporate big shots who can buy their way onto the boards. Why I am not exactly sure but they do. In not-for-profits, trustees are drawn from the same areas plus community and political activists who other bring their or their sponsor’s agendas onto the board. And the presidents have suck up to them and what they want done if they wish to keep the job.

We know that the models presidents and chancellors use and the way they make decisions are too often straight from the latest business best seller. The fad of the day. We’ve had them all from TQM to whatever is overshadowing a particular campus right now. This leads to hearing statements like the following from faculty They are trying to run the institution like it is a business and money and budgets are the most important thing around here. Much of that can be contributed to the outrageous salaries senior administrators pull down. No wonder they think of themselves as CEO’s and not college presidents. They are the ones who make this place feel so corporate as they suck up to corporations and business for donations. Administrators care more about bringing in money than the faculty or students. They seem to put their own interests before students and teaching.

And maybe a few science professors who spend their time looking for breakthroughs they can patent and make a fortune on. But…Oh yes, and athletics. Nothing but a big business with coaches making huge salaries and sponsorship deals. Maybe some TV and radio too. And well, the athletes are just interested in getting into the pros and making fortunes. But they do bring us school pride when they win. But the rest of us, NO! Well okay, maybe some biochemistry and genetic biology folks who do research paid for by big pharmaceuticals to find what they need to sell some pills and stuff. And yes, I guess some tech folks who write programs, widgets, invent stuff and processes and run their own companies when not in the classroom. The law and med profs need to stay abreast of the real field so I suppose when they have their own practices and work as expert consultants, they are expanding their expertise and should be paid for it. The psychology, sociology and anthropology people who do that too. Not for the money or reputation of course. The business folks too. They use their real world consulting and businesses to strengthen their students’ understanding of the real world of business.

But let’s realize they do not take time away from students either since their classes are covered by T.A’s of adjuncts. Granted the T.A’s and adjuncts may not be as good as the experts but at least we are able to get them some work teaching courses for the name and faculty whose names and pictures in the brochures attracted students to the school. So they play an important role that way too. By bringing students to the school where they will be taught by others…. They are sort of the marketing bait to hook the students. They still get good education from the T.A’s and adjuncts that are switched in there. Granted, if the administration would just spend more money on more full-time faculty and salaries, this would not happen. But they have this business model that just hurts the institution.

Those who teach in other areas like engineering, business, criminal justice, technology and what we call the applied studies, do have another point of view. Here is where some of the CS Lewis divide comes in higher education. Sure they teach theories and ideas but they believe the students should be able to do something with the learning. That should not be what college is for. To focus on preparing students for careers and jobs is anti-intellectual. Simply because students are in college to get jobs and because society has supported education since it helps the economy, society and culture demeans the role of higher education to open students to new ideas and improve their ability to think, to reflect, enrich the culture and humankind. That’s why students should come to college. Not for a job.

As an ex-English teacher I know that I was not teaching people so they could get jobs when I assigned works such as Shakespeare, Faulkner, Dickinson, Plato. My colleagues in many humanities areas such as philosophy, art, creative writing, theology and so on never taught to get students ready to get jobs after graduation. We were not concerned with business want ads such as philosopher wanted – entry level position in growing firm needs philosopher; metaphysical background preferred. That was not our job. Our job was to teach students all branches of philosophical endeavor and help them to get ready for graduate school. Maybe one of them would make it to the PhD and become a philosophy teacher. Which some might construe as is a job I guess.

So if they did become a university professor, I guess reading Plato was preparation for a job. But that would never be why I or my colleagues would have taught it. Not as job prep but as part of our own jobs…To work against job-oriented learning. That’s a reason I went on to get a PhD after all. So I could work against the idea of college as career-prep. Except when I taught Technical Writing I guess.

But to do what the technologists suggest is more training than learning. And training as we know is much more limited. This is stimulus A. When you see it, you are to do B. A yields B. Training. But is training the realm of higher education. Oh sure, maybe in community colleges and career schools but not universities. Community colleges and career colleges are there to train people to get a job. But in universities, there is a higher, non-career related mission. Training is for lower-level functions. For those who just want to get a job from their degrees. People like… well, doctors. Yes, they should be trained. That’s good training. Stimulus A blood flowing from a wound should lead immediately to B to stop bleeding out. But then, people go to med school to become…..Well, to become a doctor which is a career, not a job.

Like I went to grad school and studied English to become a composition teacher in which I trained students to write which they did not want to do until they realized it applied directly to their future jobs. Once I could link it to their future work they had an interest. They finally became involved because writing could have an effect on their obtaining a good job. So they learned because…

Well, maybe there is some connection between college and work after all. In the students’ minds at