It always amazes me how we all forget that the environment of the campus, the correlative objectives of the college are extremely important to students. The way the buildings, grounds and things like signs appear are direct connections to the affective return on investment students use to decide to stay or leave a college. They feed directly into the Affective Return on Investment (AROI) that feeds directly into attrition/retention decisions.
If your buildings or grounds look anything like these photos from customer service audits I conducted on college and university campuses,you are losing students. You need to assess your campus’ customer service values and fix them to retain more students. And retaining students is the key to success in these miserable economic times.
WHERE TO START?
It is a simple reality that you need to start somewhere. You may as well begin from knowledge of the customer service strengths and weaknesses at the campus. Find out what bugs students the most. What areas are least customer service-oriented?
It also makes it all more relevant. Most people on campus know the problem spots. They hear about it from students or have experienced it themselves. Few surprises? Except in many areas they have all become so used to that they do not see the problems any more. These surprises that we uncover during a mini or full campus service audit are usually from what I call the worn rugs phenomena.
You know when you look at someone else’s house such as when you are house hunting. You may see that the people who live there have worn paths into the rugs as they make the same trips every day. But when you mention that the rugs may need to be replaced, the homeowners do not see it. That is because they have worn then rugs down incrementally, day by day, trip by trip. The owners wore them down slowly, millimeter by millimeter so they did not see the problem develop.
In the same way, people get into habits of behavior they do not realize they have fallen into. It was not a big change so it was not noticed until perhaps someone else looked. Even co-workers have gotten use to it so they may just see that as “that’s who he is. Always been that way and no problems really.” Or it could be a policy that began in making something better but as it has been used over the years, or as its implementation shifted imperceptibly, it now hurts, not helps students. Or it is a procedure, a process or form that we all know so well that we expect everyone knows it. So we don’t even bother telling students about it or explaining it so it is really understood. Like add/drop procedure and forms at most schools. Or the school FAFSA code. Or where some out-of-the-way office is on campus. Or who now does what Dotty did after she retired. If we know, they should to. Right?
Or it could be buildings that once looked bright and welcoming but have been allowed to get dingy and cluttered over the years. A smudge on the wall here. A few too many posters there. A light out and replaced with lower wattage over back there. A door that is hard to open. Offices changed location but no signs let people know that. Bathrooms with graffiti, leaking faucets and broken stall doors. Trees whose limbs have grown huge and old that could fall onto benches right under them. Small shrubs that have grown into tall and thick bushes that bock signs and provide cover for someone who might wish to do another harm. Walkways that are cracked and so uneven that people trip. Or student lounge or study areas that have lost their chairs and tables and then ones still there are dirty and shabby.
WHERE AND WHAT TO ASSESS
These and much more are physical customer service issues we have found in our audits and workshops. So, you may want to look at all the service issues, human and objective correlative. Here’s a list from our brochure of what we look at when we do a campus customer service audit to give you some guidance.
Review these areas as well as every level of customer service such as:
- wait time - how promptly people are recognized and served
- acknowledgment of student presence and manner of the recognition given,
- welcoming and comfort level generated,
- how courteous your people are,
- how questions are responded to,
- requested information provided promptly and graciously,
- accurate directions given,
- general demeanor, and attitude toward customers,
- availability of information at point of contact,
- point of contact knowledge of college and/or where to get it if not available,
- accuracy of information,
- use of campus jargon or argot versus standard language,
- language use, attitude, syntax, grammar, tone,
- customer-first attitude,
- time to completion required for successful interaction,
- helpfulness and accuracy of written materials at points of contact,
- location and availability of information and media,
- processes used with customers,
- orderliness of the interaction and area of interaction,
- telephone protocols used by customer contacts to aid or detract from service to campus callers,
- general telephone skills
- Audits also look at the environment provided for students in these areas and offices from layout and space through lighting and clutter as they affect the customer's sense of reflected value and service from entry to the campus through moving through it and finally the exiting experience.
Study everything then provide realistic solutions to increase enrollment and retention.
The issue for you then becomes one of how to bring these service problems, human. policy, procedural and physical forward without ticking off too many people. You do not want the training to suffer through resistance due to feeling as if you picked on an area. Nor, maybe equally important, you certainly do not want to become the enemy because they just might decide to get you. You know how academic politics and infighting can get. As the old joke goes, why are academic battles so vicious and nasty?....Because there is so little to be won.
So you will need to determine a strategy through which you can bring out deficiencies without angering or hurting someone or just leaving some important examples and problems to the side so as not to get you or the program destroyed. This can be difficult to carry off but it will be worth the effort when it succeeds. It may be an area you will want to outsource through a consultant since a consultant doesn’t have to worry as much about bothering someone.
When I do an audit for example, I am able to go over the issues with less concern for the school since I do not know these people and will be leaving by design. Moreover since there will be others who will see the issue and agree with me, they often help me make my point since I am an outsider and cannot be picking on people I do not know. But if you cannot bring in an outsider right now, the information above will give you a good start on conducting a campus audit.
Want more information on audits? just contact me and I'll be glad to help you in any and all ways I can. There is also more on audits in The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education.
“We had hoped we’d improve our retention by 3% but with the help of Dr. Raisman, we increased it by 5%.” Rachel Albert, Provost, University of Maine-Farmington
“Neal led a retreat that initiated customer service and retention as a real focus for us and gave us a clear plan. Then he followed up with presentations and workshops that kicked us all into high gear. We recommend with no reservations; just success.” Susan Mesheau, Executive Director U First: Integrated Recruitment & Retention University of New Brunswick
“Thank you so much for the wonderful workshop at Lincoln Technical Institute. It served to re-center ideas in a great way. I perceived it to be a morale booster, breath of fresh air, and a burst of passion.” Shelly S, Lincoln Technical Institute
AcademicMAPS has been providing customer service, retention, enrollment 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