Thursday, July 29, 2010

Customer Service Guaranteed Retention Increase 5: Tikkun Olam - Mentor Each Student

customer service in college, academic customer service, retention, attrition, student success, 
Students need to feel they are engaged to and with the college. They need to have their social structure and support systems rebuilt while attending college so they have someone to lean on or go to in times of stress or need. They can go to fellow students for some information such as what professor to never take; what classes will fulfill requirements; which administrator cares about students and will try to help out ; etc. But there are many times when another student can’t help out or provide the support needed in the situation. These are the times when they might have asked a parent what to do but the parents do not understand the system and the school. So, they need a sort of collegiate parent figure – a mentor.

There is a reality rites des passage about college. It really does not come with a user’s manual though the FAQ’s recommended to help end the shuffle could fill the need. College is a strange environment that prior knowledge and experience including orientation do not prepare one for. There are new rules to learn.  Traditions and morés to absorb. A whole new way of life and a new lace to try and find one’s way around. In fact, college is a strange place not only because it is new and unique but because it seems to put all new students through a rite de passage involved in just finding one’s way around, finding a parking spot in time to get to class or just getting from one place to another on time. It is almost as if universities in particular put new students though a geographical hazing by having them find their way around campus without the use of helpful signs.  Signage on most campuses ranges from weak to non-existent.

There are administrative and procedural challenges and tests that are added on too just to see if a new student is really college material. In most schools for example, there is the rite/test of “find the advisor” which is part of the registration ritual. Students need to sign up for courses of course but to do so they must have them signed off from her academic advisor. But since it is the summer prior to the start of  classes, the advisors are quite often no9t on campus. The advisor might have office hours but since classes have not begun, the hours are neither posted nor the advisor in the office for the unposted hours. So the student has to work to find someone willing to sign off on the schedule unless of course she finds out from another student shuffled around the campus that the way to end the test is to just sign the registration form for the advisor. First, no one at registration checks for an actual signature nor would know the actual one if he saw it. Two, the advisor usually does not know what should actually be taken as well as another student who already passed this test and learned from experience. Or three, the advisor is found or another takes some pity on the student and signs off for the assigned advisor.

These processes do not help further the engagements between student and school. In fact, they initiate rifts between the two. The student begins to find that the school is not showing the engagement and caring that was promised and that he or she is “on my own”.  But this need not be the situation if the college engaged students with mentors. A mentoring system could also increase retention by approximately 84% of the total number of students who were mentored.

Most colleges assign a new student an academic advisor thinking that academics are important as they are, but not to the decision to leave. They forget about the major reason why students leave – the human element of attrition. But mentors can strengthen that attachment, the engagement at least at the beginning of the experience.  Mentors need not be drawn from the academic sector alone by the way. In fact, many students report that though faculty are a primary source of direct contact, many others report that they have found relationships in interactions with others who have reached out to them such as staff and administrators. With some training, everyone, from the president on up at the college can be a mentor if he or she is willing. This includes not just full time employees and faculty but adjuncts As well. It would be a very inexpensive investment to pay adjuncts for another fewer hours  of mentoring some students Keep in mind that students do not draw distinctions between full and adjunct faculty.

And every person at the school should be willing to become a mentor to students. Students are what everyone is there for after all. In fact, it is in helping students that members of the campus community really meet their goals. Helping the college reach its mission by helping students succeed and stay in school  provides most people at a college their reason for being and working at the school.  Moreover, a student completed by AcademicMAPS found that people work at a college not for the high pay and short hours but for the chance to be part of something bigger than they are; a chance to contribute to the school, its students and a better future for everyone.

Tikun Olam
This is a version of a Jewish belief called Tikun Olam - to save the world. Tikun Olam realizes that every person is a world unto him or herself.  So to save a person, to make a person better is to better, to save the world. And that is what people in a college or university do. They strengthen each and every student, each and every world and in so doing, the people who work in a college have many opportunities to save worlds and make our world better as they do so. By engaging students as mentors, they are also engaging in tikun olam which gives their lives greater meaning and value. By doing so, they also better their own worlds as well as the institution itself.

For example, a university with a population of 2,575 students and 300 employees with an attrition rate of 81.1% that has its employees mentor 300 students has an opportunity to save between 300 to 252 student worlds. That could increase their retention rate by up to 14% which could also add $1,387,445 to the budget. And if employees were willing to mentor up to 8 students each, it could be possible to add to the retention rate by a factor of 67% which would be an amazing turnaround.

It is necessary of course to realize that not everyone is capable of reaching out to students in an appropriate manner to mentor students even with training which everyone should have before they do mentor. With this realization, it will be important to focus the mentoring effort on those who will most benefit. This calls for some realistic recognitions that can be guided by grades. Students who earn A’s have likely either already found an engagement in the school or will survive on their own.  Students who are failing will likely have a long road back and may not be “savable”. Thus the effort should focus first on students falling between the B- to D+ range for greatest retention payoff.

The author of the above article is Dr. Neal A. Raisman the leading researcher, consultant and presenter on academic customer service. His firm AcademicMAPS provides colleges, universities and schools as well as the business that wish to work with them. The audits, training, workshops and presentation they provide have assisted over 300 colleges, universities and career schools in the US, Canada and Europe improve and increase student success and retention to graduate more alumni.

His latest book The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education is the 
best-selling book on collegiate customer service and retention and is available from The Administrator's Bookshelf.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Customer Service Guaranteed Retention Increase 4: Attend to Attendance

retention, collegiate customer service, academic customer service, attrition, student success, customer service,
There are few guaranteed retention solutions as important as attending to attendance. Simply put, having a campus-wide attendance policy that is enforced and followed-up will improve retention up to seven percent. Granted accomplishing a campus-wide attendance policy with some strength can be a daunting political task but there are so many benefits to doing so that they far outweigh the excuses not to institute one. An up to seven percent increase in retention for example.

Most colleges and universities have a too liberal class/ faculty–based attendance policy that encourages students not to attend classes. They leave it up to the individual professor to decide the attendance policy for his or her class. This also leads to a confusing polarity that is harmful to individual professors since some require attendance and other do not require any attendance. The “you
must be here” are may be thought of as “hardasses” by colleagues and students but they are really providing the best customer service.

Providing the student/ customer what he or she is paying for and needs is appropriate academic customer service and a major role of college is to prepare students for life after graduation. A consistent complaint from employers is that students do not seem to always understand and follow the company’s rules such as showing up on time or coming in at all. By not requiring attendance, schools simply prepare students for attendance problems at work if they learn they can control their decisions to attend or not. Academic customer service is not always about being nice and making the customer happy as much as making sure students get the ROI they are seeking even if it does not always bring a big smile to their faces. If being nice were the rule, there would be not tests after all.

Furthermore, once a student skips a class and sees there are no sanctions for doing so, it becomes easier to skip another time. And another. After missing a few classes a student finds he or she has fallen behind and may not
see a way to make up the missed classwork and homework assigned. Or has missed some in class quizzes and is looking at a less than stellar grade with zeros in the grade book. So he or she just drops the class but since few students seem to know there is an add-drop policy and procedure, they just do not show up again. This leads to the F the student feared from the class and is an entrance to dropping out of school completely.

Every college and university should have a clear, consistent and meaningful attendance policy that states that being in class is so important that students must attend all classes if they are serious about retention. Important because students who do not attend classes are at greatest risk for dropping out. Important because students who miss classes are not gaining the value of the teacher’s instruction and thinking on the material. Important because the student also loses out on the very important teacher-student communication and relationship. Important also because it is the student and faculty interaction that is the reason we have faculty at a college or university. If students do not need teaching faculty to learn from in classes, the need for faculty disappears. And important because attendance affects an average seven percent of retention or attrition.

Yet every time the topic of requiring attendance is raised at a presentat
ion, someone is bound to disagree and do so vehemently. For example, during a workshop in retention and customer service at a large university. It was mentioned that the college had about a thirty percent four-year retention/graduation rate that would be significantly improved with a consistent and encompassing college-wide attendance policy. A policy that would make attendance mandatory.

Immediately a faculty member passionately shook her head no and spoke out.
“Students are adults and they need to learn to be responsible for their own choices. They need to learn there are consequences to their actions”. This statement which has been repeated contradicts the commonly asserted faculty belief assessment that students have not yet learned to be responsible. So we should teach them that. By allowing them to be irresponsible?

Why do we even believe they are responsible enough to make the right decision to attend or not attend class? What is it about enrolling at a college or university that makes anyone believe these people are responsible or even sensible? This is especially so for freshman which by the way is who the faculty member w
ho asked the question at the workshop taught.

It is perhaps the widespread academic belief in the Tinkerbell Theory. This is the belief that somehow magic occurs on the stage in the local school auditorium at high school graduation. An immature high school senior starts across the stage. And with him or her walks all the attitudes, ways of thinking, and learning ingrained over 12 long years. Then, just as the high school principal hands him or her a diploma, a Tinkerbell flies overhead and sprinkles magic maturity dust on the graduate. POOF!! A college freshman! What was a latent college student suddenly sheds his or her immature ways and is suddenly
metamorphosed into a mature college student ready and capable of meeting the demands and dictates of college! The very same freshman whom faculty believe is mature enough to decide whether or not to attend a but is not adult and learned enough to have been admitted to the college.

The Tinkerbell Theory applies to upperclassmen as well. Simply because they have been attending your college does not make them mature or responsible. Physical maturity in no way equals mental maturity. Maturity is something that is learned and taught. We accept that as a given with young people for example. We teach them how to share, how they need to clean their room, brush their teeth, wash, bathe, look before crossing, do their homework … If we want a child to become a religious person we teach them and even demand they go to church, temple, mosque… If we want them to play a musical instrument we make sure they attend classes and practice. And we do make them go to classes, if they are our children!!!!!

When people start the argument on class attendance, at some time I will ask that person or persons if they have children in college. Most every time at least one does. “Okay, let’s assume you are paying only $10,000 a year for school. Only $10,000. Public university. Your child completed a FAFSA waiver at school (which should be done at every school) so could you call to find out why Jennifer is concerned her grade in a class is not that good. You are told that Jennifer is not attending that class. What do you do?” The faculty member invariably says something akin to “I’d tell her to get herself into class; do not skip classes and go for extra help!” If it is good enough and important enough to tell one’s own child to go to class, why isn’t it equally good and important for other peoples’ children in your classes to have to attend?

There are of course other excuses that are brought up to attempt to justify not having an attendance policy. Two parallel ones have to do with calling the ro
le. First it takes up too much time and second, it puts the faculty member into the role of disciplinarian. Calling the role would take no more than two minutes. Calling the role does make a non-disciplinarian into a disciplinarian. Calling the role is like teaching itself. It is all in the way you do it. If one gets to know her or her students, attendance is easy. You can recognize who is or is not in class an check them off. If you don’t know them well enough, then you may not be doing a great job of connecting with them anyhow. The research indicates that a feeling of association with a faculty member is a very important retention and learning factor. Calling the role can be a step in that direction.

Calling the roll also signals that the faculty member is beginning the class. Calling the roll is a learned a signal to students that a separation from the non-academic to the academic has taken place so get with the appropriate decorum. When a faculty member tells students they do not need to show up for classes but must do homework and take all tests, this sends a strong message that the student is not going to get a full fiscal ROI in this class.

When a professor tells students that they do not have to attend his lectures and they can pass by reading the assignments, doing the homework and taking
tests, he is saying “There is no value to my lectures or classes. I, in fact, have nothing to offer you that you cannot get from a book.” This is a clear admission that I am useless as a teacher. I have no value for you. And in turn that diminishes each every faculty member teaching at the college or university. The fact that there is room here for someone useless and I am paying for this makes students wonder about other professors and the institution’s value. Weakening the ROI and perception of value just makes it easier for students to rationalize leaving.

An institution-wide attendance policy is perceived by students as a statement that the college is keeping an eye on them. That, oddly enough makes students feel the university cares and is involved in their learning.
What follows is an actual representative college attendance policy followed by what a retention saving policy could look like.
Students are expected to attend and be on time for all sessions of a course for which they are registered. The attendance policy allows unexcused absences up to two times the number of lecture hours for a course. A student who has unexcused absences exceeding two times the number of lecture hours for a course has surpassed the number of allowable unexcused absences and is in violation of the class attendance policy. The student who exceeds the allowable number of unexcused absences may receive a grade of AW or FX based on unsatisfactory class attendance. The course instructor determines whether a student's absences are excused or unexcused.
Here the use of the conditional tense and the word expected make the policy weak and ineffective. The expectation is that each faculty member will make the policy more specific. The use of expected also weakens the points about unexcused absences since if attendance is not required, how can a student face sanctions? The wording is splendid fodder for a future law suit from any student disciplined under the institutional policy. This would also hold if one faculty member in course 111 says that attendance is mandatory and determines that a student has unexcused absences enough for the failing grade indicator. Meanwhile another faculty member teaching 111 does not require any attendance and students skip classes as did the others yet they get passing, perhaps even good grades. Inconsistent application of rules makes for a winnable lawsuit. If the policy read as below, the chance of legal actions against the faculty member and university are significantly reduced while retention is increased.
Students are required to attend all class sections. Students will attend and be on time for all sessions of a course for which they are registered. The attendance policy allows three excused absences. A student who has excused absences exceeding three per course has surpassed the number of allowable unexcused absences, is in violation of the class attendance policy and will be withdrawn from the class unless the faculty member petitions the attendance office in behalf of the student. The petition must include a student and faculty member agreed upon plan to make up the missed in-class work. An excused absence will be defined as one in which the student alerts the faculty member prior to or contemporaneously with the absence and gains the faculty member’s agreement to excuse the absence as well as an agreement to assist in making up the missed work. The student who has unexcused absences will receive a grade of AW or FX based on unsatisfactory class attendance prior to midterm. Following midterm, an excused absence will lead to an F in the course. The faculty member can petition the attendance office on behalf of the student. The petition must include a student and faculty member agreed upon plan to make up the missed in-class work.
The last policy may not be just right for all colleges and universities but a specific statement requiring attendance will increase retention by up to seven percent and that will be right for all colleges.

If this article makes sense, read the other parts of the longer piece on nine guaranteed customer service-based retention solutions.

And to see why you should invite the author of the article Dr. Neal Raisman to be a speaker at your schools' convocation or another event, get a free digital copy of his revised and expanded best seller Customer Service Factors and the Cost of Attrition by just requesting it here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Guaranteed Customer Service Retention Increase 3: End the Shuffle

customer service,in college academic customer service, retention, attrition, student success, college customer service, enrollment
It may have different names – the shuffle, getting turfed, or just plain getting the @%$ing run around – but it is always the same and always hated by students. The shuffle occurs when a student goes to an office to get something done of to have an issue taken care off. Once at the office, someone tells the student “Oh we don’t do that. You have to go to the XYZ office. Next.” So the student moves on to then next office where he or she is again told “Not my job. Try ---“. And so on until the student find he is moving in a circle from place and getting nowhere. The negative emotional momentum builds.

The student begins to feel he is being pulled all over campus in an ever widening circle of not getting the help or service needed. He is being pushed all over campus to the point that centrifugal force is

pulling on him ,more and more telling him to just break the runaround so he just gives into it taking the first exit available. Perhaps to return later aggravated without the issue or problem being solved. And waiting for just one more run around to let him no for sure that the school just does not care enough for him to continue. Besides, the problem still exists and there does not appear a clear way to solve it. So, it will call for another run around to try and getting the issue or function completed or the student will just say the heck with it and let it defeat him later.

1. Poor customer service notions and attitudes
2. One office does not know what another does
3. Over-reliance on technology as a service substitute
People who work in offices and areas that are supposed to help students often do not get any academic or other customer service training. Yet, these are always front-line people who are the first, and sometimes last, people students go to for assistance. They seem not to like dealing with students and let them know that by not helping them. They seem to be as busy as can be working hard to get students out of the office or away from in front of them. Without training, they accept and assume the prevailing community attitudes towards students which seem to be summed up in the supposedly humorous but very telling line “this would be a great place to work if it weren’t for the students.”

So they simply either send students to another person who might be willing to help them or just send them away with the lame statement that ‘We don’t do that here” before “turfing” them off to another office. That scenario is repeated all over campus as students are shuffled from place to place.

There is also the reality that the parts of a contemporary campus do not every see the whole picture. People live in their own offices or cubbies and do not interact with those from other offices all that much. Their loyalty is not to the institution as a whole unit or to its primary and most important customers, students. The workers see their loyalty to the office they are assigned to and those within it. The result is a cluster of offices and people working in isolation from one another in what is an ideal silo community.

Since they are cut off from other areas, they do not know what the others do for students and actually for themselves. The general response collected when asked what another office does is too often “not much” or “cause me more work”. Each office or functional area working within itself in almost isolation from others develops its own arcane policies, procedure to follow. And since there is limited interaction, colleagues outside an office or area most often do not know of the changes either. This makes the employees force students to shuffle from office to office trying to find out what ones colleagues had not shared with the original office.

The isolation of offices and areas also leads to each functional group to develop its own forms to be filled out with the same information the office down the hall required from students. But no so students need to go from office to office, department to department and functional area to functional area to find out who has the form he or she needs. Then they have to obtain the particular forms from that office and the form asks for the same information the student already provided another office on its form. One would think that colleges and universities never heard of shared data bases. But considering another reason for the shuffle and poor service maybe that is not so bad.
Too many colleges and universities have substituted on-line technological, self-serve assistance, for customer service in many areas on and off-campus as well as situations. In fact, there are some schools and some offices at many, too many schools that have become dependent on technology for customer service almost to the exclusion of person-to-person contact and assistance.

Of course, if an office or people in it do not want to work with people, what better way to make sure they can avoid human contact than to shove technology in the way. And wouldn’t it be great to be able to claim that technology is a better way to let students have more control and make it easier for them.

“They won’t have to walk all the way over to the ___________ office.” Is the claim but not the reality of why technology replaces humans in service.

Emily Yellin writes on poor telephone communication by companies in her book that Your Call is Not that Important to Me (Free Press; 2009).
Self-service saves companies money, gives customers information instantly, and liberates agents from answering repetitive questions. But self-service also can fuel the perception that a company is uncaring or arrogant – not wanting its customers to talk to live human representatives. (p94)
It is interesting that the most common adjectives used to describe the functions and service in these offices by students and staff alike when we bring campus departments or offices that have become technology driven, customer indifferent service locations common descriptors of those are “arrogant”, “rude” and “uncaring”.

It has been found while doing campus service audits, there is a correlation between technology reliance and customer defiance in offices. In most every contact made with offices that are too technology-reliant to assess its customer service ended with a direction to go on-line and complete a form there. Even when we would ask for a copy of a specific form in one of these offices, we would invariably be instructed to go on line. It seems they will do most anything to avoid person-to-person service.

It needs to be understood that when people seek help from another person, they will expect that individual to provide the assistance; not send them away to go on-line. If a person makes the effort to go to an office they will want at least an equal effort coming back to them. If they make a phone call, they expect to have someone help them on the phone. And if they use email to contact an office, it does not mean they love technology and do not want human-to-human contact. These person-to-person contacts and responses are the basis of social equity which is at the core of much of customer service. This effort to help is not found when one is turfed, sent away to somewhere else, in this case to on-line.

Turfing is a term common to hospitals but fits in academia also. When a hospital patient may demand a great deal of time or attention, or may not live, he or she may be turfed – sent to another department or specialty area. This way, the originating department does not have to deal with the issues the patient presents or deal with failure. But the most common reason is that people on campus just simply do not know one another enough because they live in their own castles.

Students are often turfed from department to department in academia. This is not because they may not survive though it can happen when a department or person does not want to provide bad news. Turfing usually happens because someone does not want to put him or herself out to help or simply does not know how to. So the student is turfed on to somewhere else. Now, in academia we don’t call it turfing, just the shuffle. And the students hate it whether they have to go from office to office or from office to on-line technology.

There may well be an argument that states that college-aged students may want to solve problems themselves. There is certain validity to the argument. But when a student does come into an office, calls or wrote to a person seeking help, that student is not trying to solve an issue him or herself. The student is reaching out to a human and expects that the person will reach back; not turf, not shuffle the student to the web. Over-dependence on technology for service is harming customer service on campus.
Workflow Diagramming as a Shuffle Ending Tactic
To end the shuffle, begin by setting consistent institutional customer service standards on simple things such as proper telephone and personal greeting, time in which all emails and voice mails should be responded to, time to recognizing a visitor to an office, physical structures, reception areas, etc. Then create a functional workflow process and diagram that integrates all offices around the needs of students and one another. To generate the workflows, people from different offices and parts of the college whose areas actually interact must sit and work together. And we don’t mean the administrators but the people who really do the work itself. The ones with a vested interest. They not only will help the process reflect realities, they will interact with colleagues who depend on one another. As they interact, they will learn what others do and thus will be able to better assist students. In so doing, they will start to end the shuffle since they know who does what and can send the students to the correct area to accomplish their objectives.

For example, one diagram should follow a student from application through to showing up on first day of classes. Every step in the process should be charted and a responsibility center indicated. Dates by which the work needs to be accomplished for smooth integration with the next office should be noted. Any paperwork needed should be indicated and by whom it needs to be received as well as if information on it needs to go to another office. Review all forms to make sure they integrate material and assist not only the originating office but the next one. And be certain they are really needed or are we just making students and families do extra work so we can have our personal form?
Finally, students, the customers must always come first. Make sure that every step is streamlined to require the least amount of time and effort for the student and the family first. Second, that every step is needed and in compliance. Third, that every step is understood and integrated by all other offices and people involved. Fourth, whenever possible all material, forms, information and data should be entered into a single, integrated MIS. This could also allow for increased customer service by letting the system pre-fill all and any areas on forms such as name, address, etc that a student might have to complete. Any time we can remove additional repetitive work for a customer, the happier they will be. This can also be accomplished for colleagues if the information is in an integrative data base.
Workflow diagrams can be made for any and all processes that need to be accomplished in the administration of the school and students. Creating them will bring people together into teams. Force them to work together. Help them learn what others do. And perhaps, start taking chunks out of the walls of the silos so people can start to gain a larger integrated vision of the college.
FAQ User Sheets and School User Manuals
Schools may also wish to consider putting together FAQ sheets of the most frequent student issues or questions in each office. Ask the people who work in each office to compile a list of the most common student concerns or questions as well as the common ones that are asked but do not apply to their office. Once compiled, these can be turned into an indexed School User Manual (Our University for Non-Dummies?) that students and employees could access to find answers to their questions. These could be used also to find answers to issues or needs students have but may not be specific to the office. In turn, the manual would provide people in each office with information to know the answers to many common student questions so they could direct students to the correct location for an answer. A user manual could also be the basis for giving people the information needed to end the shuffle.

All these efforts can start to tear down walls caused by lack of communication. Interaction is the best way to get people to learn about and know who one another is and what they do. As a result, this can and will improve performance, satisfaction and service to one another and students.


The author of the above article is Dr. Neal A. Raisman the leading researcher, consultant and presenter on academic customer service. His firm AcademicMAPS provides colleges, universities and schools as well as the business that wish to work with them. The audits, training, workshops and presentation they provide have assisted over 300 colleges, universities and career schools in the US, Canada and Europe improve and increase student success and retention to graduate more alumni.

His latest book The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education is the
best-selling book on collegiate customer service and retention and is available from The Administrator's Bookshelf.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Guaranteed Retention Increase 2 - Engage Students Through the Enrollment Process

academic customer service, student success, retention, enrollment, attrition, enrollment management, student services

Customer Service Guaranteed Retention Increase 2: Enrollment Ends at Graduation

Colleges and universities have traditionally viewed admissions and thus enrollment as something that take place before classes begin. The recruitment and enrollment processes are to get the students to come to the school after all, or so the thinking went. Once the students are there, it is no longer necessary to continue courting them. Nor is it at all really that important to work on retaining students. In fact, once they come to campus it is the job of the school and faculty in particular to separate the college students from the chaff.

Even during the period between acceptance and putting down the money through the first day of classes, there is usually only one event to show any level of appreciation and service after the sale. This is orientation when the admissions and some student services folk do what they can to show they are still trying to make sure the students show up at school. During the period after orientation, the most likely communication from a school will be some sort of official notice too often written in academicese (the arcane, jargon and abbreviation-laden language known only to the academic tribes that interact on campus preserves) or a bill or two or three. All a sure way of beginning the attrition process by letting the student know we no longer really care if you stay or not. But pay NOW!

It is extremely important that a school that cares about its revenue and thus ability to meet budget without significant cuts begin to realize that enrollment is a process that starts at first contact and only ends at graduation when the student signs up to be a member of the alumni organization. Colleges need to recognize that the enrollment process is one that never actually ends. Every day, every contact, every communication is part of a long engagement between the student and the institution. Thus students need to be resold the institution every day, every contact, every communication with any one or any part of the college or university.

Realize that what the student has bought and contracted for is the dream of success and a future that the school has sold to the student through the website, viewbooks, ads, recruiters catalogs, campus visit, etc. The school has said “if you accept my proposal to come here, I will do all I can to give you all I have promised.” And the student believes that, places his or her trust in the school, and said “yes, I will attend.” The relationship becomes one akin to an engagement between a couple to get married only in this engagement, the affianced must also by her own ring through tuition and fees.

The engagement moves to the next level at graduation. That is when the relationship alters forever and there is even a name change for the student. As the student crosses the stage, is given a diploma, he or she becomes Mr or Mrs. XYZ, graduate of College forevermore. A new stage of the relationship begins at that moment when the student becomes and alumnus but not always to the benefit of the school. In fact, a weak engagement culminating in graduation is often doomed and leads to a divorce that fundraisers suffer. If a student feels he or she was not well treated looking back on the engagement person, there will be no donations to the school. In fact, weak engagements while in school is a major reason why alumni giving is so low. A student may feel that there was too much invested in the relationship to back out now but when the request for donation is given, that’s the opportunity for a divorce.

As with all engagements, the success of the couple depends on mutual trust, faith, and the hard work of not betraying other by coming though on promises once the giddiness of the first week passes. If each partner comes through on promises and does what the other appropriately requires, the faith and trust essential to being successful will remain intact. For a college and student that means the college needs to do and provide what it promised (eg. personal attention, small classes, caring, classes needed to progress, assistance, a nurturing environment, etc). The student also must come through too with class attendance, completing assignments on time, making a sincere effort to learn, preparing for class, appropriate behavior, etc). Interestingly enough, it is for the school to work harder in this relationship for it is the one that made the sale, the promises yet, this is not often the case because academics believe enrollment ends once a student shows up.

Schools need to engage the students every day, every contact, every chance. They need to make certain that students feel they are important and valued. One simple way to begin is to have all college personal who answer the phone learn how to do it properly. It is not enough to say “XYX University. How can I help you” in a bored or even angry tone. It is necessary to answer the phone enthusiastically even when one is not feeling all that happy to answer the phone because the caller can hear the lack of enthusiasm and will not be happy by it. Some of this can be changed by having people smile before they answer the phone. Place mirrors with the words SMILE PLEASE on them above each phone. Have people look at the mirror and smile before answering the phone. And work to get everyone to smile while walking in the halls or on campus.

And if someone leaves a voice mail or an email, get back to them. Not at your leisure but within a n hour if at all possible and before the end of the day if there is no time at all to return calls. Little is more assured to generate anger than being ignored.

Communicate every time there is a chance with good news. The messages can be personalized by student name and major so when something happens relating to the major for example someone gets a job, students in that career track get a personalized email. Another quick and easy way to communicate inexpensively is to post information on the backs of bathroom stalls and over urinals. They will be read. People are always looking for something to read while....Well, when they are otherwise engaged.

Faculty need to have realistic and more than the bare minimum office hours to see students about classwork and whenever they wish to just say hello. Faculty members must post the hours and actually keep them. In a recent audit, we found only 46% for faculty posted office hours and the hours posted were the bare minimum as well as at quite awkward times for students. And, by the way, when a faculty member is supposed to be in the office, be there.
Advisers need to be up-to-date on curricular changes and major requirements. They also must be fully aware when courses are being offered and whether or not the course is offered each term or semester. Further, they should learn their advisees' names and something about each one other than their major. An adviser should be the person a student turns to for help and advice when a problem arises so it is important that a rapport be developed between the student and the adviser.

These are but a few ideas. There are many other academic customer services that can and will increase the sense of a positive engagement leading to greater retention in the range of an added four to six percent. But to work they all must be embedded in a culture that accepts that admissions is just the start to process of engagement that lasts at least until graduation. If a college accepts and acts upon that recognition , retention will increase.


The author of the article is Dr. Neal Raisman the president of AcademicMAPS, the leader in training, workshops and research on increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through academic customer service solutions for colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as businesses that seek to work with them.

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Neal is a pleasure to work with – his depth of knowledge and engaging, approachable style creates a strong connection with attendees. He goes beyond the typical, “show up, talk, and leave” experience that some professional speakers use. He “walks the talk” with his passion for customer service. We exchanged multiple emails prior to the event, with his focus being on meeting our needs, understanding our organization and creating a customized presentation. Neal also attended and actively participated in our evening-before team-building event, forging positive relationships with attendees – truly getting to know them. Personable, knowledgeable, down-to-earth and inspiring…. " Jean Wolfe, Training Manager, Davenport University

“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, CA

“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, Faculty Member, Lincoln Technical Institute

“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-Fort Kent

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

College Customer Service Guarantee 1 - Objective Correlatives

academic customer service, retention, student success, attrition, enrollment, academic customer service, student retention

Eight Academic Customer Service Concepts Guaranteed to Increase Retention
1. Focus on Objective Correlatives
2. Enrollment Ends at Graduation
3. End the Shuffle
4. Attend to Attendance
5. Mentor Each Student
6. Deliver on Promises
7. Train Everyone in Academic Customer Service

Any one of the seven can be accomplished separately and will have a positive effect on retention. But the greatest benefit to the college is in engaging in and actually implementing at least two. Three is better and all seven have been proven to have very significant positive effects on student retention, campus morale and community cohesion. Keep in mind that when a school gets its community to become further engaged in providing better service to students it ends up providing one another better and more civil service as well. Customer service gives back to the provider as much if not more than it does for the customer. Helping another makes the helper better for the help provided. And in a college or university that will always lead to increased positive interactions and workplace morale leading to greater productivity and revenue.

Providing good service to another is sort of like smiling which we recommend everyone in the community does at all times, at least when in public. Even if a person is not really happy, smile anyhow, people will think you are happy and eventually, you will be. When a person smiles at another, the “smiler” produces positive hormones like endorphins and serotonin and reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine and adrenaline.

Customer Service Guaranteed Retention Increase 1: Focus on Objective Correlatives

One of the most significant reasons why students leave a college is that they just do not feel the institution provides an appropriate return on investment. Two of the ROI’s students expect are easy to understand. They are financial ROI– will I get a good return on the investment of money and time, i.e., get a good job? – and emotional ROI- do I feel that my emotional investment is being returned? The third major ROI students seek is an affective ROI –do I want to be associated with this place? Does it make me proud and happy to be here? The affective ROI can be measured in how many students feel enough of a connection to the college wear school branded clothing versus that of other schools or businesses.

One important affective roi comes from the way the campus itself reflects the value of the student. Do the buildings, the grounds, the physical aspects of the campus which do include the way campus members dress –the objective correlatives - make me feel as if I am valued and safe? Do they look like a place I want to be a part of? Are the facilities clean and impressive or old, uncared for, rundown, dated or make me feel the school does not care? What do the school’s objective correlatives say about me if I were to show a friend a picture of me in front of a campus building? And do they make me feel safe and secure on campus?

During this period of budget retrenchment deferred maintenance has been allowed to climb at many colleges. Repairs have been pushed back. Painting and cosmetics have been postponed. The grounds have been let to grow a bit unfettered. Trees and bushes have not been trimmed. Lawns go an extra week or two to save on mowing costs. Flowers not planted or replaced when dead. Halls are being swept a bit less often. Cafeteria crews are cut back so dishes pile up and tables stay littered a bit longer. These are service errors that lead students to downgrade their affective roi and take one more step toward going out the door and not returning..

When I was a dean our college was suffering financially due to an economic downturn in our regional service area. Revenue was hurting since fewer freshman students were enrolling. The president told the cabinet that he was going to spend additional funds on the campus’ appearance and cleanliness. We thought he was being foolhardy to spend on appearances and not on more important academic areas. He stated that the way to recruit more students was to look and act like we did not need any more students; sort of a if you build it they will come scheme. If the college looked successful, students would assume it was and enroll. So buildings were painted. Trees, flowers and shrubs planted. Halls were all cleaned and polished. And he announced that the college was looking to add a new technology and science center on campus. All this while other competitors did cut their grounds and facilities budgets.

He was right. They did come. Fall enrollment was the highest in many years. So was revenue to make the academic improvements we needed. He knew the benefits of objective correlatives. Campus customer service audit experiences working to assist schools turn around attrition also show the value – negative and positive – of objective correlatives on campus.

One college we worked with was only graduating 24% of its incoming students. It appeared to have a very good academic program. When we spoke to students who had left and those on campus, one concept kept coming to the front. “It’s a dump.” Students felt the college was in disrepair, dirty, run down and simply not a place they wanted to go to. They were right. Of significant concern were the bathrooms which were not as clean as students wanted them to be. In fact, a third of them were dirty, graffiti-laden, under supplied, dank and generally objectionable. The picture below is the male student bathroom in the student union. It is easy to see how it would be a negative for students. When the college

repaired, painted and followed other decorating solutions along with focusing on other initial academic customer service solutions provided through an audit, retention rose eight percent immediately.

Many schools are trying to reduce energy costs by lowering lighting wattage as well as the number of bulbs being lit. This is an error especially for the second college of evening students. The preponderant evening population is composed of adults who are more aware of safety and security issues than the daytime more traditional age student population. Dimmed lighting creates an environment that can be fraught with a sense of danger and lack of security as in the photo below from college service audits.

The area in the first photo went to a rear door and out to a parking lot but was very little utilized because people felt unsafe walking through there after evening classes. Students actually walked a longer distance out a side door to avoid waking through this dimly lit area.
Evening college‘s retention rate rose by two and a half percent once additional lighting was added to al halls and outdoor areas.

The parking lot speaks for itself. Not only was it extremely under lit but to save money, plowing and shoveling of walkways had been reduced. Spring (which we all know starts in the winter) term at this school had suddenly jumped the year we were asked to find out why. One major source turned out to be that female adult students in particular felt very unsafe having to get to their cars in the large poorly lit parking lot. Moreover, the cutbacks in plowing left the lots with snow that became slippery and thus could be dangerous. When calculated, the savings from turning down the lighting and cutting back on snow removal equaled just about one-third of a tuition for the term. Clearly not an intelligent savings since the result was many more drops in the term. Reinstating the snow removal budget and stronger bulbs to light the parking lot led to a greater sense of safety and affective roi. The attrition bump was reduced.

A university simply halted all renovation, repair and improvement projects. Whatever was not completed would stay that way until it found out whether or not enrollment would meet goals. This was a move to save money. When the campus was audited, it was found that one project, the installation of a fountain, was left with the electrical connections left exposed. It was also noted that a very old tree had a quite large cracked limb about thirty feet in the air just over a bench where students often sat. It was pointed tout to the school that if a student were to be electrocuted or crushed by a large limb, that would not help retention goals – at least by two students. There were also some walkways in which large slabs of concrete had lifted up from frost heaves. They created a likely tripping or fall generating situation. Students who are hurt on campus often leave to take care of medical issues and consult with their lawyers on the lawsuit.

These and many other physical situations from poor signage to dirty corridors create negative affective roi’s for students. Attending the objective correlatives of a campus has been shown to increase retention an average of between two and four percent depending on other academic customer service factors at a school.

Get a free digital copy of the revised
Customer Service Factors and the Cost of Attrition
More discussion on customer service factors, additional articles and a list of the six year average attrition rates at 1450 four-year colleges and universities.

The author Dr. Neal Raisman is the leading presenter, researcher and consultant on customer service for retention in colleges, universities, community and career colleges in the US, Canada and Europe. He and his associates have provided retention solutions for over 300 schools and businesses that want to work with higher education. Dr. Raisman is the author of over 400 articles and four books including his latest bestseller The Power of Retention; More Customer Service for Higher Education available from The Administrators' Bookshelf in hard copy and digital editions.

His firm AcademicMAPS/Center on Retention, is the leading provider of campus customer service audits that increase retention, morale and revenue for universities, colleges and community or career colleges. If you would like to discuss a retention issue or see if he is available to come to your school or business for a workshop, presentation or other retention solution such as a full customer service audit,

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