Monday, July 25, 2011

Creating a Culture of Service 3 Presidents

It is a too often occasion that when I or another of my associates does a workshop for a college key players are not in attendance. Somehow or for no reason that can be certified in fact or research, people like the president don’t show up. Either they believe they already are great customer service providers (which they often are not) or believe they are too “busy” (which they often are not) or somehow believe that customer services does not apply to them (which is also wrong).

If customer service is going to become part of a college’s culture it must start at the bottom and move up to permeate the entire community. It must start with the president that is and move up. Yes, the president is really on the bottom of the pile. They are the ones at the bottom of the hill where all the effluent flows down. That is the main job of the president after all. To be the manure catcher and turn that manure into compost to grow new projects. The only way that presidents cannot get completely immersed in all the manure that comes to his or her office is to get ahead of it.

This is true for customer service too. If the president cares, truly cares about the college’s revenue, she will get out in front of a huge fiscal lump that is going out the door as a result of poor customer service. We know that up to 84% of all attrition is due to poor or weak customer service. In most schools this can lead to the loss of millions of revenue dollars a year. And that is revenue lost even if the tuition money does not go directly into the budget since the states will support on headcount (and yes we all know they don’t provide enough support).That is they will provide x number of dollars per enrolled student.

It is for the president to lead the way but not only telling everyone else to get some customer service training but by getting some training himself. He will also model the behavior by showing and providing good customer service throughout the university. That service may be as simple as actually getting out on campus and being seen to saying hello to people as he passes them. Maybe even stopping for a quick chat to introduce himself and see who the other person is as does Gordon Gee at Ohio State. And by the way, there is definite WIFM value as can be seen in Gee since he will be a president that has had top push out a winning football coach and will keep his own job with high ratings. Even though he should have acted more forcefully with Coach Tressel and the football coaching scandal, he will stay strongly supported because he built strong bridges with good customer service to students, employees, the town and the alumni.

He has also modeled good customer service in many parts of the campus which has made implemented new behaviors and actions that much easier. This is particularly notable in the University hospital. Over the past two years the Ohio State University Hospital system which serves a very mixed and somewhat poor population it being a public hospital had reinvented itself as a paragon of customer service. It may not be perfect but it is working at it.  It does so much right that is it wonderful. From greeters to follow up surveys and cards it really works at providing great customer care both physically and emotionally. Most of its success is from hard work and constantly focusing on how to make the patient experience better but some of it is also from having a leaders on campus who exudes customer service.  The fact the exuding alone does not work can be seen in other areas of the University in which customer service training is still needed but that training when it comes will be more accepted because it is likely that President Gee will be there.

It is just human nature for people to believe something is important if “important” people take time to be there. That was also the case at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska where President Bill path has been doing some great things. When he and his team decided that they wanted to increase completion rates, they turned to focus on their customer service. And when the training session was help, Dr. Path introduced it and stayed through the entire session. He has since backed up the training with some reinforcement.  He has pushed some offices to see how they can change their office hours to provide better customer service. Put money in the budget for upgrading the signage on campus among other visible things.

Now in both the cases of Drs. Gee and Path, it is just part of their makeup that pushes them to be involved with things and activities on campus. They are leaders; not followers. They are two very good presidents after all. But there involvement in customer service and their modeling it in their activities makes it that much easier for others on campus to embrace customer service as part of the campus culture. Yes they have that built into them but they also know that when training does take place it is important for the president to be there to, if nothing else, send a message from the bottom of the hill that this is good and desirable.

If this article makes sense to you
you will want to get my new book
The Power of Retention
: More Customer Service for Higher Education
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N.Raisman & Associates is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through workshops,research training and customer service solutions such as campus service audits to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them
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Monday, July 18, 2011

Great Example of Great Academic Customer Service

Customer Service training does work. Here is an example of what happened after a recent training session on academic customer service. I am sure you have your examples too, please feel free to share them.

Awesome, fantastic, motivating!

This success story is a direct result of our customer service training with Dr Raisman-this is very powerful, and it serves as a excellent affirmation of just how important “Customer Service” really is- If you see fit, please share this wonderful story with your faculty member and all other employees.

Better yet- if you see fit-acknowledge and congratulate Ann for her efforts  
Kevin Keehan

Subject: Yesterday's Training Event


We have a faculty member; Ann Morris (our GED/ATB faculty) who showed that yesterday’s training made a BIG impact on her!

Today, she found someone in the parking lot who looked “lost.”  The woman was with a young girl and she was just standing in the parking lot looking at our school building.  Ms. Morris inquired as to whether she needed help and the woman indicated that she had seen our commercials on TV and was inclined to stop by our building and “take a look.”  She began to tell Ms. Morris that she was feeling anxious about her age and that she maybe was getting too old to be in school.  She confided in Ms. Morris and told her that she was tired of watching other people at her job get promotions (while she was the one that trained them); she also indicated that she was working on some coursework at another college locally, but felt that she was stuck in a rut of general education classes that were non-engaging.  Ann spent a significant amount of time talking with this woman (Ebony). 

Ann accompanied Ebony and her niece into the main building and helped Ebony connect with an Admissions representative.  Ann stayed with the niece while Ebony met with the admissions rep and played with her and read books with her until it came time for the campus building tour.  During the tour, I was walking through the halls and stopped to introduce myself to the prospective student.  We had juice and donuts in the building, so I offered some to both the woman and her niece.  We began to chat and I met Ebony and her niece; Ebony was smiling ear to ear and told me about meeting Ann Morris, and she said something immensely important… “Ann took the time to stop and ask me if I needed help, and she stayed with me the whole time…people just don’t do that anymore!”  She indicated that she was terrified to come in to our building and discuss becoming a student UNTIL she met Ann.  Spending that one-on-one time with Ann brought her comfort and confidence that our school might very well be the place for her! 

She finished her tour by meeting with the Allied Health Director and the Externship Coordinator.  Together, we talked about so many things – including her current job frustrations, her personal and professional goals, and her general hopes and dreams.  Ebony is a bright woman, and we will be blessed to have her as a part of our student body. 

I met with Ann afterwards to thank her and hug her for going the extra mile…and do you know what?  She indicated that what she did was natural, and genuinely just the right thing to do.  She enjoyed spending time with Ebony and her niece; she had no desire for glory or praise, she was just doing what she would want anyone else to do for her.

I believe that Ann was impacted both by her own selflessness, good character, AND yesterday’s seminar.  She naturally, and without thought, took the time to treat a stranger with care.  Thank you for setting up this opportunity for the faculty and staff of Lincoln College.

If your school could use a great story like this as well as the great students and increased retention that academic customer service DOES generate, just get in touch with us and ask how we might help your school achieve even more greatness, enrollment and the revenue that comes with it. Just click here and ask. 

And you might want to start by getting a copy of The Power of Retention by Dr. Neal A. Raisman

Monday, July 11, 2011

Creating a Campus Culture of Customer Service 2

The second step in creating a customer service culture (for step one click here) is to actually monitor all points of contact with students and other customers. It is important to know what levels of service are, or are not provided at every point that interacts with the primary customers. If you don’t know what is taking place you will be proceeding under ignorance, false impressions or even rumors all of which will not help to create a cure for poor or weak service that will account for up to 84% of your attrition.

The areas to be monitored include but are not limited to:
  • The University website
  • Collateral materials
  • Telephone system and protocols 
  • Receptionists and areas
  • Catalog
  • Signage provided to orient and direct on the campus
  • Entrance signage
  • Interior directional signs
  • Entrances
  • Decompression zones
  • Lobbies
  • Parking lots
  • Walkways
  • Halls
  • Colors
  • Open spaces
  • Lighting
  • Landscape
  • Paths
  • Appearance of building exteriors
  • Appearance of building interiors
  • Observable safety concerns
  • Cleanliness and general appearance including paint
  • Campus tour presentation including tour guide appearance, presentation, and interactions with guests.
  • Housing
  • Campus appearance
  • Landscaping and appearance
  • Campus flow
  • Pathways
  • All buildings
  • Building exteriors
  • Building interiors
  • Bathrooms
  • Common areas
  • Cafeteria
  • Entrances and entrance areas
  • Handicap compliance
  • Lobbies
  • Bookstore
  • Office appearance and physical services
  • Functional flow
  • Student space and its utilization
  • Observable safety concerns
  • Cleanliness and general appearance including paint
  • Utilization of areas

The customer service audit you should conduct or have conducted includes parts of the above with specific focus on primary active service providers and functions such as
  • Reception Areas 
  • Admissions
  • Counseling
  • Financial Aid
  • Registration
  • Bursars
  • Cafeteria 
  • Departmental reception areas
  • Administrative offices

Monitoring can be done in a number of ways from academic shopping (mystery shoppers) that can be trained students or colleagues or professionals, to observations and user surveys of customers.  We don’t recommend using internal shoppers however because that can lead to some allegations of bias some of which could even be true. In too many cases. on most campuses there are rumors or street knowledge that one group of another provides bad customer service. (What? Rumors in an academic community dedicated to truth and knowledge? Imagine!) When a school uses in-house shoppers they can bring these biases to the work and “find” validity to the allegations. That does not mean the assertions might not be true just that they can be challenged. The result could be an area that provides poor service getting a “bye” from charging bias. I am aware of this happening too often though it also seems to be that the department or location that challenges the results often is in real need of help. Easier to challenge and play campus politics than accept the reality that the area needs work. This is especially so when the challenge comes from the supervisor who is involved in a big game of CYA rather than helping the customers. This also creates ill-will on campus.

The other reason that in-house shoppers may not be as good as they could be is that they receive inadequate training. This can also be true of some “professional” shoppers too. We have run into too many “professionals who were out of work actors who were hired to play the role of a shopper only to miss major issues simply because they did not know what they were looking for. Or they were just following a checklist they had to get through without any feeling for the reasons for the issues being investigated.

But if the school can neither afford to hire external shoppers or finds that the politics of spending money for anyone to come and “spy” on the campus will not play on campus, it is better to use internal shoppers than none at all. Though whenever possible, it is best to use external auditors with the training, expertise and ability to stay out of any campus politics to ensure valid results.

Perhaps, rather than shoppers which is seen by some on campus as deceitful, the school can hire people to observe offices and operations. The observers can see how long people are kept waiting to get help. Can see how the interactions go and can talk to some of the customers as they leave the area to see if their questions and issues were resolved. Unless the observations are being used to develop criteria, the school should develop, communicate and train to some standards for service such as “a customer should be recognized within x seconds of entering an office”: the customer should be waited in within x seconds of being recognized” The customer should be greeted with a warm welcome”; “have his/her problem solved before leaving the office” and so on. These should be standardized for every office.

Emails and phone calls can be observed and tested the same way. “How many rings before being answered?” “Emails returned within x minutes or hours”. "Voicemails responded to by the end of the day”. And so on.

Another way to test and monitor customer service on campus is through surveys. These are done but some schools but are often not done well or are rendered pointless due to the committee structures that precede agreement on the tool. There are some are simple tools and some very complicated tools but we tend to tell schools to go with the simpler ones. We tend to recommend a modified open ended quality dimensions approach which asks just five questions.

1)     If you could change one thing today to make being a student better at the school what would it be?
2)     What office or area on campus has given you the best service?
3)     Why do you say this and can you give an example?
4)     What office or area on campus has given you the best service?
5)     Why do you say this and can you give an example?
We also suggest that you ask the survey completers to just identify themselves by group on campus (student, employee), academic major for students or major work groups (staff, administrator, faculty) how long they have been at the school, and male or female.

The responses to these five questions will keep whoever is analyzing the results busy for quite some time. The results need to be clustered around common quality indicators to be made into useful tools for moving forward. Then resorted to further redact the results for better targeting.

We recommend that the top five issues that could be changed to make life better be communicated to everyone along with how these will be resolved to improve customer service on campus. The communication should also say how the issues will be resolved and provide a target date.  That shows responsiveness which says the administration, training office or whomever is running the survey has actually read them and will be guided by them. This provides validity to the surveys and says someone is actually listening.

The results on the best providers and the worst need to then be used to develop some training sessions for employees. The best groups could get some kudos from the president or even the Board of Trustees but needs to be done in a way that is quite noticeable to tell a tale to everyone about the value of customer service on campus.

The results of the worst groups on campus will not just identify the weaker players but will generate clusters of bad behaviors that everyone can be trained on to replace the bad with good behaviors. They will indicate some of the quality indicators your customers use to identify what they do not want nor accept. You can then design the product to remove them while incorporating in some of the good behaviors.


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.
We increase your success

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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 with Neal's help by 3% but with the help of Dr. Raisman, we increased it by 5%
Rachel Albert, Provost, University of Maine-Fort Kent

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Creating a Campus Culture of Customer Service

Building a campus culture of service requires a focused approach. It is not something that can just be put in place with a memo. It requires a cultural shift and action on the part of the college. There are three steps to start building a service culture that will improve customer service, retention, completion and success at the institution.

First analyze every point of academic customer service that already exists. What do you do to provide customer service to students? And to what groups of students do you provide the services? Interestingly enough you will find that your services are a diminishing return system that starts with providing the most services for freshman with perhaps transfer students in second place. That is you give these groups the most attention.

The first year of college has a concentrated grouping of activities and service in the first term or semester because we still believe that retention is the number represented by the percentage of students that stay from first to second semester and then from freshman to sophomore year. Interestingly enough if a school compared that percentage, often in the seventy percent range and up to the final graduation percentages the college would realize that the freshman to sophomore year numbers are poor indicators of a real retention number. The reality is in fact, students are leaving in large number in the sophomore year and even in the junior, senior and super senior years. That is the diminishing return. The retention to completion numbers decline from the freshman year as do the services that are provided.

An example, a university we did a customer service audit for had really great numbers for retention from the first to second year. They had an annual average retention rate in the high 80% range each year. They were able to develop activities that bonded the freshman as a class that saw itself as needing to stay together to survive the year. It was in fact a military-based university which put the freshman class through a rigorous training program and provided a lot of attention and focus. The class was divided up into battalions that needed to support one another to make it through the training and hazing (which was not officially sanctioned but nonetheless occurred). They did together went together, ate together and were put through all sorts of physical and mental tests together In addition to being made to act together, the university focused services such as advising and leadership upon the freshman class and its battalions.  They even had special hours to register for courses that were theirs alone.

But the freshman training period ended at the tail end of the freshman year and the battalions were broken up into new formations. But they still had really strong numbers for freshman to sophomore year retention. Sophomore year came and the cohesion that the freshman year experience created was lost. The students were now grouped by major and had less to do than in the freshman year. The services that were provided through the various offices and the cadet leadership were gone. They were as one student said “cut loose and nobody seemed to care anymore.” And that feeling of being cut loose led to a feeling of being separated from the school. They were no longer provided extra services as many schools do during the freshman year experience programs. Tinkerbell had flown. They were just “college students” now and had to fend for themselves in the wild of the campus where many of the services were directed to the new freshman.

That led to a feeling of being adrift, alone and no longer important enough to get the services they once had.. They lost the bonds that had joined them to the school. Even the pizza parties were for the freshman and potential students; not for them anymore. They no longer felt a full part of the school as the services the once had now felt gone.  And the school had no idea that they had focused so much on the one class and left three others adrift after smothering the first year class with services from extra help at registration to even being dressed down by a corps cadet officer for not having every aspect of the uniform correct. The feeling expanded by the way as the students felt that the corps, the military unit and life had been taken away and they were now just “students”.

The result of the services being focused so strongly in the freshman year? Good year to year retention but the sophomore bubble really popped in the first semester sophomore year and the school lost large numbers of sophomores. The juniors, seniors and super seniors until dropped out until their graduation rate was close to 50% in six year for a cohort. From the freshman/sophomore year to graduation they lost almost 40% of their enrollment.

Those who stayed said that they did so simply because it would get them to the position they wanted in the military or a military-related work position. They judged that though they did not feel all that connected to the school it was worth it finally. But they did not express a string alliance with the school as shown also by a 13% alumni donation rate with most of that from alumni who graduated well in the last. Alumni give rate is a great indicator of how well the school provided services that tie the students to the school.

In this case, and in many other school that focus heavily in a freshman year experience create their own problems when freshman year ends and the extra services provided are “taken away” as another student at a university with a strong freshman year program said.

A review of all the services provided at a school would disclose whether or not an institution is creating a situation in which students feel they lose something once out of freshman year. That the services are too finely focused on one group of students.

Wouldn’t it be nice and actually quite fulfilling in terms of mission and completion rates which translate into more revenue if everyone received extra services to help them realize the college cares while bonding the students more firmly into the school? Take the example of athletes at a college who get a range of special services including course sections and times to assure they can make training and practice schedules. It is not a surprising situation when it is seen that athletes in total often graduate at much higher numbers overall than the rest of the school population. As an example, one division 3 school I am aware of had an athletic graduation rate of 94% while the rest of the population graduated at a 64% rate. Why? One reason was that had so many services focused on them all the way through to graduation to help them stay in school and perform on the field.

So maybe we should treat all students as if they were freshman or athletes.  I would even bet it would pay off in increased alumni donations since there would be more alumni and more alumni who had a good experience at the college.

The place to start creating a college in which all students get the services they deserve and pay for is an audit of the services. Review all the services at the school and to whom they are provided. A college cannot strengthen it services to students until it knows what they are. Here is a link (CLICK HERE) to how to perform a service audit to learn what services the college or university does provide.

If this piece had value for you, you will want to get a copy of The Power of Retention by clicking here NOW