Monday, January 24, 2011

Creating Customer Service Systems and Knocking Down Silos

Good customer service can be thought of as wrapped up in little, isolated events. Someone answering the phone within three rings and pleasantly saying “hello my name is. How may I help you?”; to a faculty member seeing that a student is struggling and approaching him to offer help; or an administrator who is tied up but gets a student’s name, issue and a good time to call. These and more small actions make up an overall experience that adds up to customer service.

But these all take place within larger contexts; within systems. Even in higher education with all its silos. In fact, the fuller customer service experience is sort of a system of silos that have to interact with one another to provide actions, assistance and thus customer services. Silos that i
nteract? A unique idea but then again academia is a unique environment.

As some of you know I have likened academic silos to castles that wall off offices and activities and try hard to keep students and others who are not part of their castle keep out. But to accomplish tasks, they often have to let down the drawbridge and let some information and actions from other castles cross over them. But as a result of the fortress attitude in offices, people from another castle do not know the people in the other nor are they often familiar with their culture, customs and ways of doing business. This leads to some quite poor service for students who get caught up in the lack of knowledge.

What needs to happen is for each office to recognize the interactions and design ways to connect with one another to help students succeed. This will not necessarily occur spontaneously nor without some pushing external to the castles. Someone, some people or some processes will need to accept the job of forcing offices to work together. And forcing is not a term I use without recognizing that some coercion may well be needed to make the offices work more together in a systematic approach to help improve customer service.

Three Ways to Break Down Castles and Improve Customer Service

Force Cross Training
Offices should all know what one another does to help stop the shuffle from occurring. That’s when a student is sent from office to office trying to get a solution to a problem.  Moreover offices should be able to help one another. To accomplish that they need to be not just familiar with but be able to work in one another’s office as well. This is also a particularly good thing to be able to have done since one office seems to get a rush of people needing assistance while others are relatively quiet or even very quiet. If people know what one another offices does, they can help their colleagues out in the rush times.

To have this happen, someone has to decide that cross training will take place. Someone has to make offices learn what the others do and at times even who some of the people are in another office.  The results will be very beneficial to all – students and the staff  themselves who are cross trained. But again, someone has to make it happen and that calls for a show of will which some administrators are not always comfortable with.

Creating and Sharing FAQS
Have every office keep track of the top ten issues each week that come up from the customers. Write them down and the turn them into FAQs for the students and even more importantly for other offices. Have the offices meet together to go over the FAQs to see if there are repetitions that need to be put into a general all office FAQ. This will cause the offices to work together on the issue and breed some familiarity. It will also generate the FAQs which can be used by the students and the offices.

As the offices share and go over their FAQs people from other offices will learn what the top issues are and the solutions are as well. That way they will have some information to be able to guide students to the right office at the least. They also may have enough information to be able to respond and resolve the issue at the original office rather than sending the students off to yet again another office.

Creating Issue/Functional Flow Charts
The most successful way I have found to getting offices to work together is to have them work together. Don’t mean to sound simple but it really can be if you choose the right project.

Issue flow, or functional charts look at the individual steps needed to take a student from point A the issue to point… the fullest solution.  It may not be the student who is actually moving along the flow. It may just be the steps or system used to process a student’s issue or need to completion. For example, if a flow chart were to be created to follow a student in an add/drop. It would involve at least three departments if not more to fully chart the full system and all the offices that could be touched. This is a particularly good topic to start with because it is not only a problem issue for students who think that not showing up to a class ever again is dropping it…it is also an eye opener because of all the stops along the way to completion.

The system starts with a student deciding to drop a course. Then there are the forms. They need to go to the registrar/records office with a possible stop at an advisor’s office first depending on the school and its process. This needs to go into the MIS system. Then the student or the decision have to move to the business office to have the course credits removed from any billing. The decision also needs to go to the financial aid office if the drop in credits changed the student’s full time status. If the status is altered and that causes the student’s financial aid to be changed, the business office needs to be notified as well. The drop needs to also be reported to the academic office so the faculty member can be notified. The student’s advisor needs to be notified so the advisor can contact the student and make sure the program he is enrolled in is not negatively impacted and if needed another course can be substituted. If a course is substituted, the registrar needs to be notified as well as the business office at the least. And all along the way, at some point the student needs to be notified not by individual notifications but in a single summary.

This could all be put together with all the circles and lines of a flow chart to demonstrate how it all works together and how each office needs to work together to do something as apparently simple as an add/drop. It can also be done as simple list, venn diagrams or anyway anyone chooses. The most important aspect is not the chart itself but the process of making the functional flow itself. Getting people together to explore how they work together; how and what they do to accomplish their duties; and how one office does and needs to interact with another. That’s the real work that can break down the castle walls and make the drawbridges contact pathway between and into one another office.

My PhotoIf you found this article had some merit, you may want to read more about how to break down silos and provide great customer service in the best selling book The Power of Retention: More Customer service in Higher Education by this article's author, Neal Raisman.

Order a copy through the Administrators Bookshelf NOW
Have Dr. Raisman come to help your college. Inquire here now.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Profit Sharing in Higher Education

Colleges should really consider using some motivational solutions from outside of academe to help out while financial challenges hit home. One such solution that has worked well in many business is profit sharing. Profit sharing in higher education? That’s a crazy idea. First we are not businesses. We don’t try to produce a profit. Profits are for proprietary schools with stock holders. Our stock holders are students and the public. And two, even if we did, there have not been any profits in a  long time. Deficits we have. Profits…no.

First, colleges can and do create profits. We just don’t call them that. Our fund accounting approach to budgeting has us call profits  fund balances or surpluses. There are times when at the end of the year there is unspent money that has not been encumbered. That extra money is a surplus in the budget. The surplus money goes into a rainy day fund for future use, If we were for-profit that surplus would be called profit and we would either take it or share it with stakeholders through dividends, payments or bonuses. In fact, a major difference between a good not-for-profit school and a for-profit school is their accounting systems. Fund balance for not profit. Cash accrual for for profits. Other than that, a good school is a good school. A bad one bad whether for profit or not.

So my suggestion is that colleges set retention and thus fiscal profit objectives above what is planned fore in the budget and then share the profit. If for example the college sets its revenue and expenditures at $10,000,000 for the year. This is the money that the school officially and actually plans to take in and then spend. If it hits the revenue goals then it will hit the expenditure goals and voila, no profit.  This is the usual budgeting process.

But what if Mammon University then said any revenues we receive above $10,000,000 will be shared with the entire college’s almost 300 full and part-time faculty, staff and administrators. That would probably make some people very happy including then folks I met recently who said they are teaching 18, 21 and even 25 hours to make their own personal financial needs work. Their basic salary just was not cutting it. They realized that Mammon was not able to do much more in the way of raises since there was little money available for them. Tuition was being raised to meet current expenditure demands and external general funds were just falling way short. So any additional pay would have to come from outside of the annual budget since every dollar was accounted for in it.

But where could any additional funds come from.  Mammon could not get more new students to pay tuition. The classes ware filled to capacity right now. There is no more money to hire additional faculty and staff to take care of more new students. Well, what about if the school determines that though it cannot get any more new students it could keep more of those they had. They worked hard to get them,; now they needed to work as hard to keep them.

The budget was formulated with the average attrition percentage of 25%. So the budget expects that during the year, it will lose 50% of its class.  There is a great deal of opportunity there to increase retention and thus profit – revenues above what were set in the budget. All is needed is to keep more students.

With a 25% annual attrition rate, that means that during the year if the enrollment population started at 12,000 for instance, that puts 3,000 students at potential to drop out. That makes 3,000 opportunities to generate revenue in excess of budget.

So let’s say the Mammon agrees that it will share any profit with the college in the following manner. The school will keep 50% of the profit. We will give faculty 30% of profit in equal shares with full time getting 25% of the money and adjuncts sharing 5%. Staff will get 15% of the profits to share and administrators will share 5% of the profits.  There are 90 full time faculty, 72 adjuncts, 80 full time staff and 25 administrators for a total employee population of 195 full-time and 72 adjuncts at Mammon.

For every student that is retained over the budgeted 9,000 considering that most students leave after first semester is over or at least after classes have started and full fall tuition is received, Spring semester revenue is what is available to recoup. Half of the full annual tuition figure. (I’m leaving fees and other revenue generators out in the example.) So each student retained would add at least $6000 to the profit sharing pot with the following values to the school and employees.

A gain in unbudgeted retention would yield
1%  30 students or $180,000
2%  60 students $360,000
3% 90 students $540,000
5% 150 students $900,000 and
10% 300 students and $1,800,000 to share.

At just a 1% gain (Merely 30 students) Mammon would gain $90,000. The 90 full time faculty would share $45,000 or an additional $500 each. Adjuncts would receive $4,500 to share; staff would receive $13,200 and administrators $4,500. All of this would be money above and beyond regular salary and not computed as part of base salary which would make a difference later.

Let’s say Mammon increased retention by 5% (just 60 more students) of the available population. The University would receive $450,000; faculty $225,000; adjuncts $22,500; staff $66,000 and administrators an additional $22,500 to share. If Mammon’s employees really out out an effort to retain even more students and hit ten percent, all the numbers double.

As to grade inflation, well, the grades are already inflated but the University could calculate the average grades in a class and even section over the past five years and use that as a base to detect any inflation.  The whole set-up could include a limitation ion grade inflation to be not a factor by saying all grades need to fall into the patterns from previous years. There could even be penalties for any grade inflation detected.

The scheme provided puts the emphasis on faculty. That is because faculty can figure into decisions to stay or leave more than others. What customer service the  faculty deliver can be the primary factor in a decision to stay or go. Moreover, a school will need faculty buy in so having more to share might help achieve that buy in.

And everyone benefits.

N. Raisman & Associates is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through workshops, presentations, research, training and academic customer service solutions for colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as businesses that work with them 
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Monday, January 10, 2011

Dress for Student Success:It's Customer Service Too

As I walked around a college campus last week, something dawned on me dealing with decorum in the classroom and campus. The students were dressed rather slovenly. That was not the great dawning; just an observation. The epiphany came when I realized that the faculty and much of the staff looked quite much like the students. They were dressed to clean out a garage. Not to fill minds.

Dress is an objective correlative of the college. It is an outward metaphor of the feelings, attitude and even value one should place on the school itself and the professionals (or not) practicing in it. Just like in any profession, the clothes reflect the statement of how much value to place on the professional as well as the correlative statement of how much I value the school and myself.

Take for example a medical doctor. If you were a patient and a man or woman started to come into the examining room dressed in rumbled jeans, a tee shirt and say sneakers, would you think this was the doctor? Would you start to worry a bit that this person might not be a real doctor? Would a doctor be dressed this way? Like a…college student. Or at least not a fully professional physician.  If the doctor came into the room wearing neat jeans or khakis and a polo shirt, maybe we would think “this is a very casual doctor. I hope he isn’t as casual in his approach to his work.” Now if the same doctor came into the examining room in a white lab coat we would know this is the doctor. A professional. In fact, if a non-professional came into the room wearing a lab coat we would assume he or she were the doctor and be wrong. The clothes do, in this case at least, help make the professional.

This is true on campus as well. Clothes say a great deal about whom we are and what we are doing. They tell the viewer a great deal about who we are too. I realize the clothes revolution started with my generation back in the sixties and seventies when we rebelled against conformity and the straight-laced approach to college and dress. We were going to show our students that we did not see ourselves as academic bureaucrats. Prior to this time academic dress had been a tie and jacket for men, a dress or skirt and business-like blouse for women.  When students walked into class dressed in chino’s and shirts or skirts and blouses we all could see the roles being played out. The person dressed as a business-type was in charge and we were dressed appropriately to show respect for the professor.

Then in the sixties and seventies as the country underwent a massive cultural shift, clothing started to relax too. Professors came to class without a tie. Maybe even in slacks and a shirt. The tie had become a sign of conformity with the conservative business world that we evolving into something else. We who taught wanted to show a sense of solidarity, of connectedness with our students so we dressed in a way that would show more of that. More relaxed and student-like. And the classroom began to reflect our dress. It became more relaxed. We didn’t lecture as much as try to engage students in the work.
But I also remember that when I went for job interviews, it was suit or tie and jacket time. Had to look professional for potential colleagues; most of whom also wore the suit and tie for the hiring interviews. This was a professional activity after all. Hiring is important so we dressed appropriately as an administrator since they still wore (and still wear) the suit or tie and jacket if a man; business apparel if a woman. This was to show respect and the seriousness of the process and activity of hiring a colleague. But if we taught the same day we may have worn jeans with jacket and tie but when class started, the tie and jacket came off. Back to what had become teaching garb.

Somehow, teaching had become a less professional presentation. One in which we would dress as did our students. In a manner that did not show a separation between student and professor. One that said we are all equal but I am actually an Orwellian so I am more equal to you. I will dress down but demand that you come up to me.

But dressing down has its problems. It really does not show any solidarity with students as much as perhaps a parity that does not exist. When we dress in certain ways we make statements. Tie and jacket is business; professional. Shirt and slacks – business casual – semi-professional. Khakis and polo shirt – simply causal. Jeans and shirt – relaxed and not professional unless you are a golfer. Jeans and tee shirt very relaxed and fully non-professional.

Clothes also set expectations in the minds of the viewer just as the dress examples of the doctor earlier created expectations or even hesitations. Tie says we are here to do business. That’s why administrators tend to always wear a tie or business clothing. It says I am an administrator and a professional doing the business of the college. Jeans says hanging around the mall and chilling with friends.  Jeans and a tee shirt are not serious wear for most people unless of course they are part of the professional dress of the person. Wearing jeans in class usually says this is an atmosphere like hanging around and not serious.

No wonder there are decorum issues in class. We create some of them by wearing clothes that do not say this is an academic environment. That this is an important place for us to learn and for me to teach. It is a place where you are to pay attention and show some level of respect for the activities in which we are engaged. It is not a place for you to chill, IM, browse, talk or leaver early but to engage; not to text but to pay attention to the text. Our clothes too often telegraph to our students that decorum is mall-level; not academic hall level.

Now I am not saying that everyone dresses this way noir am I saying that a professional cannot hold a class’s attention and maintain decorum by her actions and personality. Not at all. What I am saying is that because too many dress too casually it demands greater effort and exertion to maintain an academic atmosphere and teach. Moreover, the complaints I often hear from academic audiences about how slovenly, inattentive and even rude students are while we are discussing academic customer service are most often our fault. We are in charge of the classroom and must demand appropriate academic decorum or we make our own work harder and usually allow one or two students to cheat 20 or more by behavior that often interrupts the class . And dress adds to the problems.

Nor am I saying that everyone should be wearing a tie and jacket. No. That is not the message here though professional dress is called for in all situations Professional dress? Yes. That is whatever the graduate in that major or program would be wearing when he or she gets a job in the area. For example, if someone is studying in a medical field they already have to dress as future professionals. If someone is going into business then the professor should be dressed as a businessperson and should encourage the students to do likewise. Animal husbandry and management may find that boots and jeans or coveralls might be the appropriate dress. And yes, a shirt and jeans could be appropriate professional dress in computer programming since that is normal dress in a position a graduate might go into.  

What I am suggesting here is that we need to begin providing an important academic customer service to our students through our dress. Part of the service we provide to our customers, a major part too, is preparing them for the world after college. We should be working to make them ready to succeed after they graduate. And some of that is knowing the culture they will be entering and how to behave and, yes, dress in that culture. We cannot forget that we are not just there to pour information and skills into them but to make them adults who can succeed beyond out classrooms.

If we dress appropriate to the profession we are engaged in and the one that they will be entering, we will increase decorum in our classrooms and better prepare our students for success.

If this makes sense to you, you will want to get a copy of The Power of Retention, the best selling book on academic customer service by the author of this article.
Booking customer service audits and workshops now for March-June but dates are filling fast so call 413.219.6939 or

Monday, January 03, 2011

Grading schools on graduation

Grading Schools on Graduation: A study of 1668 Universities and Colleges Graduation, Attrition and Revenue Loses from Attrition

Sixty-eight percent of four-year colleges and universities I studied in the US receive a failing grade on retention and graduation. Sixteen percent would just be scratching by with a grade of D. No wonder we are starting to fall behind other countries in the number of college graduates.  Only 309 colleges and universities receive a passing grade of C and above. Eighty-four percent of our colleges and universities are failing in their job to graduate students. The same eighty-four percent are still getting government aid to such as Pell Grants to stay open and fail. These schools are wasting the dreams and resources of the students they attract as well as the money from the federal government.

If the 1669 colleges and universities in this study were graded as they grade students on an A through F scale with an A equal to a graduation rate of 90% or more; B 80-90%; C 70-80%;D60-70% and any graduation rate under 50% equal to an F the breakdown would be
43 A’s
101 B’s
165 C’s
259 D’s and
1132 F’s.

What strikes as significant is not merely the massive amount of money colleges and universities lose from attrition and the equally horrendous losses of students and families but that schools that graduate an average of less than 40% of entering students can attract new enrollment at all. Moreover, it is hard to understand that four-year colleges and universities that graduate less than 20% of an entering class even over a span of six years can remain at all attractive to potential students and remain in business. Furthermore, federal funds continue to support schools that cannot retain and graduate more than 20% of their students.

In fact, colleges and universities graduating less than 20% of their classes in six-years cost the federal government $803,368,154 for the students who dropped out in 2009-10.1  They cost their students and their families much more financially and in their dreams and goals in life.

Should colleges that cannot retain and graduate less than 20% of their students receive public support at all? Should ones that cannot retain and graduate 30%, receive support? Forty percent?

It may be argued that the students not the schools receive support in the form of Pell Grants for example but if it were not for the certification of these schools to receive federal funds students could not receive the Grants at these schools. They would have to take their money elsewhere – to a college or university that has higher six-year graduation rate. Without federal funds, colleges with failing graduation rates would likely close or have to find ways to fund themselves. These would be private, public and for-profit schools. It is likely that we would all be better off if they did. Millions if not billions of dollars would be saved by the federal government that supported all the schools in the study. Public schools that could not survive could save states much needed money. And for-profits that closed would just penalize stock holders or owners who likely deserve to be penalized for supporting failing schools to make a profit off the system.

Some Immediate Observations
It is interesting to note that of the 43 schools that graduate 90% and more of an entering class, only three are public institutions:
University of Virginia
University of California – Los Angeles and
The College of William and Mary.
The other 40 are all private schools.

Of the top 43 institutions with an average 6-year graduation rate higher than 90%, most are “name brand schools” except for two small unbranded private colleges: Apex School of Theology (NC)  and Sinte Gleska University (SD).

Of the 43 lowest graduation schools, all with a graduation rate less than11%, 20 are private schools, 16 for-profit and 7 public institutions. One is a theologically-oriented school and one a tribal college.

No apparent patterns come out of the study related to explaining attrition such as size of school; public, private or for profit; costs; Carnegie level. What is apparent however is that every school in the study lost significant sums of money from attrition.  This is revenue that could have been captured in part to help during a time of fiscal uncertainty and contraction but was not.

To get a copy of the full report with tables of the 1668 colleges and universities, their graduation, attrition and money lost, just request one at or call me at 413.219.6939 for more details.