Thursday, December 20, 2012

Its not Size or Prestige that Count in Customer Service

I am continually amazed when I stay in hotels to find that some of the less expensive hotels provide the most customer service. I’m not referring in this case to the Intercontinental Hotel chain which is renowned for its customer service but comparing larger more expensive hotels to say the Hampton Inn where I often stay.

If one stays in a more expensive hotel you end up paying quite often for parking, Internet access and breakfast. The less expensive Hampton Inn provides all of these amenities at no extra charge in most all of its locations except some cities way you may end down paying for parking. Granted, the little amenities such as shampoo may not be quite as exotic but they are there. Interestingly enough I have stated enough hotels in my work to see that hotels such as the Hampton Inn also provide a very comfortable bed were as some of the more expensive hotels I stayed at had beds that were like rocks. Moreover at the smaller and often less expensive hotels I find that people go out of their way to greet you and ask how your stay was. Moreover, they provide a free hot breakfast and wireless; something that more expensive hotels do do not.

I find too often that staying in fancier, more expensive hotels is a less personal experience than staying in a smaller one. It almost seems as if some of the larger or posh hotels have an attitude which seems to be saying that you’re very fortunate to be able to be staying here. In some ways that is like to many expensive name brand colleges and universities.

This is not a testimonial for the Hampton Inn but a way of leading into a discussion that centers on the fact that you do not have to be a large expensive institution to be able to provide great customer service. In fact what we have found in our work is that often the larger institutions have such a high opinion of themselves that they provide pretty poor customer service. Moreover, smaller colleges and universities can outdo the larger more expensive ones every time when it comes to customer service if they but think about it a little more.

One of the things that I enjoyed quite a bit at the smaller hotels for example is the personalized service that I am able to get. The people at the front desk stand to be less pretentious and more interested in trying to make your stay one that will bring you back. They after all want return business. They want to retain their clients. So they take the extra step to make certain that everyone in the hotel goes out of his or her way to treat their customers well.

I am always impressed when I walk through the lobby and someone at the front desks immediately recognizes me going by and asked me how my day is going. You make they come easily impressed but this is the right type of customer service that clients want. They want to be made to feel important. This is the same type of customer service that students want. They want to feel important.

Student should be recognized and greeted every time they pass a desk or an employee of the institution. They should be given a sincere smile and asked how things are going. This is just like the type of service one expects and wants from a hotel or for that matter most every business. Larger institutions don’t do this. They seem to have an attitude that you’re lucky to be here so we don’t have to treat you nicely. But you can make your institution your college or university seem like a good hotel and make sure that all of your customers are made to feel important and special.

It is not a matter of money but of concern for the customer that counts. It is not the prestige of the college or university but the desire to treat its students as welcome members of it. Every school can do it and yours certainly should.

Happy Holiday to all!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Customer Service and Administrators

Somehow, administrators think that customer service is like taxes – something for others but not me. “Sure we need more of it but I don’t think I should have to be the one to have give up any of my time or concern. Customer service, that’s for those who earn less than $250,000 a year.” (Yes I know most administrators do not earn $250,000 a year but the image helps make my analogy work a bit more.) And the more the administrator makes the less he or she thinks customer service training is something needed. “Customer service is something needed by those who work directly with students and…..” Uh, anyone see a flaw in that reasoning?

Yet that sort of logic (illogic) is at play in almost every college or university we work with to improve retention through academic customer service. Training is needed by so-called front line people not those who manage or supervise them and everyone else.  Too many administrators do not see themselves, and probably aren’t, working with and making direct contact with students on a daily basis. They hide out in their offices and go to meetings to talk about what needs to be done for and to the students without really identifying with their primary customers.

Oh sure, part of the reason is that the administrators do not see students as their primary customers. For example, presidents see the faculty and trustees as the most important customers in the old academic caste system. Faculty and trustees were classes to please and keep holy.  That is a system that was also thought to guarantee the president’s position and job but often backfired when the budget started into the red zone. Faculty empowered by their attention started to fight change.  And in today’s university and college are not merely go into the red zone, they are bleeding red everywhere.

Presidents, boards and administrators need to embrace two things: 1) the new caste approach and 2) their role in customer service. To survive in the new world in which students go to the head of the caste, administrators need to realize that the old college order is ending a new one is being born – one in which students and their success are number one in maintaining stability and revenue. Certainly grants will bring in some large revenue sources as one time money that will come and then disappear leaving more costs behind in their wake to maintain what the grant originally set up. Moreover, grants do not normally go to the general fund to run the school.

What does go to general fund? Tuition and fees. And where do tuition and fees come from – students. I have left out public support since that is not a reliable revenue source and with the pledges to cut state and national costs, it looks like most every college or university will sooner than later be running as if it were a private institution – living or drying up on tuition, fees and endowments.

That means that students will start to return to their position as important people on campus as they are on many private schools and some privates. This also means that the administration will need to make direct contact with students on a regular basis to make sure that their decisions will have positive impacts on the most important customer base – students. This is not to say that some of the more successful college administrators do not already do that. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University, for instance gets out among the students every day and even some nights. They know him and his presence says they count. Enrollment and retention are up at OSU.

So administrators who see academic customer service as something for others but not for them are wrong and actually have always been wrong. Customer service is not something for one group of people to do, it is a philosophy, an approach to success and a core aspect of institutional culture if it is to work – really work.

Consider that the president’s primary job is to represent, to embody a sense of the institution.  He or she is the symbol of the school that everyone looks to as if he or she were the school. When the public wants to hear from the school, they go to the president for example. The day-to-day work is really not done by the president. It is done by everyone else from the provost, vice presidents and on up to the clerical staff.  That is why the president can go off campus so often and the place still keeps running just as well (and sometimes better) than when he or she were holed up in and office or meeting. As an ex-president I can say now (but not when I was presidenting)  that the least important position to getting the work of the university done is the president.  Except in setting the tone and character of the campus culture and direction.

That setting the tone is a big job though. It is in fact, the most important one when it comes to focusing the institution. And since student success is what the campus is all about in the eyes of the public as well as most importantly in the mind and heart of the bill payers – students – it should be the primary role of the president to set a tone that focuses on students and their success. That be in keeping with any mission statement that exists, (I mean whose mission statement does not have some self-serving clause about students are our business, our only business except for….)

Moreover, since the president will be blamed for fiscal problems, it should be the role of the president to do inculcate a focus on what can increase revenue.  And what is the primary source of consistent, reliable  revenue – tuition and fees.  And these come from what? Students.

So administrators should be all about students and student success at the school. Why success? Because the churn and burn approach of front loading tuition does not work. Front loading? Looking at new or starting enrollment and planning on a large attrition loss rather than focusing on retention. Most schools plan to lose thousand, hundreds of thousand even millions of revenue dollars in attrition and think that’s okay because they planned for it. They build student and institutional failure into the budget. That is simply dumb and even worse, unnecessary.

If the school focused on student success which has academic customer service at its core, it could and would succeed in keeping as much as 84% of the lost attrition revenue. If the president and administrators saw academic customer service as their job too and obtained some training and understanding of it, they could and would do their jobs much better. And the school would benefit as well.

As a starting point for administrators, here are ten rules for university and college administrators to follow as they hopefully begin to embrace and become a champion for academic customer service. (If you are not an administrator, pass this on to one who is.)

Customer Service Rules for Managers

Rule 1
Students are our primary customers
Rule 2
Our colleagues are our customers too
Rule 3
Take care of our customers
Our customers’ needs must come before our own or we will lose customers. Always have time for customers!
Rule 4
If an employee deserves praise, praise her
If an employee does not deserve praise, retrain him
Rule 5
Annual reviews are too late and have limited value
Conduct informal reviews at least once a month and
Listen twice as much as you talk
Rule 6
Say thank you to each employee at least once a day
Rule 7
Celebrate small victories
Celebrate big victories big
Rule 8
Remember that your colleagues have lives outside of work
You do too
Rule 9
If the phone is ringing and everyone is busy, answer it
No work is below you
Rule 10

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
by clicking here

N.Raisman & Associates is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through research training and customer service solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them
We increase your success

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

“We had hoped we’d improve our retention and with the help of Dr. Raisman, we increased it by 5%. Rachel Albert, Provost, University of Maine-Farmington

“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

“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, Canada

Friday, November 30, 2012

Backroom Professionals are Customer Service Providers Too

Woman taking notesAn area of academic customer service that is too little commented upon has to be backroom operations. Customer service almost always focuses on the front line people. These are the ones who are most obvious since they have direct interaction with customers and clients, or so it would appear. They're the ones who welcome the customers, who are directly serving the customers face-to-face and thus get the most attention. It is wrong however to not recognize and think about the amount of customer service that is done behind the scenes.

It is clear that without the assistance and support of the people in the backroom operations, a great deal of front line customer service would not necessarily take place. Just think about all the work that is done by financial aid packagers who are never seen by students. They do most all of the work that provides financial aid services to the customers. They are the ones really doing the customer service. If they did not process all of the information that was collected there would be no real financially customer service,.

Or consider the people who run transcripts for students in a registrar's office. Granted the front-line people receive the request if it's not done online but the service would not take place if the back room service providers did not process the request and print and stamp the transcripts. It certainly can be argued perhaps that this service should be completely automated and is at some institutions. But at most schools it is the people in the back room who generate the actual transcripts to meet the needs and expectations of the students.

The people who work in the back room operations deserve a great deal of credit, recognition and praise. When they do the job properly and accurately they deserve our thanks for doing so. Unfortunately as we do customer service campus audits we hear too often from students that many of the people who work in the back room not accomplish tasks as rapidly as is necessary and often without the accuracy that is required.

Why is that? One of the reasons may be that expectations are higher than can be provided. Students are used to things being provided to them immediately online and thus assume when they send in a request online, it will be processed within an hour. This simply is not the way things actually work in a university. Perhaps it should be the way things work but it just simply isn't. We may use computers but cling to time intensive ways of producing materials too often. That slows down processing in the backroom operations and can make them appear less than responsive.

Perhaps a lot of the routine tasks that are done by individuals should be automated and therefore become able to be accomplished quickly enough to meet student expectations such as printing transcripts by computer. It should be an easy enough task to program a computer to be able to take a student record, turn it into a transcript and have it printed with the school watermark over it. But again this is not the way things are usually done in most institutions. Usually a request is received.  It is given to an individual to check the record and then create a transcript. That transcript is then printed out and hand stamped or embossed. It is done this way because people do not recognize that those who are doing the work could be doing more important work that is done in backroom operations.

I believe one of the reasons backroom operations may not work as well as they could is that they are not given the attention or importance they deserve as customer service providers. The people who work in the back rooms are not fully enough recognized for what they do get done and the important work they do. In fact quite often people are working in backroom operations because supervisors don't know where else to put them after they have not achieved well in other positions. I often hear the comment that we put so-and-so into the backroom operations because she just couldn't get along well with others or could not get her work done well. This is not a good reason for putting someone into the backroom operations. Nor does it recognize the important work that is done by the people who are working in processing. In fact it tends to denigrate the good and hard work that they do by assuming it can be done by anyone even if that person is a weak employee.

The fact is that backroom operations are often very technical and demanding and the people who work in them are professionals who if they are appropriately placed and hired can do their job extremely well. Yet we simply do not recognize the value of these people and the service that they provide students enough. That is a major reason why people in the backroom operations may not succeed as well as they could. They simply are not given the importance and value they deserve and can be made to feel under-valued.

Just think about the last few times your institution handed out an employee of the year award. Who did it go to? More than likely someone who worked in the frontline and was recognized by others who work on the frontline. Seldom does anyone get a reward or recognition of great processing of financial aid packages yet these are so essential not only to the students but to the success of the institution. Yet the people who do the hard work of financial aid packaging are seldom recognized. They are most often the lowest paid individuals within as well.

It is time for us to realize that backroom operations are an essential part of customer service, of meeting the expectations and needs of our students. It is also time for us to recognize the people who day after day complete their functions without the recognition they deserve. They perform extremely valuable service to our primary customers as well as all of the other front line customers who depend on them to provide the paperwork and information they need to be able to serve students on a face-to-face basis.

Managers and supervisors should make sure that they go and thank each and every one of the back room people for the service they provide. Colleges and universities should also do something more formal to recognize those who work to complete all the forms and reports required to keep the institution going but do not get the recognition they deserve because they're not frontline service providers. We need to recognize that these are very important customer service providers and we should start doing that now.

 The author of the above article is Dr. Neal A. Raisman the leading researcher, consultant and presenter on academic customer service. His firm NRaisman & Associates 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 400 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. Get your copy NOW

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Preparing Students for Work is Good Customer Service

Though it may be disappointing to some to read the following, the truth is that students don't go to college to learn. They go to gain the credentials they need to get a job and earn money. Learning is something that just takes place during the process of gaining the credentials. Proof of this can be seen in the fact that we have required courses. They are required because if we did not require them students wouldn't take them. These are courses that we feel are so important to the base competencies of our graduates that we make students enroll in them. Further evidence can be seen in the fact that we set up curriculum require students to take specific courses in order to be able to complete a major or a minor. We do this to make certain that students get the courses that they need to be able to succeed in a job that relates to the major. We may say that we are not going to be cognizant of the fact that students are going to be seeking jobs, but we really know better.

Further evidence can be seen in the 2012 National Survey of Student Engagement which states the following.

Job opportunities were among the top factors that influenced students’ choice of major. For example, a majority of seniors (55%–59%) said “ability to find a job” or “career mobility or advancement” had a substantial influence on choosing their major”. 

The National Survey of Student Engagement cites this as a major finding though I am surprised that this was a revelation to them at all. Consider that the annual CIRP survey of student attitudes has consistently found that getting a job to be able to live a better life has always been a major reason students attending college. Are all you need to do just ask the student why you she is going to college. They will tell you. To get a job, started a career.

Once we realize that student attend college to get a job, one of the customer services that we need to provide them is teaching them how to become an employee. Now this may strike many as heresy. The idea that part of our role is to teach students how to become good employees would be a antithetical to what many of us see as the role of higher education. And perhaps it is if we look past student needs and expectations and just focus on our own concepts of the world. But then again we went to college to get a job. That job is to be a faculty member in a college or a university. We did the exact same thing that students do now. So it should not surprise us role and take classes in order to get a job. 
Realizing that makes it clear that one of the things we need to do is to recognize what drive students to attend a university and build on that as part of the service that we provide to our student. They are coming to us to get a job, we need to teach them how to do that as we do in the classes but we also need to teach them how to become successful on the job.

Simply put we need to teach them how to become successful in their lives after the University or college and that means teaching them how to be successful in the world of work. Their expectation is that if they take the courses that they need to be able to complete a major that will lead to a job. They further believe that these courses will prepare them to be successful in their work. Implicit in that expectation is yet a further one that we will do what we need to do to prepare them to be successful and that includes beyond the specific study they do for tests quizzes and papers to prove they have learned the material. When they end we do not think about is that being successful will work means more than just being capable and competent in the specific area that you have prepared in. It means learning to be a good important. It means learning how to act in the workplace.

Whether we want to accept it and not one of the things that we must do is teach them how to become good employees. This by the way is also going to be a very helpful service to us because it is also going to transform many of our classrooms into ones that we find more acceptable and easier to teach in. Just as the rules and traditions of the workplace make it more conducive to success for all, appropriate rules, regulations, behaviors in the classroom will make work in the classroom more effective and even more pleasant. What we need to do is to put forward how we want them to behave in the classroom and that means controlling classroom decorum. Not only will this make the classroom a better place to teach it will prepare them better for the world outside of the classroom as well. Simply put we must demand that they act as if this work in the classroom in the university is the job that they have now to get them ready for the career that they will have in the future. We must maintain the to: that we want to see in our classrooms order to serve the students appropriately for their future.

For example, one of the complaints our students’ future employees have for new hires is that they don't know how to show up to work on time and sometimes not at all. We are certainly partially to blame for that attitude because too many of us do not require that students show up on time and attend all of our classes. Too many faculty allow students to come into the class late with no penalty for doing so. Believe it or not this begins teach students it's okay not to show up on time. Not only does a student coming into class late interrupt the class and disrupt what has been going on in it, it has consequences for the individual student as well. He or she has missed the material that had already been taught prior to his arrival.

If a student were to show up to work late that could very well have consequences. If a student were to be habitually late he or she will not lose a letter grade on the job, he or she will lose the job. It is simply good customer service to make students show up to class on time in order to learn how to become a good employee in the future. It is bad customer service to allow a student to engage in precarious behavior that could lead that student into problems on the job. Just as we will not pass a student who does not know the material well enough to be able to do it on the job we should not allow a student behaviors that are inappropriate to the workplace.

For some bizarre reason, faculty also allow students to not show up to class at all with no penalty. Attendance seems to be a hit or miss situation depending upon whether or not faculty believes that what he or she has to teach us is of value. If a faculty member believes that he or she really doesn't have that much to offer a student in the classroom then he can allow students to miss class. The student will not be missing much under that situation. When a faculty member believes that he or she actually has something to tribute to the student that faculty member should require students to attend all classes unless there is a valid reason to count that as an excused absence.

I have written about attendance before but let me focus on how this is teaching students bad workplace behavior. If an employee doesn't show up to work he or she will lose that job. Consider that showing up to your class is the job the student has at this moment. If he doesn't show up he should be penalized. Not do so is to teach them and acceptance of a negative behavior that can limit their success in the work place.

Another example is allowing the student to take a phone call in class. Faculty members can plain to me that students take on make phone calls during class. My question is who's fault is that? If a faculty member does one students to take personal phone calls or make calls in class that faculty member is the one who should set the do not allow do so in fact students simply should not be allowed to make any phone calls or take any phone calls once a class has begun. Not only is this teaching them bad behavior in the classroom, this is teaching them bad behavior that could cause them repercussions later at work. Personal calls are generally not allowed in most work situations. They certainly are not allowed if employees are at a meeting which is what a class is anyhow. A class is a meeting of faculty member and students to do the work of the day. To break away from work or a meeting to answer personal phone call would get an employee in trouble yet spme do not do anything to teach them that taking phone calls during their work, their work in the classroom in this case, is not allowed.

Most every workplace has rules that the employees are to follow. Some of those rules we would not enforce in most colleges and universities such as dress codes. We would not and probably could not require students to dress in a particular way such as jackets and ties for men in business attire for women as would be required either by written rules or by the folkways of the workplace. But as I have argued elsewhere we should be the ones to set the standards by the way that we dress. We should be dressed as if we are at work in the standard business workplace. I realize that would cause some real discomfort for some faculty who believe that a T-shirt and jeans are appropriate for teaching students. They can be appropriate for teaching students material of the course but they are not going to be teaching them what they need to know about the workplace they are going to enter.

We need to get students to understand that attending class is their job at this time. Yes they are paying to do so but this is the work that they are engaged in and they must follow rules that we set for them. They should be set out carefully, completely, and clearly in the syllabus. The syllabus is a contract between the institution, the particular class and the student. If in the syllabus you set down your specific rules of decorum in the classroom then the student has to follow them as long as you are really willing to enforce them. For example student should be required to attend every class that you teach. This should be spelled out in the syllabus. Attendance rules should not be necessary of course if the institution were intelligent enough to have an across-the-board attendance policy which requires students to attend their classes. Not only would this teach students how to become successful and in their future work, it would also increase retention at the institution. If you don't want students to search the web in the classroom put that in the syllabus and also put the penalty in the syllabus. The syllabus should have all of the aspects of decorum that you expect in the current workplace, the classroom.

We need to accept that one of our roles is to prepare students to succeed in work. Good customer service is not just making the client feel good but doing what is necessary to prepare that client to succeed in the future. To do otherwise is to short change the customer. To not do so would be as a doctor who finds that a patient has a very serious illness but decides not to tell her that because it would upset her. Our students have an illness in their lack of preparation to do well in the world outside of college, the world of work. It is our obligation to serve our students fully by making them to conform to rules, regulations and decorum. This will prepare them to succeed once they leave college. Keep in mind that good customer service does not mean always making the customer happy, but making certain that we need all of their needs and expectations. To do less is to cheat students of good customer service.

UMass Dartmouth invited Dr. Neal Raisman to campus to present on "Service Excellence in Higher Ed"  as a catalyst event used to kick off a service excellence program.  Dr. Raisman presents a very powerful but simple message about the impact that customer service can have on retention and the overall success of the university.  Participants embraced his philosophy as was noted with heads nods and hallway conversations after the session.  Not only did he have data to back up what he was saying, but Dr. Raisman spoke of specific examples based on his own personal experience working at a college as  Dean and President.  Our Leadership Team welcomed the "8 Rules of Customer Service", showing their eagerness to go to the next step in rolling Raisman's message out.  We could not have been more pleased with his eye-opening presentation. Sheila Whitaker UMass-Dartmouth

The University of Toledo was able to really get its customer excellence focused after Dr. Raisman and his team performed a full campus service excellence audit of the University. Dr. Raisman’s team came on campus for a week and identified every area we could improve and where we are doing well. The extensive and detailed report will form a blueprint for greater customer service excellence at the University that will make us an even better place for students to attend, study and succeed. Thank you, Dr. Raisman, for doing a great job. We unreservedly recommend his customer service audits to any school looking to improve customer service, retention and graduation rates.    Iaon Duca, University of Toledo
The report generated from the full campus customer service audit that N.Raisman & Associates did for our college provided information from an external reviewer that raised awareness toward customer service and front end processes.  From this audit and report, Broward College has included in its strategic plan strategies that include process mapping.  Since financial aid was designed as the department with the most customer service challenges that department has undergone process mapping related to how these process serve or do not serve students optimally.  It has been transformational and has prompted a process remap of how aid is processed for new and continuing students.                            Angelia Millender, Broward College (FL)

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