Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hospitality and Customer Service in Colleges

A serious misunderstanding that exists on campuses is that customer service is somehow an evil thing. It is not. It is simply a fact of daily life whether it is delivered well or poorly. We provide customer service every day in the classroom, in offices, across the campus and even the campus facilities themselves. These are the services we provide to make sure that the basic needs of students are met. An obvious example is the cafeteria where we actually do serve and provide food services. Even the classroom is also a cafeteria off sorts with a defined menu and set of portions of knowledge that must be presented in an intellectually tasty manner. The major service on a classroom in instruction and that is a service after all.

There is no way around the fact that a college is a collection services though there are certainly ways to do them better.

And these are all required services that must be provided to the customers, our students, in the best way possible. We must make sure that whatever we do we do well. We need to provide them with a strong customer service excellence. Whether that excellence be in an office when a worker stops what he or she is doing to welcome a student and help solve an issue.  Or a faculty member who makes certain that she is the last one out of the classroom so she can check with every student to make sure he understood the lesson for the day and make arrangements to help those that may be a bit confused. Or an administrator who interrupts her work to meet with a student and try and see what he needs to make his stay better and keep him in school through graduation. Or even the all-important maintenance crew that makes certain the campus is neat. Clean and all bathrooms are clean and functions. Everyone on campus is responsible for providing the basic services to our customers, hence – customer services.

These and many more are services we do provide. And we should strive to provide them with excellence. We cannot deny that we have to do them so let’s work at making sure that what we do them our customers are satisfied with the services just as we work hard to  make sure they are happy with then food in the cafeteria. (Or at least should be doing that. Doesn’t always happen we find on an audit of a school’s services.)

So let’s agree that we do provide services and we should strive to make them as excellent as is possible for our students, our clients after all who do have many choices in where to go to spend their educational money nowadays. And one way you can check to see if you are providing good services is just to ask the students.. Or you can hire a professional such as us to audit the services and see what needs to make them better. This is something that should be done since poor service and another word/concept we will be discussing in a later paragraph account for 84% of all attrition on a campus and that means a major revenue loss too.

There are no excuses for weak services. If people cannot provide good service they need to be retrained or moved. We hire the most knowledgeable faculty we can to try and assure that they will be able to provided good educational service in the classroom but again that is only part of what we need to consider.  As discussed in an earlier recent article, it is not just expertise that is key to customer service excellence. It is an attitude that needs to be taken into consideration when hiring.

What we are of the really talking about is academic hospitality. Just as a t a restaurant if the food is great but the service is sloppy, indifferent, even hostile the food is just not going to taste as good. A waiter who just takes orders is not giving good, enthusiastic service. Note how each starts usually be giving his or her name and tries to engage the guest in conversation before the orders are taken if he or she is a good hospitable waiter.  Yes it increases tips but the goal of good customer service and hospitality on campus is to increase retention and graduation rates after all. Why else is the college there?

A great researcher does not always make a great teacher. A fully competent financial person does not always wait on students well in a bursar’s office. An excellent administrator who can get things done does not always work well with students. An advisor who may be one of the few who knows her stuff but does not make hours to meet with students is not being hospitable to them.

It is hospitality on campus that we are often really concerned with. How often do people stop and just talk with students to see how they are doing or feel about the place? Does the school evaluate people to see how hospitable they are to students and helping them? Does the school even have a code of conduct or the sort that states what is expected of each member of the college? Does it say things like “say hello to every student you meet or pass on the campus” and when possible do give a name-get a name to establish closer ties and more hospitable attitudes. Does the campus promote the student as if he or she were some sort of guest that can decide to leave this educational hotel and got to another?

I am not saying coddle students at all. We must demand from them too because that is what they expect if they are to learn and succeed. What I am suggesting is that we need to check to maker sure that all our services are excellent and meet students needed. And be sure our campus is hospitable to our students. Do we make them feel welcome? Do we give them decent parking locations or do we save that for ourselves? Do we make sure that faculty keep office hours when they say they will and make them at times that students can actually come by? (Our audits find that this is often rarely the case). Do administrators have an open door policy to students so they can meet with them and hear the complaints or solve problems.? Are employees trusted to make decisions to help students?

Are students made to feel as if they are really important?
Are they said hello to as they walk across campus?
If they look confused does someone stop to help them out?
Do people I offices treat them as important clients and not just as an imposition?
Are students made to feel as if someone cares about them and their welfare?
Do you ask students how the service has been in an office?
Is there communication in which students are asked how are things going?
Are they made to feel this is a hospitable campus after all that is the goal along with providing excellent services which are what must be done every day?
Is your campus and the people in it warm and welcoming to students?
Are they open to students and their needs?
Do they seek out students who may need help?
Do they act as if the students are guests who can switch academic hotels at any time?
Simply put, is the campus friendly to students and one another?
Are the employees treated with respect and warmth too? They are customers also after all and if they aren’t treated with hospitality they will not pass that on to your students.

It is not just customer service though that is extremely important and must be checked on to make sure it is really happening as you think it may be. Or as customer service rule number 1 says “Make your campus into Cheers University” providing academic hospitality in which “everyone knows your name and everyone’s glad you came.” (If you’d like a copy of the 15 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service, just ask for it at

 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. Neal 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)
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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