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
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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

“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