Sunday, February 17, 2013

Making Engagement and Retention Work through Customer Service

etention, academic customer service, retention, enrollment, students, attrition, graduation

There are many retention efforts that work and some that do not. Most are almost always consciously based on some academic or intervention approach.
The approaches are often also based on some scholarly research on educational practice. Some may use established methods such as First Year techniques. Others may use a survey tool such as the NSSE to determine their educational engagement with students. Some use research and its results such as the Hierarchy of Student Decisions below. They all use some rational basis for their program or efforts. They may often have good results and that is great.

But after working and talking with thousands of students at colleges, universities, community and career colleges, one thing becomes very clear. The programs that are most successful are not ones that increase the educational, intellectual, academic, or intellectual core of the experience. The approaches that seek to engage students more fully in scholastic or academic experiences such as research may or may not really work. The success depends on something the researchers and implementers too often overlook. 

Retention is primarily an emotional, not intellectual decision

The decision to attend may well have a strong intellectual basis as the Hierarchy shows but the emotional attachment cannot, or should not, be overlooked in how we make choices. The choice to stay or go is an almost primal, just about limbic (fight or flee) response to feelings about and for/from the school. A student will choice to stay or leave depending on how he or she feels about the experience she is sensing. Yes sensing. Not a cognitive process but an emotional one similar to the responses we have to people and especially people we love. Care about. Feel an attachment to. Or hate. Or distrust. Or have hurt us.

Retention is an emotional issue. Not an academic one. The programs that work are ones that make the students feel an attachment to and from the school. The programs that succeed are the ones that emotionally engage the students. That develop a sense in the students that the school really does care about them. A feeling that they are valued. That they can trust the school not to betray them. Not hurt them. Approaches that show concern and desire to really help and get engaged are ones that will work.

For example, an article on the State of Georgia’s 60% graduation rate in six years (150% of time), the following approaches are cited

Georgia State University improved graduation rates by putting an upperclassman in tough classes — a student who has already aced the course — who helps other students. Georgia Gwinnett College requires professors to call students if they miss too many classes. Clayton State will assume more control over what classes students take. Southern Poly plans to improve its advising system. (Atlanta Journal Constitution 5/11/2010)

These approaches all have one thing in common. They reach out to students in a very practical way to say “we care about you. We give a damn. The upperclassman at Georgia State who I assume is there to help is a way of visually and pragmatically showing we are caring enough to bring you someone you can work with. Professors at Georgia Gwinnet are really walking the walk and truly showing concern. Noticing that someone is missing and contacting the student is a sure and strong way of saying “I care.” And let’s face it, professors are the ones that students want to most engaged with and to.

Oh yes, attendance or non-attendance are the canary in the mine for retention by the way. Students who do not attend classes are the most likely to leave the school. So the calls from professors at Gwinnet are very important. If they would call after EVERY missed class, they would increase retention by at least 7% when coupled with a clear and emphatic institutional attendance policy which Gwinnet does not have. Here is its statement on attendance.

The classroom experience is a vital component of the college learning experience. Interaction with instructors and with other students is a necessary component of the learning process. Students are expected to attend regularly and promptly all class meetings and academic appointments. Students who are absent from classes bear the responsibility of notifying their instructors and keeping up with class assignments in conjunction with instructor provisions in the course syllabus. An individual instructor bears the decision as to whether a student’s absence is excused or unexcused and whether work will be permitted to be made up; the decision of the instructor in this case is final. Students who are absent because of participation in college-approved activities (such as field trips and extracurricular events) will be permitted to make up the work missed during their college-approved absences.

Students whose absence exceeds two-thirds of the total class meetings in a semester may be administratively withdrawn from the course by the instructor. This includes excused and unexcused absences. A student administratively withdrawn from a course due to excessive absences may re-enroll for that course in a subsequent semester during which the course is offered.

If the classroom experience is a vital component of the college learning experience, and interaction with instructors and with other students is a necessary component of the learning process why just expect students to show up? Why not insist on it? Breathing is a vital component of the living experience. For the body to not demand that we breathe on a regular, consistent basis is to allow it not to attain something extremely important- living. So if we choose to hold our breath, to stop breathing for a little while the involuntary system demands that we start NOW. It does all it can to get us breathing because it knows that if we are allowed to only breathe a third of the time required to sustain life, we may well drop out – permanently.

The student body should be given the same level of care and concern as the human body. Classroom experience is a vital component of the college learning experience.  Interaction with instructors and with other students is a necessary component of the learning process. So like breathing students should not be allowed to take just two-thirds of the classroom breathing required. Little says we really care about you than making the students take all the breaths they need through a campus-wide attendance policy that does not allow for missed breaths without a good reason and having the Doctor (PhD) follow-up any missed inhalations of knowledge and interaction in the classroom.

Strengthening the Engagement 

I recall my days at the University of Massachusetts in Boston when Dan Wakefield or J Lee Grove would invite students from their classes to their home. That was a very clear sign they cared. Or while at Maine Maritime Academy, my wife and I would have large gatherings of “middies” over for spaghetti dinners. This was like meeting the parents when a couple is serious about one another. Not one of the students in either engagement dropped out of school and UMass-Boston had (and unfortunately still does have) less than a 33% cohort graduation rate.

The suggestion is not necessarily that faculty invite students back to their homes but that would not be such a terrible thing.  One can do as Dr. Gordon Gee, President of the Ohio State University does to show his sincere interest in students. Walk the campus and go where they go. Gee is recognized as one of the country’s best, most outstanding university presidents not just because he raises money and the University’s stature but because he engages students and others on campus every chance he gets as a vital aspect of raising money and stature. Go to a play at OSU; he is there. Go to a sporting event; he is there. Walk campus and suddenly “Gordo”, as the students call him, is there to talk and walk with you. Even at a fraternity party, he’ll often be there if he can. This is engagement. This is a dynamic show of caring. Like a suitor to the students, he wants to be with the people he wants to be engaged with and to.

Gee realizes something that more academics need to understand. Engagement is the surest way to retention. Not that he takes a calculated approach to what he does. He simply loves the job of president and oddly enough students. He seems to realize that the job of the President is not just “herding cats” (faculty, trustees, politicians, the public…) but attending to the needs of the core constituencies of OSU – students. This, I fear, is not a realization shared with enough college and university presidents and administrators who see their job as herding those cats and trying to keep the happy.

But Gee is engaged with and to the students and they love him for it. They will even defend what some have challenged as a more than generous salary because they feel they are also engaged to Gordo and he is the clearest representative of OSU.

This is the same way that two people become engaged with one another with the belief the engagement will lead to marriage. They fall for one another. They do things together. They show they care about one another. And they build trust in one another. In fact trust is uniquely important to the success of the relationship. If that is broken, the engagement either ends or becomes very tenuous.

For higher education, engagement is the continuing process of enrollment.


That process of being affianced, of learning about and with one another culminates in a marriage called graduation. It is at graduation that the wedding takes place. Even a name change takes place as with weddings. From that day forth the graduate will add “graduate of X college or university” to his or her name. And this is a wedding that no legal divorce can break.

But if there is a rift during the engagement process; a sign that one partner (the school) does not really care about me; an indication that the school is indifferent to me or does something to break my trust that it cares about me – the engagement is off. There will be no wedding.

And how does that happen? How do I ignore thee? Let me count the ways…” I don’t care if you miss class. I don’t care to meet with you when you need help from me. I give you bad advising. I send out bill but not much else. I am rude to you when you come to my office or window. Worse, I am indifferent to your need or problem. I shuffle you around the campus until you are turfed back to me. I only schedule required classes once a year and don’t let you know so you have to extend your stay and costs. I don’t answer the phone when you call and surely do not return you voice message. I…I…I… I finally do not show that I care about our engagement or you 76% of the time.

Higher ed retention engagement is a process that continues every day the student is in school. It is a period of courting each student as one would court a fiancé until the wedding ( and hopefully after so they will donate to the annual fund drive). Some schools do such a great job of courting, of stitching in during the enrollment process to increase yield. But most all schools forget that getting a partner to agree to marry you in the future is not necessarily a guarantee that a wedding will take place. They refuse to understand that every day is a decision day. A decision whether to keep the ring or give it back depending on how you treat me and show me if you really care enough for me to finally marry you by graduating from your school.

So just only just over 50% of all engagements succeed in higher education. That means that almost 50% return the ring you offered when you asked them to become engaged to you in admissions and do not come back. And 84% of failed college and student marriages fail because of a poor academic customer service, poor or weak showing that a school cares in the period during the engagement period.

Yes there are some marriages that will take place even if the student is treated as an afterthought. There will always be marriages that take place because of the value of the wealth of changing ones name and gaining the social and economic standing that comes with the name. But if you are not one of the major brand colleges or universities, work at engaging students well.

Ten Ways To Increase Engagement For Retention

2. Develop a good stitch in process that continues through to graduation.

3. Be Gee-like. Walk the campus and engage students where they live.

4. Put in place a required attendance policy and enforce it.

5. Develop an attendance follow-up system that will have every student contacted the same day he or she misses a class.

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 
We increase your success
                                CALL OR EMAIL TODAY 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Customer Service Meeting Expectations

Customer service. Just what in the world is it really? Maybe it’s like art? We may not know why a picture is great or not but we can feel it when it is or isn’t? Or better, like love. We all know when we have found it or lost it but cannot explain why or how we know.

Most experts will tell you that it is focusing so fully on meeting the satisfaction level of the customer, that he or she will love you. Others will say that it is loving your customer – hug them, overwhelm them with service, and they will love you back. Yet, others will say that it is a series of activities that make the customer more than happy from dealing with you. And some even propose that customer service is providing the customer service beyond service. Almost as if the customer were royalty in the days of kings.

After all, THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT. Right? And rule number one is the customer comes first, second and third. And rule number two is “read rule number one.” Besides, we are all here to make the customer happy with his or her experience. Right?

I tried to keep all of this in mind when I went to a very popular restaurant in Boston. It has been around since 1827. And we had to wait in a long line as waitresses rushed and pushed around the customers with both hands and mouths. “Hey, move over, I’m working here,” one said as she cut in front of me. “Get the hell out of my way” another growled as she carried a tray of food through the waiting customers in line. Then we were finally seated at a long table, sort of like a family gathering around the long dining room table but we were stuck in between two couples we did not know. And we did not get to know them or the ones across the table from us that night.

A waitress finally came over to take our order. It took a while. “Okay, what’ll it be?” I am a notoriously slow decider in restaurants because I really want to try it all. I told the waitress I would be a minute. “Okay, but not much more. We’re real busy tonight.” And she turned away to accost another customer.

After we ate and left, we walked around Faneuil Hall and talked about the meal. It was very good, especially the Indian pudding for desert. The pot roast I got was very tender and there was enough even for me, a person of dependably large appetite. But the waitresses? Wow! I had never been treated like that before, even at some of the dive places I enjoy frequenting when on the road. No server had ever cursed me before in a restaurant. At least not to my face. Would we go back sometime? Of course. Great food at a decent price and with service that was horrid.

While walking off the meal, I overheard another couple talking about their experience at Durgin Park. They were a bit upset it seemed. “Wonder what is happening to there? What’d think we were? Tourists? Some hicks from the Midwest? That waitress we had.. The food came fast and it was good but the waitress… She was polite and helpful. Maybe the place is just changing but not for the better. We’ll give it another shot because I like their prime rib and maybe we can get some real bitchy waitress next time. Did you see the size of that prime rib. My dog will love the leftovers?“

What? They were bothered because the waitress was polite, helpful, gave them good service? Haven’t they read the rules? We, the customers come first. Waitresses should provide not just good, but great service. They should fawn all over us. Get beyond the “Hi, my name is Tiffany and I will be serving you tonight” to real serving to our every whim and desire (well, maybe onto every one of them but restaurant-related). And these folks were complaining because their waitress did all this? Are they communists or something?

I had a chance to hear another small group as they another restaurant in the area.. All but one of them seemed to enjoy his evening. They were generally pleased with being maltreated. “That was good. What service. That waitress really hopped and made sure everything was there when it should be. And when I looked at my steak and saw it was not done enough , she just whipped it away. Could tell by my face. Like she read my mind and took it back to get cooked more. And when you said the fish was cooked too much and dry, the frown on her face told it all. She must’ve told the chef off for you too since she brought his apologies and a new piece of fish.”

“She was great. One of the best waitresses I ever had but I don’t know. She was great but all in all, but the place was not quite what I expected. I thought the steak would’ve been better. I mean it was good but a little tough. For what it cost, it should have been like butter.”

“Yuh, well, okay so we’ll skip it next time we’re in town and try somewhere else.”

CUT! Hold everything. One guy is complaining he wasn’t served rudely enough in one place but he would go back to be treated worse next time. And another guy gets great service, absolutely great and he isn’t going back to that restaurant? This makes no sense.

I can’t find anything about this in any of the books or articles I’ve read. According to them, the first person would be running as fast as he can from Durgin Park and swearing that he’ll never go back to be treated so poorly. The second guy should be raving about the service. He should be extolling the place as a paragon, an exemplar of service. He should be looking forward to telling at least six people to go to the restaurant because of the great service. But instead, he doesn’t want to go back.

What’s the deal? This does not jive with what we have been told all these years about customer service.

The deal simply is that what most people say about customer service has been overly simple and frankly, very often dead wrong. And we all know it. Good service as in the process of a waitress or waiter being polite, attentive, helpful, friendly and efficient is not what we are really after in a restaurant after all. The ceremonial rite of service in the restaurant is just that, a ritual that literally sets the table for the real event, the real service, the food.

In fact, it’s the food that is the real core of the service itself. Not just the social ceremony of prompt greeting, a little chat during the presenting of the menu, asking for drink orders, leaving to get the drinks and bring them back, announcing the specials, taking the orders, bringing the food to the table, asking for desert orders, bringing the bill, processing the credit card and saying thank you, then for you to leave to collect the tip. This is a more or less set cultural ceremony and is expected to flow well by the participants in the ritual we call eating out. This is the ritual that most people think of as service. And at a primary level it is. And the flow of the ritual is part of upon what we base the tip we give to the waitress. If it is out of order or not done well, we feel that the ritual we expected has been violated so sometimes, people tip lower. The ceremony goes as we expected, and we tip as expected, around 15%.

And the ceremony is repeated ritualistically in most places to eat except fast food places which have their own rites. No names exchanged, menu overhead, “Can I take you order?” Repeated into a microphone and asked to stand to the side while waiting for the food or pre-cooked and wrapped then pulled off a stainless steel food retainer. Put into a bag. “That’ll be $3.45.” Thank you. Come again.” This is the expected ritual. No social interaction really just process. Just simple, relatively quick service. In fact, if a counter person starts or a customer asks a common eating out service question such as “do you recommend the double hamburger or the bacon, mushroom, cheese, hugie today?” there is usually a very puzzled look from the counter person accompanied by a blank stare or a shrug of “what?.” This is not part of the expected impersonal service ritual after all.

Unless one goes to Durgin Park. Durgin Park breaks the rules. The customer is not only often wrong, but is actively shown to be an inconvenience. Personalized experience goes out the window there when customers are seated rather impersonally at a table with people they do not know, nor may not ever wish to know. Being made to feel important and valuable is just not something they do well, if at all. But they would be missing an important reality of what customer service really is.

Durgin Park’s concept of service would make most customer service experts pull out their hair and predict its doom. According to most business gurus, rude, discourteous service should, kill the place. And as noted, there must be something to that belief since Durgin Park has only been around doing the same thing for only 80 years. And people are willing to stand in line every day to be disrespected. Its questionable service should give the place no more than, say, another 80 years, give or take a decade.

Unless, they start to be too nice to the customers. That could be their downfall.

The reason is simple. People expect to be treated rudely. That is part of the expected experience. People go there with the expectation that they will be treated disrespectfully and are disappointed if they are not as was the man in the second group of Durgin Park diners. He was upset because he expected bad-mannered service and didn’t get it. His expectations were disrupted and he felt unfulfilled.

We go to the fast food places for just what they say they are. For getting food quickly. It is the food we are after. Not the event or the ceremony of eating out. The food is what will get us to come back. Not the service. There really is very little to consider at a fast food place. I mean “would you like fries or a drink with that” does not seem to qualify as the kind of service we have been told we have to always provide if we want to make people customers for life. Yet, McDonald’s, Burger King, Sonic, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, Carl’s and many others have certainly created customers for life – even if their food may shorten it as the critics claim.

So what is learned from all this? It is not the sizzle, not the actions that we call service that can do it alone. Certainly, good service as in treating customers absolutely wonderfully is an incontrovertible aspect of building a solid customer relationship. No doubt. And very, very important but the concepts of customer service that have been bandied about are at best just part of the issue. They are not the issue itself.

Customer service is not a simple ritualistic rite that fit all businesses customer service is built not on adages and smiles but on customer expectations. And Durgin Park certainly proves that.

If this article made sense to you, you may want to contact N.Raisman & Associates to improve academic customer service and hospitality to increase student satisfaction, retention and your bottom line
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

If you want more information on NRaisman & Associates or to learn more about what you can do to improve academic customer service excellence on campus, get in touch with us or get a copy of our best selling book The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education. 

Monday, February 04, 2013

The Caring Effect in Customer Service

Ted Kaptchuk is a unique Harvard medical professor. He has neither an MA or PhD. He instead has a degree in Chinese medicine from an institute in Macao where he became an acupuncturist. He is also a director of the Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter (PiPS), headquartered at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA which was opened last year largely due to Kaptchuk’s innovative work in placebo research. Research that can tell us a lot about some aspects of customer service.

According to an article in Harvard Magazine, Kaptchuk"in a collaboration with gastroenterologists studying irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic gastrointestinal disorder accompanied by pain and constipation. The experiment split 262 adults with IBS into three groups: a no-treatment control group, told they were on a waiting list for treatment; a second group who received sham acupuncture without much interaction with the practitioner; and a third group who received sham acupuncture with great attention lavished upon them—at least 20 minutes of what Kaptchuk describes as “very schmaltzy” care (“I’m so glad to meet you”; “I know how difficult this is for you”; “This treatment has excellent results”). Practitioners were also required to touch the hands or shoulders of members of the third group and spend at least 20 seconds lost in thoughtful silence.

The results were not surprising: the patients who experienced the greatest relief were those who received the most care.”

That is, none of the patients received any real treatment. Of the two groups who thought they were given some treatment, the group that was not given treatment but was given the touchy-feely, had the best medical results. Their IBS was relieved by the care they received. They thought and felt that they were receiving actual treatment and responded well but it was the human caring that they were really responding to. The human interaction of showing compassion, empathy care is what made them feel better. There was no medical treatment after all.

The same would be true for students who come to someone at a university or college for “treatment” such as a solution to a problem. They are there as much to obtain a caring response as a real solution to the issue. In fact, as we work with universities and colleges, we do more and more observation of students interacting with the university’s personnel. We watch students bring problems to these people and receive service much of the time but not as much care as would really solve the problem.
For example, in a university we are working with, there are two primary greeters in the financial aid office. They sit at desks about four feet apart. One woman is a very perfunctory service provider. “Fill out this form and bring it back” type. No chatting. No real caring shown. Never does she says she’s sorry that they may have been not treated well by someone who sent them there as they were shuffled from office to office seeking a solution. The other is a caring person who always engages students in some brief discussion and often tells students she is sorry they are having a problem.  

I observed the two of them as they told students that they had to have a seat and wait to see a financial aid officer. The non-caring person just told then to “take a seat and someone will be with you.” The students invariably looked irritated as they were coldly told to sit and wait. The other woman would almost always apologize and say she was sorry she could not help them but she would get someone to come out and help if they would just sit down and wait a couple of minutes. These students would sit down and most all of them would have a slight smile on their face as if they knew they would be taken care of.

They would all be served by the same financial aid counselors but the ones who were given the extra caring service and hospitality up front would all report that they felt their problem was resolved or in process and they were happy with the service. The students who were given the cold service all had their problems resolved but they left feeling slightly nervous that they would still have problems. They also did not feel they were well served and were not all that happy with the service.

In short, they did not feel cared for. They did not feel as if they were treated well and they carried that feeling with them. Their “symptoms” were not relieved as well as those who were given the caring service.

There is a caring effect in customer service. It is the hospitality, we create for our students whether we finally serve their issues or not. The thoughtfulness we give to our students is a caring effect that puts them into a good state of mind and makes them happy with the school.  This effect is in everything we do for or to our students from the objective correlative of the campus all the way through to the particular services we provide.So we need to pay attention to not just what services we provide but how we provide them. After all, the major reason why students leave a college is they feel the school does not care about them. That is the lack of caring effect which should not exist.

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