Wednesday, March 06, 2013

They are More Like Clients than Customers in a Store

They are not coming to us to buy a shirt, or skirt or an IPhone or any retail goods or anything material at all. They are after an intangible. Students come to school to obtain education, knowledge, improvement and growth. And most importantly, the certification they will need to get to the job or next step in their lives.
They are incomplete individuals who are intellectually weak or ill in a sense. They go to school and classes to learn how to make themselves stronger and sounder. They come to higher education realizing they are incomplete and intellectually weak beings that have to learn how to strengthen mind and body to be able to run and compete in the marathon of career and adult life. As if higher education were a large clinic filled with specialists who will help them find out what is wrong with them. Then provide them answers, remedies and prescriptions that will make them better and stronger. As if faculty were intellectual physicians.
Actually, students and faculty/staff of colleges can fall readily into the patient-doctor/client relationship quite nicely.
Patients/clients come to an expert/doctor to have the expert study their needs, weaknesses, strengths and then tell them what needs to be done and guide them to resolve a condition or improve their situation. We do the same in a college. Just as a doctor will diagnose a patient and then tell him/her what course of action needs to be followed to become healthy and meet the patient’s goals, even if it is bad news, we

do the same in the learning/teaching process. We begin by diagnosing student knowledge and skills. Then determine a course of action and rehabilitation that are designed to help the students become intellectually healthier and fitter for future growth. Then the faculty check on the patient’s progress, chart it and determine what next steps can and should be taken. So faculty are not just doctors in title but in action. Though as my wife so rightly informed me when I received my PhD. “Dr. Walker the OBGYN guy can deliver babies. You? Only speeches.”
So then what does customer service mean for a doctor and a classroom professor? Is there a good side-armchair-manner that PhD doctors should be aware of to be successful with their patients in a class? Yes there is.
Alice B. Burkin, a leading medical malpractice specialist at the Boston law firm of Duane Morris, LLP, has researched what makes a doctor less likely to be sued and more likely to be successful with patients. The major thing the successful physicians do, which also makes them less likely to be sued for malpractice even when they might have committed it, is treat patients as valuable individuals and indicate that they really do care about them.
Another aspect of their personality is an important one. They are not arrogant. They say hello. They listen to patients, listen to their answers and answer all of their questions. They explain the condition or course of treatment in lay terms so patients can understand. They are human and personable. They enlist the patients in the process and care. They indicate to the patients that they actually care about them as an individual and not as a co-pay keeping them from yet another co-pay. And that caring means assessing their real needs and telling them the truth. Even when the truth is painful.
Even when they came in because they thought they had a bug and it turns out be much more than that. If the doctor followed the always right dictum, she would just tell them they were right, “It is just the flu.” I would suppose anyone would agree that this would neither be right nor good customer service especially when the situation is much worse but curable if the patient knows the truth and follows the prescribed remedy. Telling the patient he is wrong and this is what he must do even if he does not wish to do so is an example of what would be excellent customer service.

What is good customer service for medical doctors also works as in- class customer service for professors. Faculty and all members of the community should begin by caring about the students. Do not expect them to all be brilliant and care about your subject or what you do. They likely may not. They may actually be taking the course being taught because they have to take it. Just as we all had required courses we could neither stand nor see as valuable, so will students in your institution. But as the good medical doctor would do, explain to the students why the subject matter is important, not just intellectually, but to them, to their well-being, to their future and life. For example, when I taught composition at a maritime college, I started by assigning the students to write a job application letter. When they received them back and I explained why the XYZ Company could not hire someone who has poor grammar, awkward sentence structure, weak word choice, unclear or awkward sentences because log entries and things like damage reports must be precise and correct or there could be major problems, they started to get the idea.
They were never really thrilled, maybe not even moderately happy about having to take composition but they saw some value and did work at improving their writing. But then, I recognized and accepted that reality as well as the fact that these technical school students actually had very little knowledge of grammar, sentence structure, punctuation or even spelling. But I knew that going in and set my expectations at the same level a medical doctor would when prescribing therapy. They know most patients will not follow instructions precisely, so they overstate hoping to obtain at least enough compliance with treatment to help the patient become healthier. This is especially so if the treatment or the prescription is painful or not all that pleasant. Sort of like learning grammar and structure for my first year mariners.
If a professor would do the same at the start of a class, it may help keep him or her from getting upset when students are neither all that interested nor knowledgeable about the subject being taught. That they are not excited about the course should not be surprising to anyone. They really do not know about it yet. It is the faculty member’s job to get them energized on the topics (okay maybe just attentive) so they will learn the subject. If they knew the information or skill coming in, they would not need the class or the faculty member after all.
This is also true for school administrators or staff. Most students will
never be as excited as you may be about some regulation, procedure or
rule the student has broken or overlooked. Students usually have no

real interest in them as can be seen by how very few of them ever read any of them inside the catalog whose accuracy we sweated over, reviewed and checked before giving it to them. So, be a doctor to them. Explain in terms they understand and resolve a course of action.
And most important, do not be arrogant. It is the arrogant doctors who lose patients and malpractice suits. And it is the arrogant professors who lose their students, their interest and respect. It is only on this issue, response to arrogance that the customer is always right.
Just as the good, less likely to be sued medical doctor, we must be amiable, professionally personable with students. Learn their names. Find out who they are. Get a full write-up on them. Maybe faculty could even start the class each semester as a doctor would with an information sheet to learn more about them, their knowledge in the subject, any anxieties they bring to the class so the professor can teach and remedy their needs even better. For administrators, get them talking. Take notes and use what is said to examine the issue before determining a remedy. And never be like one of the doctors who do not care. Do not stop listening or jump to a conclusion about the case. Just as bad doctors make bad diagnoses from not listening, so will you. That’s how doctors lose patients and schools lose students.
The customer is always right and other failed concepts from business should not be transferred to academia. Customer service must be a priority on campuses today as we work with a student body that expects it. But, it must be done right. And that is quite different from the customer being right.
In order to be able to fulfill their obligations to the patient/student, the doctor and professor must retain control over the examination and session. The patient is there to be helped and must be an active participant in the process but the expert must be in control. If a patient is unruly or unmanageable, the examination will be curtailed and the patient asked to leave. The doctor will neither allow herself to make a wrong diagnosis nor allow other patients to have their care harmed. If a patient checks himself out of the hospital, a doctor will most often suggest the patient not come back to the practice. As for cell phones, most doctors tell patients to shut them off when they come in the office.
   So in the classroom, the faculty member should act like an intellectual/training  doctor. If a student checks him or herself out of the class without authorization, that student is not allowed back into the class that day and maybe in the future. Rude or unacceptable behavior is just that and does not belong. Do not allow disruptive behavior just as a doctor would not permit it in an examining room or a ward, for it will harm the other students. And cell phones are not allowed.
That by the way is actually good customer service. Especially when we accept that the customer is not always right but our job is to make them righter even if the medicine may not taste good.
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

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