Friday, May 31, 2013

What is Collegiate Customer Service and Hospitality?

I have just about finished editing a new book on academic customer service excellence to be entitled Collegiate Customer Service from A to G: Admissions to Graduation.  It should be ready to go to the printers in about a month. But I decided to do something perhaps unheard of. I am going to release the book chapter by chapter on this blog. Each chapter will be a blog posting until the entire book is up for you. It may cut into sales but I hope it shows a commitment here to provide great service to my readers.  
Here is Chapter 1.
Oh yes, comments and edits are more than welcome at

The educational world has certainly changed. There are more women than men in higher education. Students of color and ethnicity are the fastest growing demographic segment. Adults in college represent more than 40% of the total college population. There are many more schools now. Community colleges and career colleges enroll 50% and more of all students in higher education. The proprietary sector has gone from cosmetology and truck driving to PhD’s.  Correspondence schools on match books have become omnipresent, study anywhere, anytime on-line, enrolling machines. MOOCs are changing the entire landscape of higher education. Competition for students is intense and admission departments are feeling the stress. As are the budgets of colleges, universities and career schools that have had to make difficult decisions to try and balance the budget when they do not “make their numbers”.

And yet, not enough of higher education has really adapted to the changes. It is still “admissions, admissions and again admissions”. Not retention and completion. Bring them in. Enroll more and more new bodies.  Or as one overly pragmatic administrator is alleged to have said at University of Phoenix “Get asses in the classes.  That’s the goal”. And it is certain that though this person may have been caught saying this hundreds of others simply were not reported when they also made that or a similar statement. Recruitment and admissions are still seen as the key to the major aspect of operating revenue.

 I recall quite well the proclamation of the CEO of one of the large career college groups. “There isn’t a problem that exists that can’t be fixed by enrolling more students.” He was speaking not just for his proprietary group but for most every not-for-profit, for-profits, public and private college and university in the country.

The on-going and most frequent discussions in campus business meetings and with trustees still focus on “What’s our budget target? How many did we admit? How many have committed to the next freshman class? How many have put down their deposits? How many do we figure will actually show?” Strategic enrollment and revenue planning tend to be summed up with “we may have a budget problem for next year.” Increase tuition and enroll more students! has become the normative approach at most colleges and universities.

And when schools lose students during the school year the question starts with the wrong question. Too often the issue raised is “what did we budget for attrition?” Not “why did we lose these students?”

The question on how many losses we budgeted is followed by the response “It’s okay. We planned for 34% drops in the budget. As long as we don’t lose more than we budgeted for we’ll be okay.”

That is a dumb business model. Of course any business, including higher education, has to figure in customer/client defection and loss of market share. But planning to lose upwards of a third of all the customers and all the costs associated with acquiring them each and every year is a confident way of making sure the institution is always running a tight budget. A self-fulfilling profligacy if you will.

A key factor to retaining population from first day of classes through graduation to grow revenue and operating success is not in admitting students, but in keeping them.  It can be understood that in the days of “look to your left and look to your right” retaining too many students might have been considered a sign of a weak academic program. Being tough and flunking out students was a show of rigor after all as well as not having chosen the right students to begin with.

It was also a time of much smaller operating costs and budgets.  Presidential salaries were not in the up-to a million dollars and more level. Faculty lived on the love of learning and free summers. Research was something that a professional just did not what drove costs and schools. Health costs were affordable and so on. Who talked about retention through to graduation as an important aspect of a college?  But today, in the world of ever-increasing salaries, health care costs, debt service, fixed costs, technology and equipment acquisition alongside decreasing public support, and an extremely competitive enrollment market, how can people not think of retention? Yet, they manage not to.

Retention through graduation is where the real revenue is created.  Admissions costs money – significant amounts of money. Retaining students/clients costs from nothing to very little. Retaining students through graduation is also how colleges and universities meet their higher calling, their missions, their purpose and reason to exist and to be supported. Students and learning are still the key publicly conceived rationale for higher education. Granted the old saying “this would be a great place to work if it weren’t for the students” is still out there unfortunately. But without the students, undergraduates primarily, there would be no place for those who actually say or believe the students are the problem to work. The general population supports higher education because it believes college prepares students for the economy, for society, and for life.

A college, university or career college will retain students providing it receives the revenue and loyalty it needs to be able to perform and meet its mission through a similar customer service focus. And the most important customer service is meeting student expectations that they will be prepared to graduate, get a good job and meet the goals they have set. If a school does that, it will succeed.

It is important for schools to make the shift now from an admissions-concentration to an admissions, retention and graduation focus; from churn and burn to learn and earn. From keep them coming in and if they leave replace them to admit and work with students so they succeed in their endeavors and stay in school.  A more balanced learn and earn approach will also allow the college to retain the revenues it needs to succeed, meet the mission and grow. But these are not the surface or commercial issues that one might read about in any of the business books that discuss one or another “way” or method that will help a store sell more widgets or market more business services.  What is under discussion is customer service that is appropriate to the unique enclaves we know as colleges, universities. A customer service that recognizes that our clients/customers are not at the school for a unitary single purchase event such as buying a pair of shoes, but to learn and grow so they can obtain the career and future they seek for themselves.  It is a customer service that is not expressed in a set phrase such as “Hi, I’m Dr. Brown.  I will be your professor today. Can I start you off with an intellectual appetizer?” 

It is a customer service more akin to the relationship of a doctor and patient. The patient realizes that he or she needs assistance to get healthier and stronger. The patient thus recognizes weaknesses that will need attention and even correction. He must also be willing to follow the directions and course of action the doctor prescribes.  The patient is also to take the prescribed actions at the time the doctor says to and complete any and all additional assigned prescriptions or therapy conscientiously. The patient is also expected to make it to all appointments and be prepared to review the time between meetings when requested so the doctor can understand progress or lack of it. This is so the patient can pass all the medical tests and receive a good report.

On the other hand, the patient places very important items in the keeping of the doctor – body, soul and a healthy future.  The doctor is required to let the patient know what is needed even if the remedy calls for discipline, hard effort and following instructions until the full course of treatment is completed. The doctor must be honest and conscientious in all she does but that does not exclude the patient’s demand that she do so while using a personal, polite and respectful approach (no matter how popular House, MD was on TV).  The doctor is also called upon to provide the most up-to-date remedies available; old, outdated prescriptions, treatments and approaches won’t do. And the doctor is expected to be available for extra care, consultation and appointments if the patient has questions, having trouble or simply needs assurance or additional discussion of the remedy.

Further, the patient does expect that his or her needs will be met and that includes a friendly acknowledgement from the receptionist, nurses, and the doctor herself. Patients all want to believe they are important enough for the doctor to smile at and remember their name and medical chart without having to read through the chart each time. And he does not want to have to wait too long to be able to see the doctor.  He believes his time is as important as the doctor’s and just because insurance is covering some of the cost does not mean he is any less important.  After all, the doctor is making what appears to be a good living from the money received from the patient.

Finally, the patient really believes he is coming to the doctor to get better and stronger so he can achieve his goals in life.  If at any time the patient believes that the doctor is not focused enough on his goals, does not really care about him or does not see that he is getting better, he will look for a second opinion and a new doctor.

A doctor builds a solid practice with a long list of loyal patients that provides her a very good income if she fulfills all the customer service expectations above. And most importantly if she makes patients better so they live the healthy productive lives they seek her practice grows.

A college is like a very large medical practice or a hospital in that students expect the same from the professors, the staff and administrators that a patient at a hospital does. Good service, professional treatment and the appropriate course of services to strengthen them in body and mind. Students are our patients. 

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 while reading this new book here at the blog.


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