Monday, April 29, 2013

Making Surveys Work

When in our work with colleges and universities to improve their retention and customer service we suggest a survey of student attitudes and opinions, the response is almost universally negative. “We tried to survey recently but students (employees) just didn't respond.” This is a common sort of statement that that we get. People have found that surveys are becoming less and less effective in getting them the information that they need or want.

People are becoming tired of taking surveys and opinion studies. It seems that everywhere they go someone is asking them to give their opinion on one thing or another. It’s not that people don’t like giving their opinions; they certainly do. But they are tired of filling in survey forms that don’t seem to have any effect or direct value for them.

Even though stores offer to put people into a raffle for a cash prize or merchandise people do not go online to complete the surveys. They simply feel that their opinion doesn’t count or matter for much because they cannot see any results. And the odds of wining a gift appear to large for them to spend their time on it. People don’t care to take surveys anymore and they feel as if they are being surveyed to death.

At one university which we’re working with students are surveyed on one thing or another it seems almost every single week. Response rate on the surveys is extremely low. Even on one survey in which we offered an iPad Mini for a raffle for those who completed the survey, the results were minimal.

It used to be that a 10% return from a survey was considered quite good. Now it is considered phenomenal. A 3% return is even good nowadays. Students and others simply are tired of being surveyed with no apparent results coming from the surveys.

It is extremely important that if you use a survey for any purpose students be apprised of the results and these results should lead to something tangible. Otherwise they will get turned off spending that time and at that when it seems to go nowhere. This is also true of the rest of the campus community as well. They don’t mind giving their thoughts and ideas when they believe it is going to lead to substantial change or improvement.

An example. When working with a client college I set up a quality of work life committee. (This is something I recommend at every campus by the way. We have so many committees that look into most everything but what is it like to work at the school and what can be done to make this most important part of a person’s life better.) The first thing the committee did was decide they needed to survey the community to see what the people working on campus felt the quality of work life was. We sent out the survey and got a quite good return actually, about an 21% completion rate on the survey.

We learned a couple of things from the survey as well. We found out that generally people were happy with the way things are going but there were some particular issues that they wanted to have taken care of. In the open response area we learned from the survey that female employees were feeling as if their needs were being ignored. One of the areas that we found people were concerned about was that the door to the female employees bathroom did not close all the way.

I immediately had the maintenance people work on the bathroom door to make sure it would close all of the way. This was accomplished quite quickly and quite easily. We took the next step of repainting the women employees’ bathroom as well as putting in a small couch so that they could sit and relax if they wished. This all worked amazingly well.

How do we know it worked well? Well within a day of fixing the bathroom door we had an influx of additional surveys of returned to us from every segment of the campus. People saw that the survey was actually going to lead to some results and they completed it. We also had a survey out to students on customer service on campus it had a jump in response rate too. Fixing the door got around to the campus saying that we would actually do somethi8ng with the results of surveys.

So the end message here, if you take a survey do something with it. Show that it will lead to a result that has benefit to the people who were taking the survey. If you do, you’ll get a much higher return on your survey response than you might otherwise have received.

If this article has value for you, you'll want to get a copy of the best-selling book The Power of Retention by clicking here.

N.Raisman & Associates has been providing customer service, retention, enrollment and research training and solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits, workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. N.Raisman & Associates prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Dress for Student Success

As I walked around a college campus last week, something dawned on me
dealing with decorum in the classroom and campus. The students were dressed rather slovenly. That was not the great dawning; just an observation. The epiphany came when I realized that the faculty and much of the staff looked quite much like the students. They were dressed to clean out a garage. Not to fill minds.

Dress is an objective correlative of the college. It is an outward metaphor of the feelings, attitude and even value one should place on the school itself and the professionals (or not) practicing in it. Just like in any profession, the clothes reflect the statement of how much value to place on the professional as well as the correlative statement of how much I value the school and myself.

Take  a medical doctor for example. If you were a patient and a man or woman started to come into the examining room dressed in rumbled jeans, a tee shirt and say sneakers, would you think this was the doctor? Would you start to worry a bit that this person might not be a real doctor? Would a doctor be dressed this way? Like a…college student. Or at least not a fully professional physician.  If the doctor came into the room wearing neat jeans or khakis and a polo shirt, maybe we would think “this is a very casual doctor. I hope he isn’t as casual in his approach to his work.” Now if the same doctor came into the examining room in a white lab coat we would know this is the doctor. A professional. In fact, if a non-professional came into the room wearing a lab coat we would assume he or she were the doctor and be wrong. The clothes do, in this case at least, help make the professional.

This is true on campus as well. Clothes say a great deal about whom we are and what we are doing. They tell the viewer a great deal about who we are too. I realize the clothes revolution started with my generation back in the sixties and seventies when we rebelled against conformity and the straight-laced approach to college and dress. We were going to show our students that we did not see ourselves as academic bureaucrats. Prior to this time academic dress had been a tie and jacket for men, a dress or skirt and business-like blouse for women.  When students walked into class dressed in chino’s and shirts or skirts and blouses we all could see the roles being played out. The person dressed as a business-type was in charge and we were dressed appropriately to show respect for the professor.

Then in the sixties and seventies as the country underwent a massive cultural shift, clothing started to relax too. Professors came to class without a tie. Maybe even in slacks and a shirt. The tie had become a sign of conformity with the conservative business world that we evolving into something else. We who taught wanted to show a sense of solidarity, of connectedness with our students so we dressed in a way that would show more of that. More relaxed and student-like. And the classroom began to reflect our dress. It became more relaxed. We didn’t lecture as much as try to engage students in the work.
But I also remember that when I went for job interviews, it was suit or tie and jacket time. Had to look professional for potential colleagues; most of whom also wore the suit and tie for the hiring interviews. This was a professional activity after all. Hiring is important so we dressed appropriately as an administrator since they still wore (and still wear) the suit or tie and jacket if a man; business apparel if a woman. This was to show respect and the seriousness of the process and activity of hiring a colleague. But if we taught the same day we may have worn jeans with jacket and tie but when class started, the tie and jacket came off. Back to what had become teaching garb.

Somehow, teaching had become a less professional presentation. One in which we would dress as did our students. In a manner that did not show a separation between student and professor. One that said we are all equal but I am actually an Orwellian so I am more equal to you. I will dress down but demand that you come up to me.

But dressing down has its problems. It really does not show any solidarity with students as much as perhaps a parity that does not exist. When we dress in certain ways we make statements. Tie and jacket is business; professional. Shirt and slacks – business casual – semi-professional. Khakis and polo shirt – simply causal. Jeans and shirt – relaxed and not professional unless you are a golfer. Jeans and tee shirt very relaxed and fully non-professional.

Clothes also set expectations in the minds of the viewer just as the dress examples of the doctor earlier created expectations or even hesitations. Tie says we are here to do business. That’s why administrators tend to always wear a tie or business clothing. It says I am an administrator and a professional doing the business of the college. Jeans says hanging around the mall and chilling with friends.  Jeans and a tee shirt are not serious wear for most people unless of course they are part of the professional dress of the person. Wearing jeans in class usually says this is an atmosphere like hanging around and not serious.

No wonder there are decorum issues in class. We create some of them by wearing clothes that do not say this is an academic environment. That this is an important place for us to learn and for me to teach. It is a place where you are to pay attention and show some level of respect for the activities in which we are engaged. It is not a place for you to chill, IM, browse, talk or leaver early but to engage; not to text but to pay attention to the text. Our clothes too often telegraph to our students that decorum is mall-level; not academic hall level.

Now I am not saying that everyone dresses this way noir am I saying that a professional cannot hold a class’s attention and maintain decorum by her actions and personality. Not at all. What I am saying is that because too many dress too casually it demands greater effort and exertion to maintain an academic atmosphere and teach. Moreover, the complaints I often hear from academic audiences about how slovenly, inattentive and even rude students are while we are discussing academic customer service are most often our fault. We are in charge of the classroom and must demand appropriate academic decorum or we make our own work harder and usually allow one or two students to cheat 20 or more by behavior that often interrupts the class . And dress adds to the problems.

Nor am I saying that everyone should be wearing a tie and jacket. No. That is not the message here though professional dress is called for in all situations Professional dress? Yes. That is whatever the graduate in that major or program would be wearing when he or she gets a job in the area. For example, if someone is studying in a medical field they already have to dress as future professionals. If someone is going into business then the professor should be dressed as a businessperson and should encourage the students to do likewise. Animal husbandry and management may find that boots and jeans or coveralls might be the appropriate dress. And yes, a shirt and jeans could be appropriate professional dress in computer programming since that is normal dress in a position a graduate might go into.  

What I am suggesting here is that we need to begin providing an important academic customer service to our students through our dress. Part of the service we provide to our customers, a major part too, is preparing them for the world after college. We should be working to make them ready to succeed after they graduate. And some of that is knowing the culture they will be entering and how to behave and, yes, dress in that culture. We cannot forget that we are not just there to pour information and skills into them but to make them adults who can succeed beyond out classrooms.

If we dress appropriate to the profession we are engaged in and the one that they will be entering, we will increase decorum in our classrooms and better prepare our students for success.

If this makes sense to you, you will want to get a copy of The Power of Retention, the best selling book on academic customer service by the author of this article.
Booking customer service audits and workshops now for April-August but dates are filling fast so call 413.219.6939 or

Monday, April 08, 2013

Benchmarks for Customer Service in an Office

A common question that I hear from many clients is what are the standards for
serving students who may come into an office. They want to know what are the benchmarks by which they can gauge whether or not they are providing good customer service to their clients.

All of these benchmarks derive from a basic concept that the student is more important than any work I am doing at the time he or she enters an office. So the first benchmark is whether or not people interrupt what they are doing as soon as a student enters the office. If a person cannot interrupt what he or she is doing right at the time the student enters, he should mention that I will be right with you soon as I finish this. And the person should take no more than one minute conclude what he or she is working on. But that is not as good as interrupting what he or she is doing to serve the student.

At the very most a student should not have to wait more than 30 seconds to be greeted after he or she enters an office if there is no line. If there is a line a student should not have to wait in it any more than 10 minutes to meet with someone at a desk or a workstation. If there is a line longer than what it would take to clear within 10 minutes it is important to bring other people forward to the front work area to meet with students. No one likes to wait in line and students are particularly lacking in patients when they are in line.

If the line cannot be resolved in less than 10 minutes wait an additional workers cannot be brought forward to help resolve the length of the line, it is at least important to let the students know approximately how long they may be having to wait to get served. It is been found in studies that if a person knows he is going to have to wait 15 minutes for example than here she at least has a benchmark of time in line that will make him or her decide whether or not to come back or stay. It is also important to let the student know when the line might be shorter. For example what time of the day tends to have shorter wait times to get help.

As soon as the student comes up to the work area, the person working there should make eye contact and greet the student with a smile. We are not necessarily talking about a big large grin but at least a small smile that indicates that I am pleased to see you. It may take practice for some people to learn how to smile believe it or not if have been allowed to be unhappy in their work for so long that they can show it to anybody who comes to the office. So if necessary, teach people to smile. One way to do this is to put a mirror close to the area that the person would be greeting the student and have the person look into the mirror prior to greeting the student to make sure that he or she is smiling. This is similar to the advice that we have given about answering telephones using mirrors.

In any case the student should be greeted with a smile to be followed immediately with the given name get a name technique. This is the process that begins with the worker introducing him or herself to the student with a greeting. For example, “Hello I’m Neal and you are…”. Then wait for an answer. Give the student time to say his or her name in response to offering up your own name.

Once the student gives up his name, the worker should repeat the name and indicate that he or she is there to try to help the student. A phrase such as “Hello John how may I help you today” is appropriate.

Next the worker must engage in active listening as described in past articles. It is very important that the person actually hears what the student issue really is prior to formulating any response. People who work in offices and elsewhere on campus tend to see themselves as problem solvers which means that they will often try to solve the first problem that is brought forward whether or not that is the actual issue the student is bringing into the office. So it is very important to let the student talk and listen to what the she has to say to find out what the real issue may be.

Active listening calls upon the listener to then sum up what he or she thinks the issue really is and checking with the student to see if that is correct. “Let me make sure. What I think I’ve heard is that you need to…” Then wait to see if that is what the student is there to try to accomplish or if that’s the issue that he or she is dealing with.

The next benchmark is whether or not the worker explains what he or she is going to do to solve the issue. “Okay what I’m going to do is…” Or “okay what you need to do is…” Or “here is where on line the form is that you need.”

This all should be able to be taken care of within three minutes of the person coming into the office.

The final and most important benchmark is whether or not the student’s need or issue is resolved within that visit. If the student is leaving without having his issue resolved all of the above has not gone for anything of value.

There are two mots important benchmarks in all of this then. All the rest of it are points by which you can gauge whether or not the person is fulfilling process correctly. The first is whether or not the student is greeted within one minute and stands in a line no longer than 10 minutes.

And most important, has the student’s need been met.

It is possible to meet all the other benchmarks, using the appropriate give-a-name get-a- name technique and active listening for example and still fail to meet the most important benchmark of solving the student’s issue and/or processing whatever it is he or she needs to have done.

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
We increase your success

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