Friday, September 27, 2013

Creating a Service Excellence Mission/Vision

It is difficult to get somewhere when you don’t know where you are going. You
may know where you want to head but you need vision to see how to get there. And in that same manner, to get to service excellence and gold standard customer service, an organization needs to have the vision of what it seeks to accomplish, to define itself and to guide the journey.

Colleges need mission and vision statements to get to who they want to be; to lead the way. A mission statement talks about how you will get to where you want to be. A mission statement defines the purpose and primary objectives of the school as well as some values the institution holds as important; the who we are. It talks about the present as a precursor to the future.

The vision statement tells people what we want to eventually become; what our vision of the future is. 

The mission and vision statement together set the tone and the cultural values for a school. They can change the school. We are aware of some schools that want their mission and vision statements to mean something more than platitudes to please an accrediting body so they actually print them up on posters or the backs of business cards and such to keep them before the college community. Some actually have aspects of their mission and/or vision built into their evaluation systems to assure that people try to live up to them. These steps are to be lauded.

But these are generalized statements quite often that do not speak to service excellence or often students and their success. Most schools know that they need a college mission and vision statement. But they have yet to define and devise what they see as their service mission or vision statement. These are the values and definitions that will guide the organization to deliver excellent customer service to its students and members of the internal community to reach its service goals.

It is all well and very good when a college or university says it wants to achieve customer service excellence or reach the gold standard of customer service but until the school defines that standard and sets out a vision for everyone to follow and understand, how does it know what it is shooting for and if it achieves it? People do not see what it is that the school expects or wants for everyone.

We may know what our mission statement says and even believe it is more than the seven steps to salvation – something to be stated and put in a brochure but not really acted upon.  We know it is not meant to be acted upon in many cases because it does not associate any actions with it. No “To achieve this we will….” They are not made functional.

There may even be a vision statement which is how we want to see ourselves and be seen but these are also not focused enough by being made functional, by being created with how we will do this. And these vision statements though they may be lofty enough are almost never focused on service to be delivered. So it is no wonder that even if a mission or vision statement might have some nice language neither usually sets out a clear defined path of how to do what is necessary to achieve the objectives, to reach the goals.

It is interesting that colleges and universities all have mission statements and most have vision statements  but though they say they want excellent customer students for students and the community, they either do not mention this at all in either nor have a service vision statement for people to follow. This makes one wonder if they really do care about customer service and treating students and employees well if they have not articulated their vision and goals; never mind making the statement functional or accountable. Moreover, in searching colleges and universities for service statements, there were none that could be found. The closest to a vision was something akin to we will meet the needs of students and the community” but this is far short of a collegiate service vision.

A service vision statement should state what the goal is, what is important to get to that goal and how we will get there in functional statements that are actionable. So for example, Providence Hospitals, Columbia, SC has a mission and visio0 statement for customer service as stated below.

Customer service, good or bad, doesn't just happen. Maintaining an effective customer service program is one of the biggest challenges facing organizations today. Developing an effective customer service plan and instilling a commitment to it within the organization is key to meeting our mission. Therefore, Providence Hospital absolutely commits to provide exceptional customer service, understands its significance, and promotes a plan to accomplish our goals and objectives. Identifying areas of concern and initiating timely recovery actions become the responsibility of every person involved at Providence Hospitals.

We want our employees to understand and deploy what makes for an excellent customer service experience, how to deliver excellent customer service in person, on the phone and how to recover when the experience has not met our customer’s expectations.

These are a good start but they do not define or make functional these objectives enough to say how they will get there. The hospital does make a start by mentioning in person, on the phone and how to recover when the experience has not met our customer’s expectations so they have defined service a little bit. But not enough to help anyone reading the statement to know what they ought to do or what needs to be done.

A better job was done by the Osceola (Osceola) Public School District when it put forward a service mission and vision statement 2007-2008 Model Customer Service Plan. It set as its mission

The Osceola School District is committed to providing the highest level of quality customer service – one stakeholder at a time.

And its vision statement was

Osceola School District employees are empowered to offer customer service with the following C.R.E.E.D. (Confidentiality, Results, Equity, Empathy and Dignity
It then went on to define each area of its CREED. For example,
I can acknowledge each customer and his/her individual differences while taking ownership in promptly assisting with questions or concerns.
And then these was further defined in functional and accountable definitions and actions to be taken.
The Osceola School District believes that a major component of ensuring high student achievement is providing excellent customer service to each and every stakeholder. When you - as a parent, school partner, or visitor - interact with an Osceola School District employee, you can expect our very best in:
Courtesy and Respect
All customers will be treated with respect and dignity.
Each staff member will be courteous and helpful during all customer interactions.
Each staff member will maintain the customer's confidentiality and privacy.
Each staff member will communicate in a friendly and professional manner.

Then these were further augmented with steps to be taken by the school district to make all this happen such as:

Customer Service Action Plans:
Customer Service Satisfaction/Comment Card boxes will be placed at all school/work locations to provide continual feedback on what kind of service we are providing. The locked boxes will be checked daily by the school secretary or designee, and the cards will be given to the school/department administrator for follow-up. An on-line customer service survey will also be posted and remain on the district’s website.
An Employee A+ Customer Service recognition program will be developed in order to recognize employees who provide excellent customer service based on feedback from co-workers or customers through comment cards/surveys…

The Osceola School District plan has all the parts of a full and workable service mission and vision; who we are; who we want to be and how we will do this. It may not have been perfect as a mission and vision statement but it certainly outpaced what colleges and universities have.

Creating your schools service mission/vision statement

A college or university can change its culture and its student success rate if it engages in and then generates a college customer service mission that it puts into functional and accountable terms. And if it actually follows them of course. If it spends time and effort to create a service mission and vision it can use that to alter the way that people think about the school and students. A service mission/vision can then be a powerful tool for even greater success. 

To create a service mission statement a school needs to consider the following questions to determine how it sees itself really. This would best be done in a day-long workshop or retreat in which as many constituencies and people as possible can attend and contribute. This would be to get the broadest view of the school possible and generate greatest buy-in for the results. The more people who create the vision the more who can articulate and support it.

These are not the only questions and issues to explore but they are certainly central to formation of a valid service vision and a great departure point.
What business are we in?
No what do we sell, actually do?
Why do people come here?
What is it they want?
What is important to them; not us?
What is their goal?
Why?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              What is it they expect?
What do we need to provide our customers?
What is our goal of services?
What is excellent customer service?
How will we do that?
How do we know if we succeed?
What is our service excellence mission/vision finally?

These questions are designed to elicit conversation and debate. They are meant to be slightly provocative and push people to reach beyond the simple answer. That is why for example the question What business are we in? is followed by No what do we sell, actually do? The easy response is that we are in no business at all. That we are an educational institution that educates students and that is not a business. The second question is meant to push people out of their comfort zone and explore what the real business of a college or university is. By discussing what we sell once getting people by the we don’t sell anything, the discussion starts to move to how students and parents view what the college does. To move people beyond the we do not sell anything, just put some marketing materials into a power point and make the suggestion that the university does advertise, market and thus sells. This will start to push people to look at the school and its customers.

If the retreat or workshop is worked well by the facilitator, the college should end up the process with a college service vision that can lead it forward. The discussion along the way should be used to inform the vision and make it functional and accountable. The discussion should define ways in which the vision can be enacted. Answering questions like What is it they (students) expect? How will we do that? and What do we need to provide our customers? will lead to specific indicators and actions that can be incorporated into the retreat report that will lay out specific actionable items to help answer the question of How will we know if we succeed?

For example, if it comes up that they expect people to answer phone calls when the phone rings, that will set forward an actionable item such as the phone needs to be answered promptly (three rings). Students expect that people will stop doing whatever it is they are doing to wait on them when they come into an office leads to an inevitable actionable item. And so on. 

If done and facilitated well, the retreat report should lay out a vision and the plan to reach it that can guide the school to greater success.

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. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Seven Steps That Will Enroll Families as well as Increase Enrollment and Retention

Many colleges believe that as soon as they get an application from a student,
they are on the way to an enrollment. We know that is not true. This is just one part of a much longer process that leads through to graduation. The path of the actual enrollment process is a long and demanding one guided by the stitch-in process. But what many schools and universities do not recognize is that more than one person needs to be stitched into the many pieces of the quilt that is enrollment and retention.

It is as important, if not even more important to sell to, then enroll the entire family. The issue of the buying group has already been discussed. Now it is time to talk about how to go about enrolling the family. It is actually an easy process and one that reaps major benefits.

If the college enrolls the family, it involves them in the success of the student. It does begin with the buying group but does not end there. Here are seven steps to enrolling the full family or the people who will be the support group to the student.

Seven Steps to Increase Families in Retention
1) When you send the requested information like the view book, sales brochures, invitation to meet with a rep, an application to the student, mail a separate and specifically-targeted mailing to the family. 

For example, should a student ask for an information packet, also send one to “the family of…” This smaller packet should have a letter welcoming the interest of the student and the family. True, they may not yet know the student has shown interest in the school but by contacting them you let them know and start the sale to them as well as the potential student. You then have the opportunity to help shape the discussion in a favorable light. 
In the letter, let the family know how the school is a good academic and PRACTICAL choice. Talk about the jobs graduates get or grad schools they get into. Obtain permission from some of your successes to mention them and their stories in the letter which points to the short brochure also include.

In the letter also provide the name(s) and telephone numbers or email addresses of any campus contact people should they have any questions. If you have a parent website and/or FAQ, direct them to it. And invite them to campus along with their son/daughter. Start forming your buying group.

2) Create and include a short, graphic and picture heavy brochure that has been created not for the potential student but for the family. Again, if you have success stories, show their pictures and a short story. Certainly show pictures of graduation. That is what they are buying – graduation and success for their children. Provide a picture of the person who they can contact for information; a college family admissions liaison. All this reinforces the letter and reinforces one another.

By the way, if your school has many adult students, you will want to have a separate brochure with adult success stories and husbands and wives helping one another then celebrating at graduation.

3) Include the family in mailings about open houses, tours, new student parties. Have welcoming pre-class start parties for parents and family members so they can meet other parents and family members like them. This can create additional bonds to the school and people engaging in the same adventure. People like to see others like them or doing similar things to provide an internal checkmark against the “Am I doing the right thing?” Nothing says “yes” like meeting others with the same question saying “yes” too. 

And invite children. Provide some babysitting and play for them in another room or area so they can have fun at the school and their parents can spend time on the college, not watching the kids. For older kids, set up a TV, a movie and some refreshments. Moreover, if done correctly, you can start planting a seed for future enrollment growth.

4) Stay in touch with helpful information on the financial aid process, how registration works, payment plans and any other information that could be helpful to families of potential students. Keep this all short and in a relaxed tone. Skip all the academicese, that in-group tech and slang we use to show we are in academia. Something as common as FAFSA for us may be an acronym puzzle for others. Call it the form that you may have to fill out for federal financial aid. We call it a FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If you want to explain the FAFSA and process, the Wikipedia WikiAnswers is a good place to start. It even explains SARS which may sound like a disease to those who don’t know academic technoslang.

5) When you send out acceptance letters, also send one to the family. By now, you may also have the names of the parents, husbands, wives and even some other family members. If you have them, use them. 

Congratulate them as well as the student. Welcome them to the university, college, career school or community college. Then provide a short discussion of what is next for them and the student. Make certain you provide important dates, deadlines and resources as help for them. Also for dorming students, perhaps include a list of what students CAN bring to their dorm room. Be absolutely certain to let them know that the list is not a the student should have… but an it’s okay to have…

Invite the families to a family-only event at the school. Sure they will be at the student and parent orientation but make the people who are paying the bill special. They are the ones who will be there the night the student calls or announces this is just too much for me or I don’t want to study algebra any more or I’ll just never make it here or they just don’t care about me here. Give them the experience of the personal concern the school has as well as some of the resources that can help their family member make it through the I want to quit night. Make them believe in the college by you showing you believe in them.

6) When there is a success or good news story for or at the school, let the families know as well as the students. For example, if the student is a business major and a business grad gets a promotion, it is time to let everyone know about it. Send an email to all the business majors and their families and tell the success story that began at your university. 

7) Keep the families in the loop as an important part of their student’s success. Send them emails about events at the school. Let them know when an important date is coming up weeks in advance. For example, an email about finals week can always be helpful especially if you include some helpful things they can consider. 

For instance …the coming week can be a tough one for some students. It is the week of final exams for the semester/quarter. This is a time when students are studying hard and even all night to review or read material that might be on an exam.

It might be a good idea to just call to let your son/daughter/husband/wife know now that you know it is a tough week coming up and you are right behind them. Tell them to contact you any time he or she wants just to talk or even to let go some steam or anxiety. Be there for the student. Some families like to send a final’s week survival kit with some comfort food, cookies, candy, and whatever their student might enjoy while burning the midnight oil or compact fluorescent light bulb.

And know that if studying gets to be a bit much, we have XYZ to break it all up. The cafeteria is open all night for example for a break, a snack, a cup of coffee or some cake to keep going. And we are all available for a discussion break too or for you to call us and let us know of any issue you wish to discuss. Our special family finals line number is….. and our email is ……..

It is certainly not only okay but a great idea to include grandparents in all of this. They may be an important part of the student’s family. In fact, it could very well be that they are helping pay for the education. They can also be a valuable contact resource for students who sometimes prefer talking with grandparents about some things than parents. Grandparents can be seen as a more moderate and one step removed so safer to talk with. So, include them as well.

What does enrolling the family mean for you? Increased retention. More income and another benefit later. Increased alumni participation and donations. The more students feel attached to the school, the more they give. And parents can also be a donation source. There have been some major gifts to colleges and universities from parents who are thankful for the help and assistance they provided their sons and daughters, husbands or wives, and grandchildren. 

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. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Five Issues Concerning Freshmen Commuting Students

Here are the five top customer service issues from new freshmen commuter students we interviewed at 4-year not-for-profit public and private colleges, community colleges and 2 +4 year proprietary career schools. Students could indicate more than one concern. These are the ones that came up the most.

So now, (drum roll please!)

Top 5 New Commuter Freshman Concerns

1. Paying for college
2. Parking
3. Faculty that care
4. Belonging
5. The right courses
 1- Paying for college is the greatest top of mind response. No surprise. Money is very top-of-mind now in particular. Maslow could have predicted that. Tuition is up. Cost of books is obscene and disposable income is not strong for students and their families in September. Not that college is disposable. Just right now, at the start of the real New Year in the US (Labor Day), bills had to be paid, books bought (or not) and many students are going through their money fast. “I’m set for this semester but the next ones….?” was a common theme of many students.

So be sure that your financial aid office is working well and that the advisors each know about what to tell students who express concerns about finances. Each should at least be aware if there is an emergency loan program on campus (If there isn't there should be.) be sure they know about the rudimentary process of applying for financial aid, what scholarships there are and budgeting concepts. (Money management is an area that should be covered in orientation to help students.)

2- Parking is a perennial issue. Colleges do it all wrong and make students (the customers) park in the worst, most distant lots. Moreover, since most schools plan parking based on average per day over a year and the first weeks are far from average attendance, students actually want to be there the first month, there are normally shortages of parking spots. And what is available is way out at the rear of C Lot. Students (faculty, administrators, staff and the rest of us) don’t like walking. Add these all up and no wonder parking is a constant problem. I suggest buying old drive-in movies and using them as classes. No one even has to leave the car. More on this next week on a posting only on parking.

3- Faculty that care This is one of the big issues for later, weeks 6-9, when grades start to solidify but it starts now. Students want to like and respect their professors, but they have already begun to wonder if some of them give a damn. Since most faculty learned to teach by osmosis, they learned some of the worst habits of past faculties. One of these is to try and establish authority by being somewhat distant, professionally aloof, or even all-knowing. They learned to start by writing your full name on the board - “I am that I am”.

Others start being out outgoing and approachable but as part-time adjuncts, the serfs of education, most get worn out quickly driving from school to school trying to make ends meet and their exasperation quickly shows. Or they are TA’s who are more concerned with their dissertation into the lack of boat shoe images in Moby Dick than in teaching composition for example. Others have no idea what to do anyhow so they get lost, frustrated and fall back on osmosis induced bad habits. Most all faculty are concerned by the recent cut backs at the school so they are always concerned about their own well being and that cuts into caring for others.

Other faculty are great people and may even succeed at being engaged and caring but they, unfortunately, are, too often in the minority. And since we remember the broken arm at the fair rather than all the candy and rides, the negative learning experiences are primary. But thank god for them all. They give students hope. Thank you.

4- Belonging is related to faculty that care. Students want to feel they are wanted at a school and therefore belong. Uncaring faculty, administrators who ignore them (see past posting), staff who look through them and are not helpful, poor signage so they get lost, parking issues, books not available and too expensive,,, Actually most anything can make a student feel he or she does not belong, does not fit in. (send me 15 Principles of Good CS). Alienation or feeling rejected or unimportant is a major cause of why students leave a school..

5- The right courses Too many schools demand that freshman get the okay from an advisor on what courses they should or can take. But at most every college or school we have studied, the advisor system does not work. Most advisors are faculty who want to help students but cannot because they are not up-to-date on curricula changes, course equivalencies, requirements outside their own department, course content or program graduation requirements. As a result, 37% of students reported they were misadvised and put into the wrong courses. Most do not know add drop procedures so they will suffer through the wrong course and add money, time, frustration and perhaps another school to their future.

These are the top 5 now for commuting students. They will change over the semester and we will be there to let you know how they have changed.
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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