Thursday, January 30, 2014

Measuring Customer Service and Retention Success

While meeting with a college president who was hiring my firm to do a customer service audit of her school, she asked me a basic and important question. “How
do you measure success? How do you know if this all works?”

There are five ways to make that measurement. Some of them may take longer than a year to determine but then changing a college’s culture is a long term project. Colleges are great at studying others and telling them how to change but a bit weak in studying themselves and making change occur on campus.

One, take a survey of students, staff, faculty and administrators at the beginning of a project to increase retention through any means. Then use that survey as a benchmark to judge progress. An increase in positives will show success in the area that the survey question covers.  We include a survey of all these groups in our customer service audits so our client colleges and universities have a way to make both measurements of success and decisions about what needs to be done next.

For example, one question in the survey asks students to rate the following “Employees always stop what they are doing to assist me” If the ratings on that go up into more positive range, from a 3.5 to a 4 for example, then that shows some progress being made on that customer service factor. If not, then this is an area that more training and accountability are called for. Or, the college has not been making this issue a priority for change and needs to focus on it now. It is easy to see what progress or lack of it is made for each of the items on the survey given after the initial benchmarking survey. It is also quite easy to see if the overall scores for positive customer service are increasing or staying the same.

One simple survey that any school can use is to ask students and the college community the following simple question. “If you could change one thing at the college tomorrow to make the experience even better, what would it be?” You will be amazed at the wealth of response the questions unleashes. Put the list into a high to low importance taxonomy by how many times an item was mentioned. Then start solving the items one by one going down the list.

Take that survey each semester and see how many items are repeats versus how many you have taken care of and are no longer on the list.

Two, see if there have been any changes in population. Note I did not say retention. That is because too many schools focus on the freshman to sophomore numbers and call that retention. At a college that was considering using our services we were told that their retention was good but could be better. “It is 80%” they said. Eighty percent! That would place them in the top tier of college retention leaders. But alas when we dug just a bit more we saw that they used retention to refer to the entry class number for the first year against the second for a cohort of students. But that ignores the fact that retention is a process that starts at the first day on campus and ends at graduation. Students drop out at all stages along the path to graduation. In fact, if schools check their actual numbers they might well find that there are more drops during the second/sophomore year than any other.

So we talk about retention as a matter of total population in total including all students in all levels of study prior to graduation.

A way to measure success in retention is to compare the year’s starting population against the next year’s while subtracting transfers in from the total of the second year. Then calculate the percentage to get your real retention number. So if the college had a total population of 2,500 in one year and the next year had a population of 2,450 minus 50 transfers in for a retained population of 2,400 that would show a retention rate of 96% which would be extraordinary.

By doing a year to year or even semester to semester retention percentage, a school can know if its efforts are working or not. If the population is broken into classes (freshman through super seniors) the school can also know where the numbers of drops are occurring  The shifts in population increases may well be small ones at first but as the retention percentage starts to grow it will increase faster as the school is able to be pickier about who it lets in since it will need fewer new students to make the target population.

Three, follow student cohorts through from entry to graduation and compare successive cohort retention rates over the process from day one to graduation. So if the 2010 cohort began with 2000 students and graduates 1500, the retention rate based on graduation is 75%. That can be compared to the retention/graduation rate of the cohort that began in 2011 to see if there is a shift in retention rates. If there is an increase in the percentage from one cohort to another that will indicate that the efforts are working to retain more students.

This is a longer term process of course and will take at least four years or even six to follow the cohort to graduation but it will tell you if your efforts are successful from year to year.

Four, talk with students and the college community members and ask them if things are getting better. Sort of like Ed Koch the Mayor of New York used to do. He would go and ask people, “How am I doing?’ and listen to the responses. People will often tell you if things are getting better or not. But to do this, one must win the trust of the population.

We have found that students may not always be as open and direct as one might hope because of sub-conscious concern over cognitive dissonance making them want to find things fine or having to challenge their decision to be there. So if students say there is a problem, pay close attention and act on it. They often do not complain to you as much as they might to their friends but that does not mean they do not have issues to take care of. This is even truer of the campus community. They will not always answer honestly if they fear any sort of reprisal.

So listen closely and do it often. The more you do it the more open people become after seeing there is no reprisal or negative consequence of talking. Just keep track of the number of people who tell you if things are better or not and you can start to gauge the success of customer service efforts.

Five, conduct an audit of customer service on campus. This can be done yourself or by hiring someone who has been doing academic customer service/retention audits on college campuses. Use the first audit as a benchmark. Then repeat the audit two years later and see if there is any improvement. Compare the results of the benchmarking audit to the one taken later and see if the same issues exist or have been taken care of.  That will tell you if there has been success in improving service excellence on campus.

NRaisman &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. NRaisman & Associates prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. 

No comments: