Monday, April 28, 2014

From the Top Down Customer Service or Lack of It

As Pogo put it so well many years ago “We have met the enemy and they are us”. That is especially true when it comes to service excellence on college campuses. We are the enemies of good service.
Just getting some basic politeness can be a challenge. I am beginning to think that college customer service is making cable companies look responsive to clients/customers.

I am not just talking about service to students. Colleges too often seem to be equal opportunity bad service providers. This is especially true when they are dealing with anyone outside of the campus . Just ask anyone who has applied for a job at a college how they were treated. They are requested to apply through an ad perhaps. They are most normally asked to apply by email. So far so good but as soon as an application goes in, the poor service starts. 
The applicants never receive any motivation that their application has been received for example. This would be so easily done too. Just set up an auto responder to send out an email back to the applicant stating that their email and application have been received, Thank you for the interest.
Then the search goes on and if an applicant is not successful in the process, he or she never hears anything again.  No one thanks them for the application and writes that “we are sorry that though you are an excellent candidate…” (or some such polite brushoff that was the norm years ago) . There is most often no response at all leaving the applicant hanging and feeling absolutely ill-served.  The candidate took the time to write a cover letter, direct her resume to the job and apply,. The least one could do is acknowledge that. It would be so easy too. Just create an Excel  list of applicants and email address and use a mail merge to send out thanks by emails. A simple polite gesture.

The gestures are often the key to helping promote a culture of caring and service. We have found many schools that just by-pass simple politeness because “we don’t have the time to do that” or “if I were to thank everyone I wouldn’t get any work done”. Well, one of the most important jobs a person can do is to motivate and show appreciation for others. It only takes two seconds to say thank you. It takes a minute to let someone know you appreciate the good work she has done. That moment would be well spent too because that small customer service to another would be repaid mover and over.
 It amazes me that quite often the higher some people go in the system, the lower their civility and politeness to others gets. We deal with many college administrators. Many ask us to come and talk with them about helping them make the service on their campus better to increase retention. After very many of these meetings I realize that service on the campus is not good because the people at the so-called top do not know what customer service and even manners are. They are often the ones to ask for the meetings but then treat us as if we are just getting in their way or as if we are somehow an imposition. If they do this with us I am sure they do it with others. After all, we are the customer service people and others try to polish up the politeness for us.

For example, I had a meeting recently that a college president requested. I was to fly to her city and meet with her the next day. When the time arrived for the meeting, she was late of course. And when she came into the conference room she just introduced herself and started in right away with “So what can you do for us on retention?”

We spoke for over an hour with her interrupting me at every turn so I could not finish a thought. She also did not listen to the responses I was giving so she asked me the same question more than once. If I answered her questions about increasing retention in a way that she didn’t agree with she simply told me I was wrong. Maybe I was but it is bad manners to do so to a guest. And I was a guest of the president and the college. She asked me for the meeting.

After the meeting she asked me to send her a customer service proposal to do an audit for the college. I did so. That was two months ago and I never received even a simple “Fugetaboutit”.  I did email twice to ask if there were any questions pertaining to the proposal and another time to offer to come back to discuss any issues that might be there but these emails were never responded to. 

It is interesting that this college president had asked us to survey her administrators to see where they were on basic customer service issues. It was not a pretty situation by the way. The administrators ranked low on their service and also felt that service on campus was weak. No wonder why. The president set the tone and I am certain that if the customer service and lack of basic politeness she gave me were the norm as I guessed they were, the people who report to her  learn politeness and good service are not important to succeed.

It is interesting that afterwards her assistant did respond to an email I sent her asking about the proposal. “So what do you think out biggest problem might be?” she asked. I wanted to say “your boss” but politeness led me to say that likely there were no clear positive champion for customer service on campus to set the tone for providing good service and hospitality. I also mentioned that service needs to begin at the top to lead the way and I was not certain that was happening fully enough

This was not an isolated case. In many situations I have found that the president and the leaders of a college or university are central to the problem at the school. They do not show appreciation for others. They are not polite and hospitable. They treat too many people as afterthoughts at best.
At another school, I found during an audit that the president had  a habit of belittling people in public and made comments about the staff that said they were not important. As I recall, the statement was” I can replace you by just grabbing someone at a bus stop.” And he wondered why the staff did not teat students better. Because he did not treat staff well is why.

In this situation I was called on to report the problems at the school as precursor to more work to do for them. I wrote the truth as politely as I could. Oddly enough I did not get any more work from that school after writing that the problem starts at the top and works its way down.

N. Raisman & Associates is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through workshops, presentations, research, training and academic customer service solutions for colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as businesses that work with them 
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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Student Behavior and Customer Service

A faculty member of a client college I had presented a workshop at last year emailed today. Seems he was confused. He is getting fed up with the way
students behave in class. He said he is tired of competing with cell phones; upset by students who just walk into or out of class when they feel like it and certainly bored and even appalled at times by the language, tone ands attitude some students use. He feels he should not allow these sorts of activities but is concern that would go against what the customer service attitudes being expressed by his department chair who fears a high drop out percentage. Fewer students could lead to a smaller budget? Those attitudes are expressed by supporting students who might complain the faculty member is being too hard or strict in class. The faculty member comes up for tenure soon and does not want any problems.

Okay, leaving the whole tenure process and results on teaching and student service aside because that is one of the largest problems in academia, what the faculty member described is a common misunderstanding. See, I can be quite temperate at times. But I must say that the faculty member and his chair just prove the Pogo cartoon once again.

If anyone believes that pandering to the worst instincts and behaviors of students is providing customer service they are not only wrong, but to quote Dr. House they are idiots. They are not providing good customer service anymore than a dentist who sees a bad tooth and leaves it in so as not to cause the patient pain from a root canal is.

Keep in kind that anyone who believes that the customer is always right is almost always wrong. QUIZES ANYONE? Students are not right. In fact it is because they are wrong -or maybe better word - flawed that they come to college. They attend higher education because they know they are not prepared to succeed in a career yet. They also realize they need to learn from books and from people if they are to get that job or grad school before a job to reach their goals in life. They pay money to be made stronger, smarter and less socially awkward. And due to false notions of customer service we fail them – sometimes in all three areas.

If we make courses easier because we believe they do not want to work that hard, that is not customer service. If we do not challenge them as much as we ought to create greater intellectual plasticity and ability preferring to hand out high grades that will reinforce their self-esteem, we have not served them well. And if we allow them to act in ways in our classes that will surely get them fired on a job we have failed. That is not customer service! That is in fact, major dis-service.

If anyone believes that letting students skip classes will be helpful to them in the world of work, it can only be an academic living in the tenured palace. There is not right to fail in life/ Faculty who allow students to walk in late or walk out when they want, talk on the phone, nap during class, be rude, use inappropriate language, be rude to the teacher, hand in homework when and if they please and so on are just preparing these students for failure in life. And they are preparing themselves to hate what they are doing as teachers.

“Uh Ms. Dennison, I came into the meeting late because I really needed a latte and I had to leave the meeting to talk to my bud who is having a rough time right now. Oh yuh, the analysis you need and told me to get to you today, well, I had stuff to do so I didn’t get it done yet but I may be able to get to after some things I need to do tonight. Okay?”
How long will that graduate of your college have that job I wonder?

By letting students act in inappropriate ways that will bite them in the future is so far from good customer service that it is appalling bad. College is not just to instruct on some facts, some processes. It is to teach some abilities to survive and thrive in the real world. Real customer service is telling students who walk in late “You just got fired from your job and class today. Arriving late and interrupting me and the class is unacceptable behavior which will not be tolerated here or in whatever field of work you wish to enter.”

“Cell phones are not permitted to be used in this class. It is disrespectful to me and your classmates when you go and talk during class and will not be accepted by your colleagues nor your bosses on a job. Shut them off. leave them off during this class.”

“Work is due when it is due. If it is not on time, there will be consequences here as there would be on the job you may eventually get.”

And so one. You get the idea. Taking positions such as these above is actually good customer/client service. Moreover, it is also providing good academic customer service to the other students who are trying to learn from you. They are as upset with interruptions, cell calls, talking, sleeping, etc as you are. Maybe even more so. They are not paying for you to let other students hinder their chances to learn and succeed.

Students are your clients who come to your school and your class to be made better and stronger just as any client with a problem, a challenge or a need comes to an expert. We expect the expert to tell us the truth and to tell us what needs to be done even if it is not necessarily what we ant to hear. Just as when I am a client of my doctor I expect the truth and courses of action with integrity even if I do not want to watch what I eat and exercise.

Would anyone feel he or she received good service if the doctor told us that we were engaged in unhealthy behaviors but just keep doing them. “Hey, I don’t want to upset you, you know bedside manner and all so yes keep drinking to excess, overeating fried and fatty foods topped with ice cream and candy, engaging in a sedentary lifestyle, sticking nickels in your nose, coming to class late unprepared and overtired, talking on the cell phone during meetings, cursing out your boss and just being a general pain in the butt is just fine. And oh yes, while your at it, you might consider smoking too. Keep it up”
Of course not. And we should not be doing anything even close to that in the name of customer service. We do not help students and we certainly do not help ourselves. Stop it and replace it with real service. Being a provider of good customer service does not mean doing what is harmful to the students now and for the future.
NRaisman & Associates is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through workshops, presentations, research, training and academic customer service solutions for colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as businesses that work with them 
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Friday, April 04, 2014

Emotionality, Return on Investment and Retention Success

1.      Financial return on investment
2.      Emotional return on investment and
3.      The affective return on investment.
The phrase return on investment makes these sound like a rational calculation that students perform to decide if they are indeed receiving the ROI they expect and want. That is not so. These are not the business calculations that a company might make to determine if an investment is worthwhile to make. Business calculations take into account outlay of funds that will either realize a profit, a return, of not. The calculations students make are instead subjective investments, feelings that are made by students in schools.
The role of emotions in retention is an extremely important one that is not taken into account enough. Students make their initial decisions to attend a college or university from an emotional attachment to the school (“I WANT to go there”) all the way through to the emotional decision to leave a school (“I hate this place.”) Yet we do not take the emotions and the academic customer service that builds them up or tears them down into account enough. Service and hospitality make a student feel as if the school is worth it or not. Good service and the students feel a better ROI in all three categories. Weak service and hospitality and the students feel the school does not care about them and they do not feel they are getting the ROIs they expect.
The involvement of a student in his or her school is almost purely an emotional one that determines for the student if they are receiving back at least as much as they are putting in.  This is called emotional equity. Of the three returns on investment they one that comes closest to a calculation can be the first, the fiscal ROI. The question it asks is simply felt as is this worth it? Will I get to my goals? Is this school worth the money it costs and the effort and time I am investing in it.
If a student feels (that’s right feels) that the money and time he is investing will pay off in a job that will get the student to where in life he wants to go, the investment can be deemed worthwhile. The payoff need not be a fiscal one by the way. The students want a specific career that he or she will love for her life. For example, a student who is an art history major will almost never make all that much money in his or her career. The money invested is not to make more money but to do something she wants to do. Something he loves doing so the investment leading to some sort of job in the world that calls for an art history degree can be seen as well invested even in an expensive liberal arts university.
The return on investment here is then an emotional one as are the others. But if the student feels that the investment of time and money will not lead to a job he or she will either quit or at least change majors. So even in the fiscal return the decision is a subjective one. One that depends not on a calculation but a feeling, an emotion. A feeling that the academic customer services we provide – education and help with learning – will lead to the objective of a fiscal ROI. These are customer services by the way in our enterprise of higher education. The how they are provided is what can determine if a student will see a fiscal ROI in her future or not.
If the educational services are provided by caring professors who show they are concerned with the student’s learning and succeeding then the student will feel as if she has a chance to succeed. If taught by uncaring faculty who see it as their goal to get through the material and get out the door, the perception of the fiscal return on investment will be lower and the odds of a student dropping out higher. It is after all a subjective decision finally.
Those emotions are developed not by a calculation of feelings either but primarily whether or not we serve the student as she wants to be served to meet the other two ROI’s – the emotional and affective. Let’s realize that most students are highly capable of deluding themselves about their prospects. Each student who stays in school believes that she will be the one who will get the job out there. If they did not they would quit or go somewhere else. So the other two ROI’s become quite important too in determining whether a student will stay or not.
The emotional ROI is what it says it is. “Do I feel people care about me?” That is do I feel emotionally attached to this school and do I feel that people are giving me back emotionally to make me feel happy and comfortable here?  This is probably the strongest of the ROI’s by the way. Since the decision to leave a college or university is an emotional not calculated one the perception of whether or not I am getting an emotional ROI becomes paramount. Consider also that the one of the major findings of the reasons students leave a school is the feeling that the school does not care about me. Students do not feel that there is an equal emotional ROI coming from the school to justify continuing an emotional investment in the school. In fact if one asks ( as we do) why students left a school the response is often something akin to “I hated that place” followed by “all they cared about was my tuition money”. These are emotional rejections of the school.
And where do these emotional rejections come from? From the second major reason why students leave a college – direct poor service and weak hospitality.  Students see themselves and feel that they are the customers of the school yet we too often do not. We too often see them “as privileged to be here” as one faculty member told me recently. We really believe they should feel fortunate to be at the school. That flies in the face of the emotional perspective of the students who feel they wish to be given good service and made to feel welcome.
A good example of a school that seems to get the service and caring aspect is Lynn University which has revamped its campus tours along the lines we have been writing about for years for example to personalize them and make the potential students feel welcome on campus. They do not do the “impersonal walking backwards group here’s the library tour.” They take each student separately around campus and make sure they meet people who provide a gracious welcome to campus. They make sure they meet faculty in their intended major; students majoring in the area and administrators including the president when available who provide a hearty welcome. That sets the emotional ROI expectation in place. Their applications have risen exponentially and their retention should also if they keep it up. 
They have realized the strength of the emotional attachment to the school and are playing it for everything it is worth in their new tours that are working very well.
The affective return is also an emotional one. It asks the question of whether or not I want to be known as part of the school. Do I feel an attachment to the place? This is the ROI that leads to such things as sports at a college or university. Ever wonder why colleges invest so much in having a top football or basketball team? Sure they are for donations from alumni but it is also a way to get students to feel an attachment to the school.  A winning team can make people feel proud to be part of a school and that provides a good affective ROI. That’s also why schools brag about a faculty member publishing a book, a research project or a graduate getting a good job. That makes students feel proud to be known as a member of that school. This is also an emotional attachment.
For schools to succeed in attracting and then keeping students through to graduation they need to focus on the students’ sense of their ROIs which means focusing on their emotions. That is done through increasing the services and the excellence of the services we provide just like Lynn University did on its tours. 

If this article made sense to you, you may want to contact N.Raisman & Associates to see how you can improve academic customer service and hospitality to increase student satisfaction and retention.
UMass Dartmouth invited Dr. Neal Raisman to campus to present on "Service Excellence in Higher Ed"  as a catalyst event used to kick off a service excellence program.  Dr. Neal Raisman presents a very powerful but simple message about the impact that customer service can have on retention and the overall success of the university.  Participants embraced his philosophy as was noted with heads nods and hallway conversations after the session.  Not only did he have data to back up what he was saying, but Dr. Raisman spoke of specific examples based on his own personal experience working at a college as  Dean and President.  Our Leadership Team welcomed the "8 Rules of Customer Service", showing their eagerness to go to the next step in rolling Raisman's message out.  We could not have been more pleased with his eye-opening presentation.    Sheila Whitaker UMass-Dartmouth
If you want more information on NRaisman & Associates or to learn more about what you can do to improve academic customer service excellence on campus, get in touch with us or get a copy of our best selling book The Power of Retention.