Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The 76% Retention Increase Solution

Studies have shown that 76% percent of all attrition finally comes back to some aspect of academic customer service. Students leave a school because they do
not receive the service they expect or need to succeed and feel a true member of the college community. But academic customer service is not the same as retail. In academic customer service for example the customer is not always right, such as on tests and quizzes. But they are right in demanding the services to which they feel entitled from being treated as a valuable and worthwhile member of the community from parking and food service through to scheduling, classroom decorum, teachers who know their name and all the other aspects that feed into their demand of a good return of three major investments – financial, emotional and affective.

What are the four basic indicators of a successful school in its operations, budget and well-being?

  1. Population,
  2. Population,
  3. (No surprise here) Population and
  4. Customer service levels.
If a school is able to maintain and grow its population, then its operations can be in order. Note I said population. Not admissions. Hitting admission numbers does not indicate the health of the institution, particularly if a school is losing 30 percent or more of its students. Simply put, if a recruitment team sells 100 pet rocks on Monday, but by next week 30 are returned, then how many were really sold? The recruitment team may be celebrating hitting its goal but the CFO is dying because the lost revenue and costs associated with selling and processing returns have basically wiped out any profit needed to supply the institution's revenue to operate. All the company has learned is that the pet rock can be sold but has very little customer retention power and may just have been sold in a way that can lead to bigger issues down the line.
Customer service is an overlooked aspect in a school's success. Unfortunately, too many schools have a problem accepting that. They give into notions that customer service is some business concept that has no or little relevance to a college. People in schools have a sense that customer service is somehow a call to pander to students, to just lower standards and make them happy. That is not customer service. That is cheating the primary customer, the student.

And they are customers. they exchange money for goods and services and that makes them customers. Call them students. Fine but realize they are customers who will remind of you of that when they say things like "all you care about is my money?" They know they are your customer. It is about time we recognize and accept this. But they are collegiate; not retail customers and that is a major distinction. They are not buying anything. They are obtaining professional services within the rules and regulations of academia and that defines their relationship with the service providers.

The core definition of customer service is meeting the needs and expectations of customers. Let’s be clear here when we discuss academic customer service. Academic customer service is not about giving easy grades or coddling students. Customer service is about meeting the expectations and needs of the students, our customers. If a school promotes small classes in its marketing but has lecture courses of over 100 people, it is not going to meet the expectation it created. If a school says they have a dedicated, caring faculty but faculty do not show up for office hours, both an expectation is broken and a need not met. People expect that what you say you will do you will actually do or they will see a discrepancy between your promises and realities as well as question the value of their investment in the school. They will not see they are getting a full return on their financial, emotional and affective investments in the college and will leave and take their tuition with them.

It is also about helping students in their efforts by providing tools and services that help them succeed. Tools like a good library. Services such as tutoring by qualified tutors, additional study material and supplementary opportunities to understand the information or achieve a skill are examples of customer service

The 2010 National Survey of Student Engagement  indicated that over 60 percent of students attend more than one college prior to graduation. That should not comfort administrators if their school is among those that lose more students than they take in. Misery likes company but there are no revenue dollars in the misery of losing a large portion of enrollment, especially to those who get laid off to meet budget as a result of too many drops.

The direct correlation of revenue to tuition and fees in a college or university is undeniable. Tuition is provided only by students who attend and then stay in the college. If they leave, they stop paying tuition and fees. The college loses a major revenue stream when it loses students. Therefore, retention is the key to providing an institution the revenue it needs to run its operations.

There is another correlation of academic customer service to retention. Academic (not retail) customer service accounts for up to 76% percent of all reasons that students leave a college according to research we have conducted over the past ten years. NRaisman & Associates surveyed 1200 students one year after they left a school to learn why they left. The passage of a year gave the students the distance and anonymity for more open discussion on actual attrition causes. The students were randomly selected, and many had gone on to new schools.

Here's why they left.

When we ask schools why students leave they normally say it is mainly for finances and personal reasons.This is wrong. What we discovered is that students will often “play to the interviewer” during their meetings with an exit counselor (if the school has one.) They name generic “personal reasons” as their reason for leaving the school. Most counselors accept this excuse, because, ultimately, it means the school cannot be held accountable for a student’s personal problems.

But when we dug into those "personal reasons" a bit, we found that the students were saying "personally I don;t want to be here". Personal problems actually fell into a few major customer service categories. Most often, students said they didn't like the way they were treated and that they took personally. They tell us that they felt the school was indifferent toward them as a person, as a learner, or as anything but tuition revenue. A common statement was, “All they seemed to care about was me paying on time.”

This perceived apathy on the part of the school was the primary reason 25% percent of students said they left. This feeling violates our Good Academic Customer Service Principle 1:
“Everyone wants to attend Cheers University, where everyone knows your name and they're awfully glad you came"
If they feel you do not care, they are on the way out the door over to Gary’s Old Towne Tavern.

The second major reason students gave for leaving a school was dissatisfaction with how they were treated by staff, meaning anyone who works at the college from maintenance people on up. Faculty are staff. Clerical workers are staff. Administrators are staff. They are all in a staff-student relationship. Everyone should be working to meet the needs of the student, the primary customer.

When we do a retention audit of a school, students will generally out some clerical, management or administrative staff as the primary poor customer service villain. This is because students are more lenient with faculty in general. Students want to believe their teachers care about them even if they don't seem to really show it much. But that belief that faculty care can change if a professor awards a grade that is inconsistent with what the student believes is hard work and effort. Grades have become the coin of the realm for students and they believe they are paying for them in one or another way – study and tuition. Students who believe their grades don't reflect their effort feel they have been mistreated, and will not continue to put up with that. So they leave.

Financial difficulty was the reason that 13% of students dropped out. A significant percentage but not the major reason. In fact what we find as we work with students who stay in school but have financial problems, most will find a way to pay for school if they feel they are being treated right and they feel the investment is worth it. Of course the services provided by the financial aid office are key here and interestingly we have found deficiencies in most all the financial aid departments we have studied for colleges and universities. Schools are hurting themselves by providing weak and even poor customer service in the FA office and on the web too.

Another significant reason students leave is that they are simply unhappy with the school. The institution forgets that it is much easier and much less costly to keep a student than to recruit and enroll her to begin with. Before classes, there are numerous communications, well planned activities at orientations, events, even celebrations to make sure the students will show up. Once classes start, most schools seem to forget to keep up the effort that says we are glad you came.

Even if a school tries to maintain a focus on making students feel welcome during freshman year, it almost always ends at most every school as soon as sophomore year rolls around. Now it is assumed, the students are mature, focused and will remain satisfied with the college. That false assumption leads to many more dropouts. Taking away the focus after freshman year is a sure way to add to potential dissatisfaction. Once any institution provides good initial customer service, it should never be taken away.

Customer Service and its Discontents

Though they may be reluctant to admit it, colleges and universities are businesses at their core. Granted, unique and idiosyncratic businesses but service providers all the same. Each has its own culture, mores, folkways, traditions, and codes. Yet, common to each is a business model that includes budgets, personnel, administrations, strategic plans, marketing, customer (student) acquisition, and more.

But higher education and its individual schools are unique from other business models and so customer service needs to recognize that. The approaches of the world of commerce and corporations do not always work. At best, they need to be adapted to recognize that the services in a school are not exactly equal to selling widgets. Platitudes will not work. What will work is providing the tools and services to help assure that students get the returns on investment they seek.

And schools must keep in mind what those in the restaurant industry already know. The core service is the final product itself. A nice waiter can never make up for bad food. But a nice waiter can make good food that much better and keep customers loyal. In a school, the product is the education itself. A good education with good customer service will make for greater retention, happier students, and graduates who will support the school.

You probably believe your core service, the learning that takes place is solid enough or are working to make it better. The strength of a curriculum can be easily ascertained. But the strength or lack of academic customer service is not. Discerning customer service at a college or university is difficult to do because one needs a distance from the school and its habits to be able to be impartial enough to accurately see the strengths, weaknesses and points of contact that are driving students away. 

There are some tools we have developed to try and help you begin to understand the levels of customer service on campus. One is the Customer Service Inventory; a survey that can show some cultural attitudes and some strengths and weaknesses. If you use the Inventory we will be willing to help you understand it as a no-fee service to help you out. the other is our Do It Yourself approach that some schools have started their customer service excellence program with. Whatever you use or do, academic customer service is too big an issue and retention factor to be overlooked. 

Now Available at the Administrators Bookshelf

A New Book on Collegiate Customer Service

From Admissions to Graduation: Achieving Growth through Academic Customer Service

 by Dr. Neal Raisman, the leading expert on collegiate customer service and author of three best-selling books on the topic

From Admission to Graduation is available through the Administrator's Bookshelf


Monday, May 12, 2014

Davidson Makes Shock Less Negative

Davidson College is ending its program of providing a laundry service for its students. It was that students could drop off laundry and get it back cleaned
and folded. It was a real service for students. The College says it is going to use the approximate $400,000 it spent a year on academic-related things like scholarships, internships, research, the entrepreneurship program and community-based learning instead of the laundry service.

I think the College may be making an error which will result in lowered student satisfaction with the College and could affect retention. It has been found that when consumers are used to getting a service and it is discontinued that the company loses clientele. People do not like to give up a perk or service they were used to getting. But Davidson is making the error correctly in the way it is going about dropping the service and there are lessons to see in its approach that may restrain some of the negative reactions

Washing your clothes is not a big thing really and most students just accept it as part of the collegiate living away from home experience but it was a perk of going to Davidson. It was a long standing service too going way back to 1925. And it was a service that students really liked. So giving it up is not something the students are going to be happy about especially since there will be no downward adjustment in the approximately $58,000 a year cost of attendance. In fact if Davidson is like most all schools, the COA will go up as services go down.  That is the sort of adjustment that irks the heck out of consumers, and students are consumers.

If there is a negative backlash it will come from the students already in attendance because they are the ones giving up the service. They are the ones who will have to go from being served to having to do it themselves. It is correct that as the College President Carol Quillen noted that students do not come to Davidson for the free laundry but it was a perk of attendance; one which students realized they were paying for. But students who are on the fence about staying at Davidson with the COA could very well be pushed over the line and leave feeling that the cost was not worth it.

Davidson may be somewhat insulated against too much of a shock effect of the insult of taking away a perk from students since it has such a strong student loyalty rate as seen in its 91.5% six-year graduation rate with most students getting through in four years (87.1%).  There appears to be a great deal of satisfaction in the school. 

And the shock might be lessened by the way the College is implementing the change. They are making the change in a year; not quickly. The time will give the students a period of adjustment to the change and allow the laundry workers time to find another job; hopefully at Davidson if possible. The delay shows a concern for the feelings of students and staff that will be appreciated. 

Too many schools make changes too quickly and only exacerbate the negative reactions to the change. We are talking a full calendar year here and not an academic which would have meant the laundry would close in the Fall of 2014.
The College also made a very wise move in developing a linkage between the closing of the laundry to shift funds and a student-backed initiative to keep the library open all day. The College did not specifically say that the agreement to the 24 hour opening change of the library was directly linked to the closing of the laundry, they let the timing of the two announcements do that. As a result, the students felt they had an immediate gain from the eventual loss of service so the shock was mitigated a bit. The students felt there was a tradeoff that had some value.

Also by tagging the saved funds to specific programs that aided students directly as opposed to a nebulous cost savings, the students were able to see offsetting gains to the loss. More scholarships could be very helpful to students and families. The internships were something students had wanted so that was an additional gain for the College’s consumers. A new entrepreneurship program may or may not be a plus for current students who have already chosen majors but for incoming students this could be an added attraction. Moreover, the College is putting in new washers and dryers which will be free for students to use. If it had made the students pay for the machines, there would have been a strong backlash. And it is worth noting that the College has been as forthcoming as it could on the change, its why’s and its direct benefits to its customers.

So though Davidson has taken away a much appreciated service it has made a mistake in the best way.
It has given sits customers plenty of time to prep[are for the changes. It gave the students something they wanted (library hours) in a “trade” for the free laundry service while keeping doing one’s laundry free. It specified how it was going to use the recouped funds for programs that would be a direct benefit to students. And it has given the displaced workers plenty of time to get new jobs. All in all, President Quillen and her team are making a negative change happen in the best way possible and we can all learn from that.

Make change slowly when it comes to taking service(s) away from students.

  • Give the consumer plenty of time to adjust to the change.
  • Be transparent in the reasons for the change.
  • Be certain to tie the loss in service to how it will provide new services for students.
  • If at all possible, provide another service for the one taken away so as to mitigate the damage.
  • Show concern and real consideration for those affected by the loss in service and changes in work situations.
  • And hope for the best. 
We will see how it all goes for Davidson as the change actually rolls out to the students.

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 
We increase your success
                                CALL OR EMAIL TODAY 

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Service Power Shifts on Campus

As a result of the growth in on-line, for-profit and traditional colleges drive to increase enrollment and leave no admissions unturned all competing for the
same students, the balance in power has been shifting form the schools to the applicant/students. Power in this context means “that you can dictate terms and make others do what they otherwise wouldn’t ” according to Claes Fornell in his book The Satisfied Customer.

It once was that the schools has all the power in the process. Students played by our rules and jumped over every bar we wanted or we would not take them. The schools still have the power to make applicants play by their basic rules but that is starting to shift as colleges do not want to lose even one applicant to make the final numbers. One could argue that the common application form is an example of giving away power to make students do it our way. Now convenience for students applying is the issue; not following our rules.

The shifting of power can also be seen in the attempts that schools make to retain students. It once was that the attitude was “they should be happy just to have the privilege of being here.”  That has gone by the boards for most every school including to some extent the top brand-name schools. Now the attitude towards pleasing students is seen in rock climbing walls, state of the art workout facilities, dorms like apartments, cafeterias with plenty of choice and foods that the customers will like and the like. It also, unfortunately, includes letting students act in disruptive ways in the classroom. To keep students happier, schools have given into the customer power of students. This they do because not to do so would increase attrition.

The schools have to keep up with the realization of shifting consumer power to the students and their families as well as the loss of power to their competitors. If a similar school has built a new athletic facility for students, that puts the pressure on a school to do likewise or lose students to the other school. This is a loss of power through competition.

The area that the colleges retain power however is in setting the processes and rules that deal with how students will conduct business with the school. In these areas, schools often provide horrible service to students because they have the power to do so. These are exactly areas that the schools need to consider loosening up a bit on; the processes they demand, the hoops they make students jump through until they just say I am not jumping any more. Schools think that they have to hold rigidly to this power or the students will… well, what will they do? Be happier with the school.

For example, most schools make students jump through numerous hoops when they try to drop a class. The student must get the form to drop the class. He then has to take it to an advisor who most often cannot be found so the student has to chase the advisor down. Then the advisor has to sign off on the drop. When the advisor is brought to ground, he or she usually just signs a name on the form without consideration of the change in schedule. One, because the advisors do not seem to care. And two because they are too often ill-informed on what the program is and what the drop at that time might do to progress. After that the faculty member in the class has to sign off on the drop. Following that the student has to take the form to the registrar’s office for processing and to the bursar’s office to alert the people there that a course has been dropped.

If you check, you’d find that most students do not do this. If they just drop by not showing up, they suffer the consequence most often of a faculty member giving them an F for failing to show up, do homework and take tests. If they start the process they often quit after they cannot find the advisor so the drop by just not going to class any more or they just sign the advisor’s name themselves. In so doing, they shift some of the power onto themselves by subverting the process. If they sign the name of the advisor and sometimes that of the faculty member, they just undermine the system and in so doing “realize the whole system is a fraud. All they want to do is make you run around and show you who is in charge.” as one student told me recently.

So why do we do this? We can tell ourselves that it is to make sure the student understands the consequences of his or her action. They could lose financial aid money by dropping from full time to part time for example. That is why they need to see an advisor but with advisors doing such a cursory job in many, too many cases the student does not get the counselling she needs. The real reason we make them follow the “run around” is because we can. We have the power to do it and have always done it that way.

This and other administrative procedures should be areas in which we give up power. Not make students run all over campus because we can because they won’t anyhow. What we should do is place some of that power on the students. For example, rather than use the power-based antiquated process of dropping a course. Just set up a page on the website at which a student can just go and type in the course he wants to drop, click a box saying I want to drop this course. At which time a pop up box could come up warning the student that “dropping a course could have consequences such as possible loss of some financial aid”. Then the student would have to click on a box that says “I understand the dropping this course could have consequences. I choose to drop the course anyhow”.

This shifts the power to the student but also places the responsibility for the decision on the student. It cuts out the run around while giving the student the power to decide. This is a salutary shift of power.  It is also good customer service by placing the process in the hands of the customer, the student. It will also save the college time and aggravation as well as please the student. There are many areas in which a shift in power to the consumer will help.

The one area in which a shift in power back to the college would help is in classroom decorum. As I travel around working in colleges and universities I hear more and more faculty complaining that they do not get support from the administration for controlling decorum in the classroom. Many faculty say that they are told not to ban cell phone use in class. That they are to let students come in late and disrupt the entire class. That if a student naps in class it is not okay to wake him up. And if a student uses inappropriate language, don’t correct or chastise them for doing so. Let it go by.

This is poor service and an inappropriate shift of power to the customer. In this case, the rule is “the customer can be wrong”. If students are allowed to disrupt the classroom that student takes away from every other on in the class. If professors have to compete with students answering cell phones for example, every other student loses in the situation. They have come to class to learn from the professor not to have to listen to what a student did last night.

When a student comes in late, she interrupts the class as everyone looks at her coming in. That includes the professor who is interrupted in what she is saying or doing. The entire class is disrupted. 

When a student uses inappropriate language and is not corrected, he is not learning that that language is inappropriate in some locations such as a classroom and in his future work. Students come to school to get jobs so we must prepare them for that job and using appropriate language is one lesson to learn.

So classroom decorum is an area in which the power needs to be shifted back to the professor and the administration needs to back them up.

If you want to increase retention at your school, call us about a workshop today  413.219.6939

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 
We increase your success
                                CALL OR EMAIL TODAY 
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