Monday, July 28, 2014

The Customer/Student is Always Right?

 Many people in academia get upset when students are referred to as customers. The concept seems to irk faculty in particular. Something about the customer and service provider relationship in a higher education context just seems wrong. It seems to me that the problem comes out of some misunderstanding and misperception. This is especially so as a result of misunderstanding of the line “the customer is always right”.

Faculty and others in colleges seem to believe this statement means they should give the students what they want such as high grades and praise when they are not due. This is incorrect and a rather naïve concept if one just gives it a bit of thought especially in the academic and most professional service environments such as medicine. 

The phrase is attributed to Caesar Ritz who applied it to a hotel environment to exhort his staff to take the hotel’s clients seriously with courtesy and tact. He was upset that his staff were treating the guests as if they were not valued. He did not want to lose clients in his superior-class hotel so he had to have his staff treat the guests at a level as high as the hotel was posh. The staff were somewhat rude to guests and did not respond quickly enough to their needs and concerns. They were Parisians after all and the guests were not. 

This could be done in a hotel/food service environment to an extent. If a customer complained that a steak was not done well enough, it was to be replaced with no questions asked as opposed to how Basil Faulty might have handled it. If a hotel room was not up to expectations the guest was given another that pleased him more. This could be done in a hotel/food service environment where there are not rules and regulations that must be followed on what rights the guest has.

The phrase was not intended to mean that the customer could not be wrong at times but when he is correct him with tact and concern for his integrity. It also had its limits as it does now. Let’s say a guest eats a meal at a restaurant and the bill came to $100. The bill arrives and the guest tells the waiter that the meal was good but I only want to pay $25. The customer is always right? No. The customer is wrong and the job of the waiter it to tell him that as appropriately as possible. The customer can be wrong.

A man goes to the doctors with an ailment. The doctor tells him that he needs to have his gall bladder removed but the patient says he’d rather have his appendix removed. Does the doctor agree and remove the appendix? No. Of course not. That would not just be absurd but unprofessional. The doctor would be called upon to refuse to do the surgery but tell the patient so in a way that does not denigrate the patient. In other words not like the TV character Dr. House.

The statement is not meant to mean that the patient, the diner, the customer or student is always right but to treat them properly. The statement is to guide staff and service provider behavior toward the customer.

In academia it calls on all of us to treat students as if they are important and valued people. It calls upon us to act as professionals, teach at the highest level possible and not denigrate or belittle students as did the fictional Dr. Kingsley in the movie The Paper Chase. In the movie Dr. Kingsley has asked a first year law student a question. When the student cannot answer the question, Kingsley says “Here is a dime. Go call your mother and tell her there is serious doubt that you will ever become a lawyer”. That would be an example of not treating the customer right. To treat the customer as if he were not wrong would be to simply tell him that the answer is incorrect and try to guide him to the correct answer. To treat the student as if he does have value, integrity and feelings.

The phrase does not mean we should give out high grades or coddle students but to be fully  engaged and treat them properly. We know that students are often wrong like on quizzes and tests.  Seeing a student as a customer does not mean that you should have made an easier quiz or just give everyone high grades. It means that if a student is not doing well we should step in and try to help him or at least offer help. Some students will accept it and others will not but our role in acting right is to make the offer.

We also work in a regulated environment with rules and codes that do not allow us to take the phrase so simply. If a student applies for financial aid and does not get as much as she wants, it is not for us to simply say “Oh well the customer is always right” and give her more financial aid than she is entitled to. No the job is then to follow the rules and guideline set out by the federal or state financial aid program and explain as politely, professionally and completely as is possible that this is the amount of money that is allowed.

Note the phrase “as is possible”. The reality sometimes is that the customer can be wrong to the point that one cannot work with him or her. Some students, some customers can become abusive and use highly inappropriate language. The customer is always right does not call upon anyone to subject him or herself to abuse. The customer has an obligation to do things correctly too and if he does not then there is little you can do but professionally refuse to help at that time. Customer service never says that anyone is to accept abuse from a customer just as we are not to give it out.

Students are our customers. They pay money for a service which is the definition of a customer.  Use the word client or student is you will but it is all the same. They are our customer/clients and need to be treated as you would want to be. You would not want a doctor to treat you rudely or come to the exam with indifference for your well-being, not answer your questions, not be available after the appointment or not be up-to-date on medical information and prescriptions. In the same way students want us to treat them professionally, with concern for their learning, have their questions and lack of understanding be responded to in the classroom and in office hours and for our lectures to be up-to-date and not off of yellowed notes.

That is treating the student as if he or she us right. 

If this article makes sense to you you will want to obtain a copy of the new book on academic customer service From Admissions to Graduation: Achieving Growth through Academic Customer Service by Dr. Neal Raisman, author of the best seller The Power of Retention. 

This is also the time to contact Dr. Raisman about coming to your school to help increase retention, admissions and morale through academic customer service. Dates for workshops and audits in the Fall are quickly filling up.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Student Feelings and Retention

1.      Financial return on investment
2.      Emotional return on investment and
3.      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 – 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 he or she meets people who provide a gracious welcome to campus. They make sure the potential applicants meet faculty in their intended major; students majoring in the area and administrators including the president when available to 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 or the newest book From Admissions to Graduation

Friday, July 11, 2014

"I Pay Your Salary" Why it Bothers Us So Much

customer service, academic customer service, retention,customer service in college

Faculty tell me at every workshop or presentation I make on academic customer service that one statement students make really frosts them. They hate it when students tell them “I pay your salary.”
Why it upsets them so much I am not completely sure since it is so very true. Students do pay for faculty and everyone’s salary at a college or university.

If there were no students paying tuition and being counted for state or municipal financial support there would be no revenue to pay any salaries. There would be no college to work in so why should the reality of the customers paying salaries be so irritating?

The student is indeed the customer of the university or college. The revenue and the financial support they bring are central to a college’s existence. They fit the definition of a customer too. Someone who exchanges money or something of value for goods and/or services. Paychecks might as well be signed “the student body”. But why does that realization upset people so much on a campus? I am not quite sure but think it has to do with self-image that academics have. One which is at best confused.
Faculty and others on campus wish to see themselves as above money; dealing with concerns of the intellect and mind and building the future through education. They seem to believe that considerations of money are inappropriate or anti-academic. One cannot reach loftier objectives if held down by the weight of monetary issues that is why they are left to unions and contracts. Academics and faculty in particular do not want to lower themselves to financial concerns. Or so they believe.

The situation reminds me of when I went to France to teach as a Fulbright Fellow. I was told that the French do not speak about money. It is too base a subject to discuss. Such discussion would be déclassé. We arrived in the city of Metz, (a wonderful place by the way, well worth a visit) and were picked up by a French colleague who would soon become a fast friend. As we drove to his house we spoke about teaching in French and American colleges. One of the early questions he asked me was how much an average professor earned. I was surprised at the question and told him how much I earned and also said that I thought the French did not talk about money. His reply was “we pretend to not care about money but as you can see by the number of strikes for higher wages, we do care quite a bit but want to give off the image that we are above it.”

I think academics are similar. They think about money quite a bit. I know I did because my salary as a teacher did not always stretch quite far enough every month it seemed. But I acted as if the pursuit of knowledge for my research and my students was all I really cared about. I did not want to see myself as if I were just a working stiff but someone more elevated by being associated with a college. This after all was a real vocation, a  calling that rose above being just a job. I was educating the future. Researching for new knowledge. The paycheck was just a result of being an academic; certainly not the reason fort being one.

So I suppose when a student tells a faculty member or anyone else on campus that “I pay your salary” the statement brings the reality of money into an otherwise lofty sense of value. It brings it all down to a realization that is not fully compatible with an academic self-image and sullies it. Even if it is true.
If this article makes sense to you you will want to obtain a copy of the new book on academic customer service From Admissions to Graduation: Achieving Growth through Academic Customer Service by Dr. Neal Raisman, author of the best seller The Power of Retention. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Student as Client

They are not coming to us to buy a shirt, or skirt or an IPhone or any retail goods or anything material at all. They are after an intangible. Students come to
school to obtain education, knowledge, improvement and growth. And most importantly, the certification they will need to get to the job or next step in their lives.
They are incomplete individuals who are intellectually weak or ill in a sense. They go to school and classes to learn how to make themselves stronger and sounder. They come to higher education realizing they are incomplete and intellectually weak beings that have to learn how to strengthen mind and body to be able to run and compete in the marathon of career and adult life. As if higher education were a large clinic filled with specialists who will help them find out what is wrong with them. Then provide them answers, remedies and prescriptions that will make them better and stronger. As if faculty were intellectual physicians.
Actually, students and faculty/staff of colleges can fall readily into the patient-doctor/client relationship quite nicely.
Patients/clients come to an expert/doctor to have the expert study their needs, weaknesses, strengths and then tell them what needs to be done and guide them to resolve a condition or improve their situation. We do the same in a college. Just as a doctor will diagnose a patient and then tell him/her what course of action needs to be followed to become healthy and meet the patient’s goals, even if it is bad news, we do the same in the learning/teaching process. We begin by diagnosing student knowledge and skills. Then determine a course of action and rehabilitation that are designed to help the students become intellectually healthier and fitter for future growth. Then the faculty check on the patient’s progress, chart it and determine what next steps can and should be taken. So faculty are not just doctors in title but in action. Though as my wife so rightly informed me when I received my PhD. “Dr. Walker the OBGYN guy can deliver babies. You? Only speeches.”
So then what does customer service mean for a doctor and a classroom professor? Is there a good side-armchair-manner that PhD doctors should be aware of to be successful with their patients in a class? Yes there is.
Alice B. Burkin, a leading medical malpractice specialist at the Boston law firm of Duane Morris, LLP, has researched what makes a doctor less likely to be sued and more likely to be successful with patients. The major thing the successful physicians do, which also makes them less likely to be sued for malpractice even when they might have committed it, is treat patients as valuable individuals and indicate that they really do care about them.
Another aspect of their personality is an important one. They are not arrogant. They say hello. They listen to patients, listen to their answers and answer all of their questions. They explain the condition or course of treatment in lay terms so patients can understand. They are human and personable. They enlist the patients in the process and care. They indicate to the patients that they actually care about them as an individual and not as a co-pay keeping them from yet another co-pay. And that caring means assessing their real needs and telling them the truth. Even when the truth is painful.
Even when they came in because they thought they had a bug and it turns out be much more than that. If the doctor followed the always right dictum, she would just tell them they were right, “It is just the flu.” I would suppose anyone would agree that this would neither be right nor good customer service especially when the situation is much worse but curable if the patient knows the truth and follows the prescribed remedy. Telling the patient he is wrong and this is what he must do even if he does not wish to do so is an example of what would be excellent customer service.

What is good customer service for medical doctors also works as in- class customer service for professors. Faculty and all members of the community should begin by caring about the students. Do not expect them to all be brilliant and care about your subject or what you do. They likely may not. They may actually be taking the course being taught because they have to take it. Just as we all had required courses we could neither stand nor see as valuable, so will students in your institution. But as the good medical doctor would do, explain to the students why the subject matter is important, not just intellectually, but to them, to their well-being, to their future and life. For example, when I taught composition at a maritime college, I started by assigning the students to write a job application letter. When they received them back and I explained why the XYZ Company could not hire someone who has poor grammar, awkward sentence structure, weak word choice, unclear or awkward sentences because log entries and things like damage reports must be precise and correct or there could be major problems, they started to get the idea.
They were never really thrilled, maybe not even moderately happy about having to take composition but they saw some value and did work at improving their writing. But then, I recognized and accepted that reality as well as the fact that these technical school students actually had very little knowledge of grammar, sentence structure, punctuation or even spelling. But I knew that going in and set my expectations at the same level a medical doctor would when prescribing therapy. They know most patients will not follow instructions precisely, so they overstate hoping to obtain at least enough compliance with treatment to help the patient become healthier. This is especially so if the treatment or the prescription is painful or not all that pleasant. Sort of like learning grammar and structure for my first year mariners.
If a professor would do the same at the start of a class, it may help keep him or her from getting upset when students are neither all that interested nor knowledgeable about the subject being taught. That they are not excited about the course should not be surprising to anyone. They really do not know about it yet. It is the faculty member’s job to get them energized on the topics (okay maybe just attentive) so they will learn the subject. If they knew the information or skill coming in, they would not need the class or the faculty member after all. 

This is also true for school administrators or staff. Most students will never be as excited as you may be about some regulation, procedure or rule the student has broken or overlooked. Students usually have no real interest in them as can be seen by how very few of them ever read any of them inside the catalog whose accuracy we sweated over, reviewed and checked before giving it to them. So, be a doctor to them. Explain in terms they understand and resolve a course of action.
And most important, do not be arrogant. It is the arrogant doctors who lose patients and malpractice suits. And it is the arrogant professors who lose their students, their interest and respect. It is only on this issue, response to arrogance that the customer is always right.
Just as the good, less likely to be sued medical doctor, we must be amiable, professionally personable with students. Learn their names. Find out who they are. Get a full write-up on them. Maybe faculty could even start the class each semester as a doctor would with an information sheet to learn more about them, their knowledge in the subject, any anxieties they bring to the class so the professor can teach and remedy their needs even better. For administrators, get them talking. Take notes and use what is said to examine the issue before determining a remedy. And never be like one of the doctors who do not care. Do not stop listening or jump to a conclusion about the case. Just as bad doctors make bad diagnoses from not listening, so will you. That’s how doctors lose patients and schools lose students.
The customer is always right and other failed concepts from business should not be transferred to academia. Customer service must be a priority on campuses today as we work with a student body that expects it. But, it must be done right. And that is quite different from the customer being right.
In order to be able to fulfill their obligations to the patient/student, the doctor and professor must retain control over the examination and session. The patient is there to be helped and must be an active participant in the process but the expert must be in control. If a patient is unruly or unmanageable, the examination will be curtailed and the patient asked to leave. The doctor will neither allow herself to make a wrong diagnosis nor allow other patients to have their care harmed. If a patient checks himself out of the hospital, a doctor will most often suggest the patient not come back to the practice. As for cell phones, most doctors tell patients to shut them off when they come in the office.
So in the classroom, the faculty member should act like an intellectual/ training  doctor. If a student checks him or herself out of the class without authorization, that student is not allowed back into the class that day and maybe in the future. Rude or unacceptable behavior is just that and does not belong. Do not allow disruptive behavior just as a doctor would not permit it in an examining room or a ward, for it will harm the other students. And cell phones are not allowed.

That by the way is actually good customer service. Especially when we accept that the customer is not always right but our job is to make them righter even if the medicine may not taste good.

If this article makes sense to you you will want to obtain a copy of the new book on academic customer service From Admissions to Graduation: Achieving Growth through Academic Customer Service by Dr. Neal Raisman, author of the best seller The Power of Retention. 
 Book now for a workshop with Dr. Raisman in the Fall. Dates are quickly being taken.