Monday, March 20, 2017

Quick study of Email and Voicemail Habits in Bursar Offices

All the talk about money, job losses, and deficits as well as schools cutting budgets, jobs, sections and people is definitely having an effect on student and family attitudes and their anxiety levels. One cannot get away from the
economic news of Trump's new budget, increasing college costs and the difficulty of completing FAFSA's now that the IRS has closed access to past tax records for parents, never mind the pundit chatter. People cannot help but be affected and make money a larger issue than it normally would be on campus. This is creating new demands for service and services assistance.  And in most every case, schools are not meeting the demand in either style or substance.

The past week, we made actual person to person telephone contact with 50 bursar offices in colleges and universities posing as students or family members. We focused here as a result of the fiscal anxiety we are hearing from families. We called 78 schools. At 31 schools, we left a voice message on the phone. The message said the caller was very concerned about the family financial condition and needed to understand what to do to be able to pay bills if a job was lost. In each voice, we did also leave a clear call to action. Please. It is very important that you call me back today or tomorrow and left a number.

The voice messages led to three, that’s right THREE call backs in twenty-four hours.

We also emailed 50 colleges and universities. A week later, we are still waiting for responses from 28. TWENTY-EIGHT. Oh sure, we did receive the automatic response telling us we are very important so someone would be back as soon as is possible. For twenty-eight schools, it simply wasn’t possible to get back to us I guess.

The very worst thing a school can do at this time is not to respond to people. In normal times, non-responsiveness is a customer service sin that should consign the person at the school that ignored a request for help to getting all faculty to wear pins that say STUDENTS ARE MY CUSTOMERS?

In times of high stress such as right now, people are feeling depressed and less significant. Psychologists know that the way we establish value in others is listen to them and then respond to their issues. When we do not respond, we are telling people they are not important, not valued. Additionally we know that for students and families a major attrition tipping point is whether or not they feel they are valued. And when colleges do not return calls and emails that leaves people feeling less valued.

The simplest customer service value you can provide your students and their families is respect. Not returning calls or emails is disrespectful.  By not returning or responding to their calls or emails, you are telling your customers they do not matter to you and thus the entire college. In do doing, if money becomes tight for them, you will be less important to them. The result - Expect more drops and unpaid bills.

Yes, unpaid bills and more collection fees. Because willingness to pay (WTP) is based on whether or not the customer believes he or she feels valued in the services being paid for as well as whether or not he or she feels valued.  If a customer i.e. student feels he is getting a full return on investment, then WTP will be high. Conversely, if a person believes that the college is not providing value, it will be hard to pry the dollars loose to pay bills. The emotional ROI is equally important. If a person feels valued, he or she will not have resistance to paying for the service - even if the price i.e. tuition goes up. But again, if the student or family feels the college does not value them as individuals… You can fill in the blanks but it will not be with payments on bills.

So, the message here. Value your customers, your students and their families.
Answer the phone. Call back all voice mails within 24 hours. Respond to emails. Do not let any opportunity to communicate with students and families get lost. Every time they reach out to you – reach back. Especially when the calls deal with anxiety points such as money.
5 Ways to Improve Customer Service Communication

  1. Make certain that people know how to use email and the telephone, listen and help. The art of professional telephone communication has been lost for most people. We no longer are good at greeting, listening and responding with the correct tones, attitudes and even use of language. People may need to be trained, or retrained on how to answer and use the phone.  The same is true of email.  At the least read Here's Looking at Me: A Simple Soultion to Phone Rudeness.

  1. Be certain that people use the correct customer first tone, attitude and language. For example, have people avoid academic-ese . That’s the language we use with one another. The argot, slang and specialized language that is part of our culture and not anyone else’s. So avoid acronyms and technical terms.

  1. If you are not sure that folks are not responding appropriately, you may want to set up an accountability system to log incoming and outgoing communications.

  1. Conduct a contact to conclusion assessment. Find out how long it takes for a call or email to be responded to. Then shorten the time.

  1. Do a follow-up study to the callers to see if their request was appropriately and positively responded to and resolved. This does not mean that they got what they wanted since it may not be possible to do so but that they were treated with respect and the person did all he or she could to help.
Ignore phone and email protocols and rest assured that you will lose enrollment and revenue.
AcademicMAPS is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through research training and academic customer service solutions for colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as businesses that seek to work with them 
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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Speaking Events Coming Up

Just thought I'd let everyone know that I will be speaking at a few conferences this Spring and Summer..

Eductional Policy Institute's Retention 2017 Conference
May 21-23  St. Louis University, MO
I will be talking about the National Survey on the State of Academic Customer Service on US Campuses; what it tells us we should be doing; how to do it immediately and at little or no cost to increase retention starting tomorrow..

NISOD’s International Conference on Teaching and Leadership Excellence
May 27-30, Austin TX. I will be talking about how to bring academic customer service into the classroom and get faculty to sign on to it

National Small Colleges Enrollment Conference which really is great for bigger schools too.
July 17-19 in Daytona Beach, FL
I will be keynoting here and talking about how to increase both admission and retention success using simple and low or no cost techniques and programs that are guaranteed to increase enrollment and population..

I will be giving presentations and workshops on how to increase retention through academic customer service on quite a few campuses this Spring, through Fall too.  

If I have not spoken at your campus, isn't it time to bring the ideas of academic customer service to your school to increase enrollment and retention in the classroom and on-campus?  If I have been to your school, there is a great deal of new information and techniques that you should hear about that we have developed since we were last on your campus. Isn't it time for a refresher for some and an introduction to success for newer community members?.

Call 413.219.6939 today or contact me by email at nealr@GreatServiceMatters so we can discuss how we can increase your enrollment, retention and fiscal success.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Admissions and Basketball

It is March and the brackets for the NCAA Tournament have just been announced making me think about admissions. That might strike seem as odd, to think about admissions from basketball but it makes sense if you just realize
a couple of things. For example, in basketball, two common defense setups are the man-on-man and the zone. In the man on man, each defensive player has a specific opponent to guard. And the defender stays with that player no matter where on the court he goes. In the zone defense, the defender works on whatever player comes into the zone he or she is assigned to. 

In customer service, these approaches also come into play. The man-on-man or woman calls for a service provider to stay with the customer no matter where he or she roams to. If it is a clothing store for example, the service provider would go with the customer from say dresses to blouses to shoes to socks back to shoes to sweaters and back to shoes again. The provider is usually in a commission situation and does not want to take a chance of losing out on some commission or credit for the sale. 

In schools this is seen most clearly in admissions. If an admission’s rep starts with a student, he or she will want to stay with the student to get the credit for the enrollment. The rep may allow others to assist him or her in closing the sale but will certainly stay on top of the process. This is because each rep is usually “goaled” with an enrollment target to hit. Though there is no allowable commission (federal rules) a person’s position and salary can be influenced by hitting goals or not. 

The strength of this approach is that the student has a face to get to know. That can provide a personal tie to the school as well as a clear point of service when it is needed. The weakness is that if the rep is busy or not there, the student ends up as an orphan that no one else will really accept ownership of. I have seen too many instances when a student in a man on man service situation ends up sitting around in a lobby waiting for “his or her” rep to become available. Or worse, the student wanders about without really getting the help needed.

The zone defense comes into play when a student goes to an area and whoever is there waits on him or her. To follow our admissions example, the student sees whoever is there at the time to get the service he or she needs. Say the student needs to drop off a form. He would be able to leave it with whoever is there as opposed to having to track down a specific person who takes that form. This can occur when the admissions department works as a team toward whatever the goal is and everyone helps one another because all succeed when an enrollment comes in.

The strength here is that the student will never be without a rep to help out. That could be good. But the weakness is that a student may not get to have a single individual that she believes cares about her personally. That could weaken the personal connection that can be so important to a student bonding with the school. The zone approach would only work if an entire admissions department had a common goal and thus saw the value as a team. Sort of like profit sharing.

But wait what about another approach? Double teaming. Like in basketball when the other team has a really important player, the defense often throws two people up against him. Well, every potential student is a very important player in the school’s success so assign two reps to each. Each of the two reps shares in the success or failure of that potential student. That way there is incentive to share the responsibilities. Further, if one has to cover something else or out of the game then, the other is there to help the student so he or she is never “open” to non-service.

Two reps per student would also be very helpful with the stitch-in process that keeps the student in the enrollment pipeline through day one at the very least and the first year preferably. The stitch-in process calls for at least a weekly human contact between a prospective student and the reps. All student are prospective until they show on day 1. These weekly contacts keep the student tied into the school and if any issues or problems arise, they can be caught and solved as a result of talking with the prospective student. Having two reps, or even a team of reps making the calls makes stitch-in contacts more probable and easier to do. If one rep is busy or cannot make the calls, she can pass the ball to another rep who can then put the proverbial ball in the hoop and assure a completed enrollment. 

NRaisman & Associates is the leading provider of admissions and retention assistance through academic customer service and other services that increase both admissions and retention. Since 1999, NRaisman & Associates has helped over 500 colleges and universities in the US, Canada and Europe increase enrollment and population through training, workshops, its campus service audits and research as the top consulting firm to help increase institutional success. Contact us today to see how we can help your school increase admission and retention success. 413.219.6939.

To get more articles and advice on improving customer service, retention and revenue on your campus, get a copy of the best-selling books  From Admissions to Graduation and The Power of Retention by Dr. Neal Raisman.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

A Conference Worth Attending

Just a quick note today to suggest you consider attending the EPI Retention 2017 Student Success Symposium May 21-23 at St. Louis University.  

I have attended these conferences in the past and found them to be goldmines of good ideas and ways to increase retention. they are also very well run by EPI and Scott Swail, president of EPI. You will not be disappointed 

This year's conference will feature plenary presentations by retention experts and professionals from around the US and Canada, as well as pre-conference workshops. Confirmed speakers include:
  • Zora Mulligan (Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education)

  • Jay Goff (Saint Louis University)

  • William Serrata (El Paso Community College)

  • Peter Dietsche (University of Toronto)

  • Chris Shaffer (Shawnee State University).

  • Watson Scott Swail (Educational Policy Institute).        

    I will also be presenting on my latest study of customer service on American campuses; what it means and what you can do starting tomorrow to upgrade service on your campus.                                      

  • These are all good people with quite a bit to share that will help you improve your retention.

To get more information on the inference just click here or got to the EPI website at

EPI also published my latest study on the state of academic customer service on college campuses in the US which can be found at their website.