Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What is a Service Excellence Audit and What It Includes

Two of our most called for consulting work are our Service Excellence Audits and Mini-Audits. They are also the areas of our work that receive the most requests for details on
what they include and do. So, we decided to devote a posting to what Service Excellence Audits are.

Simply putting it, an audit is a complete study of the extant state of service excellence (academic customer service) at a college. We study every relevant point of contact between the institution,its people and the campus with students to determine strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in the college's service to students. We also study the college’s appearances and physical services such as signage which are known as its “objective correlatives” to assure they are providing and presenting services that will increase the students’ ability to navigate the institution and feel welcome and comfortable.

We use a two-part study approach: off campus to test the customer service provided potential and current students, and on campus to inventory and study everything that has to do with service excellence. 

First is shopping the campus from off-site by contacting the school through web, email, and telephone.  We also perform an initial review of the college from materials provided to students for the purpose of better understanding the school to inform the audits. 

Second, is the on-campus work. For the on-campus aspects of audits, NRaisman & Associates starts with using a participant-observer academic shopper approach in its audits.  Trained professionals will come onto the campus and conduct experiential audits (mystery shopper) as unidentified, uninitiated participants on the campus. By directly experiencing the campus with  personnel unaware they are being observed, has been able to help schools improve their customer service, enrollment, and retention since we started providing audits in 1999.  

Next we conduct a thorough study of the college by visiting offices, checking physical aspects such as signage and studying  all other aspects of the campus that touch students. After that comes interviews with students, staff, administrators and faculty followed by focus groups to bore down on what we find initially. Here is specifically what we look at.

1.      Points of Contact;
2.      Objective Correlatives;
3.      and extant customer service;
4.      staffing appropriate to meeting service excellence objectives as well as performance management tools to assess individual performance success and

Point of Contact audits normally include review of:
  • the website;
  • technology as appropriate to providing services;
  • collateral materials;
  • telephone system and protocols, 
  • receptionists and areas;
  • catalog;
  • signage provided to orient and direct on the campus;
  • entrance signage;
  • interior directional signs;
  • entrances;
  • decompression zones;
  • lobbies;
  • parking lots;
  • walkways;
  • halls;
  • colors,
  • open spaces;
  • lighting;
  • landscape;
  • paths;
  • appearance of building exteriors;
  • appearance of building interiors;
  • observable safety concerns;
  • and cleanliness and general appearance including paint.

The objective correlative audits are more in depth on physical aspects and include the full physical campus including;
  • housing,
  • campus appearance,
  • landscaping and appearance,
  • campus flow;
  • pathways,
  • all buildings;
  • building exteriors,
  • building interiors,
  • bathrooms,
  • common areas,
  • cafeteria,
  • entrances and entrance areas,
  • handicap compliance,
  • lobbies,
  • bookstore,
  • office appearance and physical services,
  • functional flow,
  • student space and its utilization,
  • observable safety concerns,
  • cleanliness and general appearance including paint,
  • utilization of areas…

The customer service audit includes parts of the above with specific focus on primary active service providers and functions such as
  • Website
  • Catalog
  • Reception Areas 
  • Admissions
  • Financial Aid
  • Registration
  • Registrar's and Student Records Office
  • Bookstore
  • Administrative
  • Testing

As well as testing every level of customer excellence, such as:
  • Repeat visit syndrome—non-empowering incomplete information/transaction causing a student to come back again,
  • atalog information, ease of use and information retrieval,
  • Website ease of use and navigation
  • email use and responses to,
  • wait time - how promptly people are recognized and served,
  • acknowledgment of student presence and manner of the recognition given,
  • welcoming and comfort level generated,
  • how courteous your people are,
  • how questions are responded to,
  • requested information provided promptly and graciously,
  • accurate directions given,
  • general demeanor, and attitude toward customers,
  • availability of information at point of contact,
  • point of contact knowledge for students and/or where to get it if not available,
  • accuracy of information,
  • use of campus jargon or argot versus standard language,
  • language use, attitude, syntax, grammar, tone,
  • customer-first attitude,
  • time to completion required for successful interaction,
  • helpfulness and accuracy of written materials at points of contact,
  • location and availability of information and media,
  • people processes used with customers,
  • administrative processes affecting customers,
  • orderliness of the interaction and area of interaction,
  • telephone protocols used by customer contacts to aid or detract from service to campus callers,
  • general telephone skills and return call response, and
  • the environment provided for students in these areas and offices from layout and space through lighting and clutter as they affect the customer's sense of reflected value and service from entry to the campus through moving through it and finally the exiting experience.
Invariably, parts of one audit will overlap into another but the study focus, intent, concentration of effort and solutions provided can and do vary even when there is congruence of areas under review.

NRaisman & Associates then provides the college a detailed written report that generally runs 40-60 single spaced pages  on all aspects of the audit.  The report includes potential solutions to each issue we find.  It is the goal of NRaisman & Associates to provide solutions that can be implemented at little or low cost.  Our experience indicates that many issues can be solved easily and without a significant outlay of money. It is also our goal to be complete enough that additional assistance may not be needed.  

The solutions will include a recommended implementation that incorporates not only priority of the issue and solution but considerations for cost and campus culture.  We seek to assist the college solutions that will work while complementing its culture, traditions and mission to embed service excellence as a part of its culture. The study ends up providing a blueprint for how the college can improve it service excellence and thus increase enrollment and retention.

That, in a medium sized nutshell, is what a Service Excellence Audit is and includes. 

If this is something that you see as befitting your college or university in its goals to increase service excellence and thus enrollment, retention and graduation numbers, please contact us today at NRaisman &Associates or call 413.219.6939 to discuss the possibility of us conducting a Service Excellence audit for your school as we have for so many others..

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 
We increase your success

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 www.educationalpolicy.org

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.