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. 
 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

New Book From A to G by Neal Raisman now available with free offer

The new book by the author of The Power of Retention is available now with a bonus offer for the first 100 purchasers. The new book by Dr. Neal Raisman From Admissions to Graduation: Increasing Growth through Academic Customer Service is available from the Administrators Bookshelf and for the first 100 the publisher will include a free copy of Customer Service Factors and the Cost of Attrition by Dr. Neal Raisman.

The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education is the best-selling book ever on increasing service excellence and retention. From Admission to Graduation: Achieving Growth through Academic Customer Service takes the next steps to improving service excellence on campus to increase enrollment and retention through graduation and beyond.

A college’s success moving students from admissions to graduation is controlled in a very large part by the way it treats its students and the service it provides them. If a college provides good academic, not retail customer service to its students, it will see its admissions, enrollment and graduation rates rise.

From A to G tells how to improve the customer service excellence on campus to achieve higher graduation rates and student success. It also focuses on the campus community which is integral to service excellence for students.

From A to G is available from the Administrators Bookshelf
Get your copy now.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Getting Recalcitrant Faculty On Board with Customer Service



At the NISOD Conference in Austin, TX last week (which was a very good conference by the way) a Vice President for Academic Affairs asked me how she
can get recalcitrant faculty on board to treat students better with customer service. She told me of faculty who began their classes for a semester with the announcement that “I am tough so expect to fail unless you work extremely hard”. And then they went on to prove that statement by being excessively tough and unhelpful to students. She mentioned other faculty who just did not seem to care about students and always put themselves first.

These are problems of course but ones that can either be solved or relegated. A large part of the problem with faculty who treat students poorly is that they may just reflect a culture in which students  are not as important as they should be. I have worked with some colleges and universities where the message was that the most important people are faculty and administrators. This of course comes out of the academic caste system which holds sway at too many campuses in which faculty and administrators are Brahmin and everyone else is second to lower caste including students.

If the administration does not send out a message that students are the most important people on campus, then there will certainly be faculty who will agree. This is most prevalent in research universities in which publication and grants are the most important objectives. Student success takes a backseat to them. This situation tells faculty that they are most significant and that not treating students well is less important than a new book or grant. This again is an administration problem since it is the group that sends out the messages of what is important.

If a faculty member who is a horrid teacher but gets grants is honored,  that sends a very powerful and negative message. If a great teacher who spends most of her time making sure students do well does not get tenure  that is another horrible message; one which is too common by the way.
If the required courses such as composition are taught by adjuncts, what is the school telling students about the value of these courses? Well, that they are below the level of tenured faculty who have better things to do and teach.
If office hours are not really required and checked to see if they are held or if a note on an office door tells students that “they really better have a good reason to interrupt my work” that we found at a university is allowed to stay there, these send out messages that it is okay to not treat students well.
If students are allowed to be treated rudely in offices like the bursar or registration which we find at some schools when it is common knowledge that certain offices and specific people treat them very badly, that is another message. 

Or if administrators are allowed to be “too busy to see students”.  
Or a sign on a door to a nursing office tells students they are not allowed to enter the office area without specific permission from a faculty member as we found at a college recently... Well, I am sure by now that you get the picture.
So it is a cultural change that needs to take place as spoken about in earlier articles.  For example, when I spoke with the provost who asked the question to begin with, I wondered if the other faculty were bothered by the behavior of “the few”?  I also asked if the department chair was aware of the behavior or ever monitored drop numbers and grades?

She told me that many faculty were bothered. This is something I hear in many schools when we work with them to improve service. Faculty do not like it when a colleague treats students poorly or do they really? Do they empathize with students or just sympathize? Empathy is Jenni’s homemade ice cream while sympathy is a store’s low price generic brand; a real difference in depth and quality. If the faculty really cared they would realize that colleagues that treaty students poorly are a direct reflection on them and their professionalism. They might even do something like talk to their bullying colleague. If not it is a culture that says students are not important enough to say something.

And if the faculty are afraid to say something then at least the department chair should. That is his job after all. Doing what is best for the school, the students and supervising faculty.  If nothing else, when evaluations take place, this is a time that notes can be made. And I do not mean that one has to do an evaluation formally. A conversation might have effects. Accountability is a very important pressure after all.

When I was a dean, we had a faculty member teaching English composition. His classes started with twenty-five students but always ended up with less than fifteen and some of these students did not pass.  Why? Because he announced that he was tough. That most students would not get a good grade and many would fail. He would then go on to prove how smart he was and how bad the students were. He also was quite cold to students and not always available for extra help. 

I sat down with him and showed him the statistic’s he had in enrollment and that of the department. He protested that his colleagues were just “pussies who are afraid to tell students they can’t write and that they don’t belong in college’. I disagreed. I then used a clause in the faculty union contract that stated the college could assign a faculty member to courses and even to workshops to improve skills. So I assigned him to take three courses in educational philosophy, educational psychology and classroom skills at another university in lieu of three courses he was to teach. I told him that he would be taking these courses until he understood that his bullying and maltreatment approach to teaching was not acceptable.  

When it was time to evaluate the department chair who was aware of the problem but did nothing, I noted that he was not attending to all of his job when he allowed faculty to berate or intimidate students.  He was not happy but I wasn’t either and the students certainly were not. He worked with HR to find out more about evaluation and supervision of faculty and staff.

The end result was that the teacher who took the courses came back to the classroom as a changed person. He was not perfect but he had learned what was expected and that was not easy grading but proper behavior toward students. His retention numbers ended up in line with other  faculty. And what was equally important, there were other faculty who thought treating students poorly was okay who quickly saw it was not. They noted very quickly that we would take steps to correct poor service behavior and they learned to treaty students better.

This was the beginning of a cultural change at the college. It became a keystone moment in which we made our values known and let it be recognized that we would do what we needed to support these cultural values. The culture controls our behaviors and the desire to be part of the culture can be a powerful one. That is not to say that every faculty member is going to come over to the bright side but many more will if the culture places value on appropriate service to students. So to change the faculty you don’t want behaving poorly, change the culture to create pressure on them to conform to cultural norms, folkways and a new tradition of students first.

As for what we do in our work with a college or university to get faculty on board with customer service, we often start by checking out the culture when we do a campus customer service and retention audit to see if it is one conducive to the objectives of appropriate service to students. We study both the  overt cultural issues and well as the meta issues. We often find that one source of the problem is mixed messages from the administration coupled with weak communication of expectations. This is often a performance and accountability problem. Too many schools do not hold people accountable, especially administrators, for generating a positive, service-oriented culture. So we end up working with the school to develop change the culture and create an accountability system that will stress good academic customer service throughout the institution at all levels. We also work with schools to develop forums for communication of these values. Too often in most schools the situation is like the college mission; printed on posters and business cards but otherwise ignored. If you want people to value something, it is important to show its value in behavior and enforce it.

We also let faculty know what we mean by academic customer service. Once they realize we do not mean coddling students or giving out high grades (which many do anyhow) they are willing to listen. Not all of them but most or at least enough to start shifting the culture. We explain that what we are asking them to do is to treat students with value, integrity and recognizing that their success is the most important part of their classroom work.  

We also show them in direct dollars how much money the institution and thus they are losing from poor service that causes student dissatisfaction and attrition. We show than that the school is likely losing millions of dollars that could go into release time, travel funds, new equipment, clerical help and other benefits to the faculty.  Often this common cents (yes I used the right word) approach makes many faculty become more aware of the direct value of treating students well and teaching at the highest level possible.
We also provide coaching for individuals to help them grow into the people they and the school would like them to be. Too often people simply do not realize how they are behaving and do not see that what they are doing might not be as good for them as another behavior might. Coaching can help bring these people along to reach their fuller potential.



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






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