Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Customer Service, Retention and Oxytocin?

There is increasing research that shows that contact/engagement between people is essential to feelings of comfort and happiness. We know that being left out or denied contact has a very deleterious effect on an individual. This is known from such terrible things are brainwashing techniques or solitary confinement.  
 Want proof? Just ignore someone in a group and see how fast and strong the reaction is. We need to feel we are part of a group with contact and communication.  What we don’t realize is that one can just as easily feel left out even when in a community such as a campus. People do get lost in the lonely crowd to use a relative’s book title. Even when among other students in a classroom, people can feel isolated and unhappy as a result. Multiply that to one among hundreds in a cattle roundup large lecture and the effect of loneliness becomes equal to the number of people in the herd, uh classroom
But this is to concentrate on the negative when there is some good information coming from neuroscientists that there are easy ways to increase a feeling of membership and well-being. The work of Paul J. Zak a professor in Claremont University’s Graduate University is making some of these findings. Prof. Zak is a leading expert in neuro-economic, the study that combines economic, biology, neurology and psychology to try and understand how people act and react to try and figure out why we act and react in certain ways.
One of his experiments focuses on oxytocin and its effects on people’s feelings. Many readers may be aware of the effects of oxytocin in promoting labor for childbirth and then the letdown mechanism for nursing. Well, it also seems to be a neurotransmitter that can cause other feeling  including wellbeing as well as the reduction of fear or anxiety.  In fact, oxytocin (By the way this is not to be confused with the Rush Limbaugh rush drug of oxycontin. Very different.)administered nasally has been shown to reduce fear, increase feelings of well-being and affect other social emotions to the point that some have called it “the cuddle hormone.”
In the experiment, Dr. Zak has blood drawn from a subject to use as a constant then he has the subjects twitter with friends about whatever they wish to twitter on about and others twitter to the subject. After ten minutes, a second blood draw is taken. In one case of this experiment discussed in the July/August WIRED magazine, the subject’s oxytocin levels went up 13.2%. The author of the piece states “That’s equivalent to the hormonal spike experiences by the groom at the wedding Zak attended” and used for experimental purposes. Twittering caused a major increase in this hormone which indicates increased well-being and reduction in anxiety. This is reflected in the additional fact that cortisol, a stress hormone went down by 10.8% and another stress hormone indicator ACTH went down by 14.9%. Tweeting back and forth has major positive effects on the subject’s well-being and comfort levels.
This is but one of many studies that show that oxytocin rises as people feel more and more connected with one another or even a place. It is not surprising since the connection of mother and child that facilitates nursing is also caused by the hormone. Connections are primary in the ability for a person to feel engaged in, comfortable with and part of a society that is so necessary to retaining friendships, love and yes, students in a college or university.
Now I am not going to suggest that colleges provide students oxytocin. Nah, what I am suggesting is that colleges raise student oxytocin rates by communicating, communicating and communicating with students but make sure that the subjects are ones the students want to read and respond to. It is important that schools provide topics for students to communicate back. Ask them their thoughts on various matters then school is facing. Ask them about issues that could be of interest to them. Twitter them about events and ask what they think about them. Got a football team, ask students to predict how many points the home town team will win by. (Don’t ever ask for points they’ll lose by.) Have a movie playing on campus? Ask if they plan to go? Have a task force meeting that might involve students (which one wouldn’t?) perhaps ask for student thoughts.
Set up lists by student majors and tweet out what’s going on in the department or area of study. Tweet out when a grad gets a job or promotion.  Tweet when you’ll be in the cafeteria to listen to students and buy some coffee for them. Getting the picture? Just keep communicating and make them feel as if you and they are part of a social network that can get oxytocin levels up.
If you need any help on the technical aspects, let me know and I’ll recommend a few people who can set up the systems you need.
If this article and the preceding parts of it on this zine were of value, you will want to get a copy of The Power of Retention available from The Administrator's Bookshelf

You will also want to bring Dr. Raisman to your campus for some training or an audit that is guaranteed to increase retention. There are a few more dates available in 2010 but CONTACT US NOW TO ASSURE YOUR RETENTION AND ACADEMIC CUSTOMER SERVICE SUCCESS.

BTW, the firm's name will be changing to N.Raisman & Assoc/Center on Retention as we expand services and experts to meet current and future clients' needs.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Principles of Good Academic Customer Service - 3- Final Installment

This is the third installment on the new Principles of Good Academic Customer Service.
To read the first installment click here.
To read the second installment click here.

Principle 14. Train, trust and empower all employees to do what is right to help students

Principle 15. Give a damn about graduating students; not just recruiting them.

Principle 14. Train, trust and empower all employees to do what is right to help students

In thinking through the list for 2010 one issue became very clear from all the college customer service audits we had done. Good customer service cannot exist unless ALL the university’s customers are served. The most obvious customers, and the ones we spend most time on are the students. But another extremely important customer cohort is the staff.  For us and for good service to the primary customers, staff means everyone. All the employees from the president on up.  And no one employee group is really more important than another though we do have to agree that without the faculty, the heart of the college, someone else would have to teach. And without all the adjunct faculty (read academic indentured servitude) the full time tenured faculty would all have to teach. Considering that the adjuncts are doing most of the actual teaching at so many universities and thus make up the largest part of the teaching faculty, it could then be said that they are really the heart of the college. But a better analogy for adjuncts (read underpaid, at risk employees with no benefits who could make more money on an per hour basis with less responsibility and no degree required at Wal-Mart) is that they are the backbone of the college.

In fact, the following diagram is how we actually see and present the campus body.
  • The faculty is the heart of the college.
  • The adjuncts are the backbone. They support all aspects of operation.
  • Staff are the legs. They make the place run and keep it running.
  • The managers  are the arms. They move paper from one place to another.
  • Administration are the guts of the place. Sort of like an excretory system working to remove all the poo others create.
  • The self-proclaimed curmudgeons are the naughty bits which should never be allowed to be out in public.
  • And the brain should keep a common focus going on the students and their success. They are the reason everyone is there after all.

And everyone together is the campus body. The living breathing, thinking feeling thing we know as the college community. The community does not live as well without any part of the system missing or not doing its job. Not one part can exist outside of the college community either. Even though the faculty are the heart of the college or university, outside of the whole body a heart is just a dead muscle, a piece of offal.  Each part is equally important if it does its job well. Each part is therefore an integral part of the university and needs to be so recognized. The academic caste system does not promote good customer service; just servants. It needs to be removed.

It needs to be replaced with an understanding of the value and then valuing all the people who work at a university or college.  And one of the greatest ways to recognize people is to place trust in them. Trust them to do their job and to help students. Hmmm. To do their jobs and help students. Interesting because we almost always train people to do their jobs even if they have done it elsewhere but we do not train people in an essential function; how to provide good academic customer service. Academic not retail customer service; two very different functions in two very different environments.     

People need to be trained to be able to provide good academic customer service especially since most colleges and universities have a very bizarre notion that they are supposed to treat students as if they were an after thought. We do after all try to “separate the real college students from the ones who should not have been admitted. This is an absolutely incorrect attitude but it does exist People even express the an anti-student attitude with impunity at most schools.  “If only admissions would get us better students… or even worse “this would be a great place to work if it weren’t for the students.” And when people say these sorts of things, others chuckle and there is no sanction placed on the person who uttered the statement.

At a workshop I was providing at one school I even asked the people at the workshop if the school was better in the summer because the students were gone. I received applause for the question. Not much after I finished explaining how without students there would be no college, no reason for them being here and no jobs. But the fact that people thought it was okay to express such a negative attitude toward their customers would have astounding me about eleven years ago when I first started studying customer service in colleges. Now it just provides me and my group work.

These are attitudes that must be trained out of members of the college community. People need to be taught how to provide good service to the university’s primary customers and clients – students. Just like any set of functions needs to be taught so does customer service. It is not something that always comes naturally to people in an academic community. Whether it is as basic as answering a phone to dealing with an angry student, people need to learn the proper ways.  

People also need to be taught the rules and regulations under which they perform their functions, their services to students and the school. Academia is a regulation, rules an procedure driven community so peop0ple need to know all the rules. They also need to understand the expectations the college has on their performance in their job and in providing service. It is not enough to say “just do it correctly” people need to be taught what that means. Just as we realize that students need to be taught in the classroom if they are to perform correctly so must the staff be taught rules, regulations and customer service in their jobs if we are to expect them to do them well.

But then, once they have been trained and taught the regs they need to be trusted to perform them and provide good service. They need to be empowered to do what is right. Cusotmer4 service cannot be done well if people are concerned that their supervisors do not trust their ability to make decisions. They must be taught that students and their needs come first and can never be an inconvenience (Principle 4). Staff must be empowered to do what is right to help students even if that means leaving a desk to walk a student over to another office to try and end the shuffle without getting permission to do so for example. Trust must replace permission. Empowerment to do what is right for students needs to be central to the trust. And the trust to do what is right must be based on training.

Principle 15. Give a damn about graduating students; not just recruiting them.
It should be self-evident that every business would seek to do all it can to keep its customers and clients as long as it is possible to do so; until they simply cannot keep them anymore because they are outside of the business’s focus. Just as a doctorate seeks to keep his clients alive as long as possible because that is the job and if too many patients die early, the business and income are hurt not to say anything about the doctor’s adherence to the oath and reputation.  And in so many ways, college is like a huge medical practice except it does not care if its clients die off.  In fact, keeping its patients academically alive is seen by some members of some colleges and universities as a sign of not caring about quality. That is just wrong. It is just part of the same old attitudes spoken of earlier. The old belief was that if a school failed out many students it must have high standards. But the reality is that not that many schools flunk out that many students. In fact, 84% of students leave a school for customer service-related issues. So that indicates that a college with a high attrition rate and thus low graduation rate is doing a poor job of serving students; not that it has high academic standards.

The reality is that college remains a front-loading business. It is concerned with bringing in new customers all the time. It is a churn and burn business rather than learn and earn.  If it did not have federal and state support either direct through subsidies or indirectly through grants and loans, colleges would almost all be put of business because the churn and burn model is a clear path to fiscal disaster. And what do you know, it is leading many schools into deep red budgets and slashing.

A study we are just completing of the six year average graduation rates as reported to IPEDS of 1450 four-year colleges and universities, public and private, for-profit, not for-profit and not for profit not by choice but not focusing on students shows that if we issued letter grades to colleges and universities as we do students, 1209 would be getting a D+ or less. That means that 1209 are averaging a cohort graduation rate of 69% or less.  964 would be receiving a failing grade for 59%or less average graduation rate over six years. That means that 964 colleges and universities are graduating less than 60% of the students who start at the school!

If these figures do not show a lack of focusing on student graduation rates I am not sure what will. Sure some will say that many students should not have started at the college but whose fault is that? Not the students. The school accepted them. It is the school’s. Once a college or university accepts a student and the student shows up, the obligation is at the very least a shared one. But the schools are failing to fully embrace their share. Students leave college not because they flunk out, nor not necessarily because they can’t afford it. They leave for customer service reasons. They do not feel appreciated; nor well served; nor do they feel they are getting the ROI that was promised; and finally, they just do not feel the effort, emotion and commitment they are called on to make are worth it.

This cheats the student, the family and the college. We have started calculating out the Customer Service Factors discussed in Customer Service Factors and the Cost of Attrition (for a complimentary digital copy click here and ask).  Schools are losing huge sums of money. The last time we did a random sampling of how much attrition was costing a smaller group of schools, the amount surpassed $4 BILLION.

How do you know if your college might be starting to care about retention. First does it have a person and office assigned to retention? Not a committee. That is just a way to say we are doing something while making sure not much gets done. Have you been focusing on academic customer service? If not start.

Serving students better also serves the schools better. Give a damn about graduating students; not just recruiting them.

If you want a copy of the new 15 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service, just ask by clicking here.

If you wish to inquire about academic customer service training with a guarantee that it will increase retention, send us an email at info@GreatServiceMatters.com  or call at 413.219.6939.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

New Principles of Good Academic Customer Service part 2

This is a continuation of the changes made to the 2010 version of the Principles of Good Academic Customer Service. For the first installment click here.

Two additional changes to the last version of the Principle of Good Academic Customer Service were the additions of

6.Fulfill all promises

7. Engagement starts at first contact and continues into alumnus status.  
Engage. Engage. Engage and engage again.

These two seem so obvious to me that I am not sure if they really need explication but since we did put them into the list, I suppose they do.

Principle 6. Fulfill all promises.
This should be obvious but apparently is it not. Promises should always be fulfilled. That’s why they are promises after all. To assure another that it will be fulfilled. Yet, students tell us during campus service audits that people colleges break promises all the time. And these range from little fractures that are perhaps annoying to major promises rupturing that can and often do lead to dire consequences for students including not graduating, adding an extra year of study or causing the student to drop out.

Realize to start with that whatever one tells a student he or she will try to do, may do, will do is taken as a promise; part of a contract and must be fulfilled. No matter whether it is as simple as a student leaving a phone message with the expectation you will get back to him simply because your phone message said you would. (Student calls, you offer voice mail, student accepts and acts on that acceptance – contract.) Same is true for an email even though you may not have promised to get back. (There is an implied contract in that you gave out the address; the student used it with based on an expectation from your proffering the address that you would respond.

You may not see these are promises but then you are not the customer, the student.  When a waiter promises to bring a clean fork and forgets, this is obviously breaking a promise to you as customer. When the waiter says he’ll get another fork and takes his time about it as you food gets cold, that is taken as at least a breach of good service and a promise. We as customers expect that when we are told an action will be taken it will be and in a reasonable period of time if not before. For traditional college age students who are used to almost instantaneous information and technological reactions to a keystroke or two or an instant texted message, time is very truncated. A minute feels like ten minutes, five minutes and hour and ten minutes is just too long to wait patiently and without voicing displeasure.

And this time compaction becomes even more tightly compressed when waiting for the solution to a problem.  What college personnel see as impatience and demanding students is actually just a differing perception of time to complete an action, to fulfill a promise. A statement to a student such as “let me see what I can do” is often interpreted as “you will do something” and will do it NOW! This is why we have observed the confused face of a college or university employee surprised to see a student still sitting and waiting in the chair after they thought they dismissed her with “I’ll look into it.” The student is not moving because she takes that as a promise that she is waiting to have fulfilled NOW. What college personnel take as a dismissal or a vague offer is taken as a commitment by the student and it must be fulfilled.

The way to make it clear that this is not a promise but an attempt to bring closure to the conversations is to say something like “I am not promising anything. Let me look into it and get back to me at ____ . o’clock Here is my number” or even better “I cannot promise anything but I’ll get back to you by ____o’clock today/tomorrow. What is a good number I can use to call you?” But then this is a promise of course and must be fulfilled even if there is little or nothing to report. The student must be called or some information ready when the student calls even if that information is “I contacted person/ office but he, she or it has not yet gotten back to me with an answer/solution. When is a good time for us to talk later today/tomorrow?”

This is something that people in bursar, financial aid and registrar offices need to take to heart. These are the three horsemen of college student complaints concerning promises. What you may think you are saying is not what the students are hearing. They are hearing in “It should be ready tomorrow” a promise that “It will be ready first thing tomorrow morning when I get here.”  But it is also important to realize that if an employee says it will be ready after lunch tomorrow or Wednesday, it is a promise that it will be and it must be ready. If it is not, the office is obligated to at least notify the student to save him or her a trip to the office. Along with the notification should be an apology and an explanation why the promise is not being kept.

Equaling troubling to students are the intrinsic promises such as were discussed in an earlier posting. I recently listened to an angry student who felt the school had lied to him and broken its promise for him to be able to graduate on time because courses he needed in the Fall were not available. Promise of a four-year program broken.  He explained that a section of a course needed for graduation was being cancelled just a week-and-a-half out from the start of classes and he could not get into another section because they were all at times in conflict with the rest of his schedule.  Promise to act in a timely manner broken. There was now no way he would be able to graduate on time. These were promises intrinsic to academic customer service that were being broken. Intrinsic to the total academic and learning experience implied by a four-year university focused on student learning.

He was told that perhaps the professor could do an individualized study with him. The professor refused saying he was too busy. This just made him perceive that another promise that student needs would be taken care of and students came first was being broken. And well, it was.

The student called the department office. The chair of the department said he would talk with the professor and see if he could get this straightened out.  The student was told the chair would get back to him soon. Two days passed. Soon was well in the past. Another promise broken. When the student called the office again, the chair said he was able to contact the professor but he was working on a grant project and could not add any more teaching time. Promises broken and one enraged student who is so angry he is seeing how many of his credits would transfer to another school – in his senior year.

That was not just breaking promises; it was horrible customer service both intrinsic to academia and extrinsic to any customer service situation.

Do not break promises. It is bad academic customer service and leads to anger, attrition and even if someone graduates, one less donating alumnus.

Principle 7. Engagement starts at first contact and continues into alumnus status. Engage. Engage. Engage and engage again.
Engagement is a topic I have written on many times before so here I will be focusing primarily on initial aspects of starting the engagement in the recruitment, admissions and enrollment process.

This principle recognizes something that many schools do not seem to catch on to. A person who may be interested in the schools is a customer/client/student from the very first time he or she hears or reads about the school.  An interested student is a customer whether or she or she ever “buys” into then school or attends. Just as a person who goes “shopping” in a store but does not buy anything will still relate that experience to others and a decision to shop there again. So will a potential or interested student.

In fact, the decision to continue in the application and decision-making process that could lead to a newly enrolled student depends on those very first impressions. Our studies found that 12 % of all potential enrollment is lost to a college the first time a student makes contact with the school. If the first experience is not good, it is highly unlikely there will be a second experience. Considering that the likely first point of actual reference will be either through the website or by telephone, earlier articles on theses should be re-read.

A weak or poor website says a lot to today’s tech savvy potential student of any age. And do not fall into the trap of thinking that the possible student will be part of one or another marketable labeled groups like Millennial or Generation Y. Age is not a distinction that should be relied on when considering first contacts but rather the fact the differentiations should fall more in line with tech use- high through Luddite. Some adults are innovators of new technology and had to get an IPad the first day it was out while some college students actually do not even text!!!!  Like me. (Though I do want an IPad but I am really an early majority so I’ll wait for IPad version 3 waiting for the bugs to get out and new functions added.)

It is true that today’s high school junior, senior high school student and most college students are normally very tech attuned but colleges need to  realize that first contacts might not be made by the student but by a parent or another person. Nowadays, college selection is a group affair and often parents and others other than the student alone are very active participants. It always has been actually. Just recall your first exposure to a university. Through someone else’s experiences, a guidance counselor recommending it or a sibling who was going there.

Customer experience is so very dependent on what one hears from others’ experiences that we cannot focus just one group.  In fact, we have a need to rely on other’s thoughts and opinions to justify verify, and validate our own thoughts and beliefs to avoid cognitive dissonance. So if people report they had a bad initial experience their thoughts will often make a potential student rethink his or her own experiences to avoid feeling as if he or she were wrong in making an assessment.  The need for verification goes far beyond asking for an opinion on how whether or not a piece of clothing “makes my butt m look big” to making college decisions through questions such as “does this college make my choices look big?” If someone had a bad initial experience, say kept waiting on the phone, a rude receptionist, an admissions counselor who was too busy to help or staff/professors walking through the halls scowling as if this is a terrible place to be, they might just tell the potential student that he or she does not want to consider going there because they treat people poorly. So each person must be treated as if he or she were a student. This is also true of everyone who makes con6tact with the college. The person does not need to be a potential student but could be a parent or a member of the public.

New Principle 7 also a principle that absorbs an old principle which stated:  Websites must be well-designed, easy to navigate, written for and focused on students and actually informative. This is now accepted as part of the first contact since the web is a primary way of making that initial inquiry without having to actually talk with a person. Or used because someone did try talking to a person.

Webs are so important in the engagement process which is why webs need to be very well designed for easy navigating and up to date with no broken links or orphaned pages.  Just think of the first time you saw someone who had later asked you out on a date. If he or she was unkempt, coarse, nerdy, scruffy or looked unlike someone in your experience, that initial view could very well determine whether or not you would accept an invitation. Webs, receptions, campuses too fall into the same category of decision-making. We have found many potential students who stated they were interested in a college but when they actually saw it, they became unsure. And when they got lost trying to navigate the web or campus due to poor links or lack of signs to guide one around the campus, that was enough.

There is also a failure to engage that needs to be considered as well as students consider a university, college or two-year school. One technique we use during an academic shopping part of a college customer service audit is we have the shopper look lost. Sometimes it is not necessary to pretend since schools have a love of making sure one cannot find one’s way from functional area to another. The shopper stops in a busy area, looks confused and waits to see how long it takes for someone to approach and try to help.  We have worn down stopwatch batteries at some universities waiting for someone to help out. Turning in circles and scratching the head does not seem to work. Quiet growling and cursing seems to attract some attention but not help. In fact, what is rather amazing is that quite often it is another lost student who stops to help as college employees stream buy avoiding contact as if it were dangerous to look a lost stranger in the eye.

This is very poor initial engagement indeed. It is telling people we really do not want you to be here. This is why we believe it is so important for engagement to start with learning how to do a simple “hello?” when passing anyone on campus. A voiced “hello” followed by a “Hi. How are you??’ is even better of course since the other person may just say “I’m lost” to which one can say “Okay, have a nice….” NO, that is what too many people o. They think phatic comments are a form of engaging. They aren’t. It is important to realize that when G-d gave us two ears She was saying speak once, then lessen twice as hard for an answer in this case.

In other words, engage the person.  Hello, response and follow-up is often the start of a longer engagement process as many a couple have found out.

Engage. Engage. Engage and engage again.

If you would like a digital copy of the latest Principles of Good Academic Customer Service, just click here and ask. Be glad to send them on.

If you or your school is not aware of the offer of a fee free presentation or workshop on academic customer service and retention, please click here NOW.T
My PhotoThe author Dr. Neal Raisman is the leading presenter, researcher and consultant on customer service for retention in colleges, universities, community and career colleges in the US, Canada and Europe. He and his associates have provided retention solutions for over 300 schools and businesses that want to work with higher education. Dr. Raisman is the author of over 400 articles and four books including his latest bestseller The Power of Retention; More Customer Service for Higher Education available from The Administrators' Bookshelf in hard copy and digital editions.

If you would like to discuss a retention issue or see if he is available to come to your school or business for a workshop, presentation or other retention solution such as a full customer servicing audit,
413.219.6939 or email info@GreatServiceMatters.com

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Great Telephone Experience

A Good Phone Experience
I had a wonderful telephone experience today and not because someone had read my piece on poor telephone skills although they had. No. What was so great was having a phone in the Office of The Vice President for Student Affairs at Northern Kentucky University answered so wonderfully. The woman who answered the phone greeted me with
“Hello this is _____ at the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs at Northern Kentucky University. How may I help you?”

As close to perfect as one gets. It really made my day. Thanks NKU. This is the way it should be done. Just do as she did and you will improve that all important first impression on the phone.
Response to Fee Free Presentations
I am quite delighted that a number of colleges and an agency that helps recent high school students prepare for the transition to college have taken me up on my offer. As you may know, I have decided to celebrate Customer Service Week by serving customers with fee free presentations. Actually I am stretching the dates a bit since I am offering over a period of two weeks originally set aside for a major campus service audit that was postponed.  The dates of October 1, 6,7,8 are already spoken for so if you want to get your school in on the fee free offer, make arrangements quickly by contacting me NOW.
Tomorrow Two More New Good Academic Service
Principles 6 and 7
6. Fulfill all promises.
7. Engagement starts at first contact and continues into alumni status. Engage. Engage. Engage and then engage again.
If you want a free copy of the new Principles of Good Academic Customer Service, just ask for them by clicking here NOW.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Principles of Good Academic Customer Service Part 1

We spent the last year studying and reviewing our Principles of Good Academic Customer Service. The Principles are updated every year but this time we felt that there have been major changes in student attitudes and needs as well as college attitudes toward students and retention. I also looked back on over a decade of research and hands-on work with over 400 clients as I considered the Principles with some of them to help validate our thoughts.

So this version of the Principles has more changes than any other. I strongly believe that this is also the best set of Principles we have put forward and will be very helpful to universities, colleges, community and career colleges as well as the business that work with them and their students.

In this piece, we will discuss two of the new or altered principles ; one of which that has been moved up for emphasis. They are:

The goal is not necessarily to recruit the very best students,
but it is to make the students you recruit their very best.

There must be a good match between the college and the student
or do not enroll the student.

The goal is not necessarily to recruit the very best students,
but it is to make the students you recruit their very best.

Invariably, on every campus we work, we are told that retention and graduation would increase if admissions simply recruited better students. The problem is simply that the students we get are not good enough. There is little choice but “look to the left, look to the right…” approaches. The school must discourage these not-ready-for-prime-time college students. Well, at least until admissions comes through with better students.

The reality is that the school has chosen the best students available to it. It is the school that does the deciding after all. The students merely apply. Ahhh yes, but that’s the problem. We select weak students. They don’t belong in college; certainly not this one. Well, the reality is that once the college accepts the students they are good enough or they should not have been chosen. Once they are admitted they are the school’s students for better and not for worse.

The goal of education is to make students better than when they started in the college. To mold them, shape them and educate them so they are more accomplished and more intellectually capable to get, keep and hold a job and life together. Our job is not to simply judge them as not good enough, disregard their needs and/or fail them. It is to make them better and do all we can to accomplish that goal.

But they should know things when they get here and we should not have to teach them that. Well, maybe you think so but they don’t so teach that to them so they can succeed. I taught composition. (What? He taught composition? He can’t write correctly himself….!) I taught College English for a while at a place named Maine Maritime Academy where young men and women came to learn to become naval engineers or navigators among other professions. The simple fact was that most all of the students simply could not write an essay. They had not learned grammar well. Had little sense of sentence structure, punctuation, spelling and so on. If I simply decided that admissions needed to get me better students in my comp classes, I would have ruined the lives and dreams of many young people. I had the power to damn admissions and prop up my ego by failing at least 80% of the students.

Instead I realized that these were the students who chose to come to MMA and MMA chose to admit and they needed to learn to write. It was required for their college success, their careers and life. So I taught spelling, sentence structure, parts of speech, punctuation, paragraph structure and so on. Rather than accepting failure I let the students take exams and quizzes as many times as they wished since I could not care less what grade they got. I cared only that they learned to write well enough to succeed. And after a few weeks of simple, clean and non-literary English, they learned to write letters, reports, arguments and technical statements. They had succeeded and they were better for it. They were better writers, better students and better prepared to succeed in college and life. Yes, some did not do as well as they might have and some even failed but that were given the chance to grow and become their best in my class.

The principle does not say everyone should or will succeed just that we need to give up the idea that the students are not good enough and do all we can to make them good enough. That is good academic customer service.

There must be a good match between the college and the student
or do not enroll the student.

This is sort of a corollary of the one above with some significant differences. Every college or university has its strengths and weaknesses, its culture, folkways, codes, standards, social structure, attitudes and realities. These are often stronger indicators of whether or not a student will succeed and stay at the school than most anything else.

When we choose to admit a student, we do consider criteria such as grades, SATs/ACTs, clubs they belonged to, whether or not they can dunk a basketball or throw a football in a perfect spiral and other less important issues. We see if we think we want the student and will he or she benefit the institution. Some schools are seeking to expand their diversity (and meet enrollment goals) so they may select urban students of color who may or may not really have a good chance of succeeding or fitting in at McIntosh College in an isolated small Caucasian New Hampshire town for example. And then school is surprised, shocked, when problems arise between the locals and the students. They are stumped when the students start to drop out in large numbers.

This is but one example, a slightly obvious one perhaps but it is repeated over and over again every year. Students are recruited and accepted into schools even when the ones doing the accepting realize the odds are very strongly against a student or a set of students’ success. They know that there is likely not a good match between students and the college but they admit them anyhow to make numbers. They even know the student will probably quit before the end of first semester because there is not an intellectual, cultural, political, racial, or numerous other mismatches between student and school.

This is an extremely cynical dis-service to the student, his or her family, taxpayers whose taxes support financial aid for many of these and most all other students and to the college. It is a disservice to the student and family because they actually believe that by being accepted, the college has judged that there will be a good match and will do all it can to make sure that it will exist. It is a disservice to taxpayers because billions (yes, billions, the one with the B..) of dollars in taxpayer money is wasted when students drop out. And it is a disservice to the school because it will also lose thousands to millions of dollars due to attrition. And when a student is unhappy because this was not the right place for him or her, the issue becomes Malthusian. The result is that many more students are pushed over the tipping point and out the door by students who feel they were “ripped off” or misled.

The surest way to increase retention is not take students the university knows will likely not stay. It is better to forgo the quick easy upfront money from a soon-too-attrit student than build a budget on it. Moreover, as retention and graduation rates become more and more a focus of state and public funding, taking in students who do not fit and will likely drop out will really hurt long term finances.

Moreover, the higher the non-graduation in six-year rate is when all schools are disclosing these rates, the more likely that students who could fit nicely will look for a school they would rather graduate from than just start at.

Finally, it is just simply unethical and wrong to accept students a college generally knows will quit or flunk out. It is a form of Enrollment Ethical Deficit Syndrome – a dreaded debilitating syndrome that erodes the spirit and mission of an institution and can destroy ex-students. College is supposed to build and fulfill dreams ; not crush them.

If you would like a digital copy of the latest Principles of Good Academic Customer Service, just click here and ask. Be glad to send them on.

If you or your school is not aware of the offer of a fee free presentation or workshop on academic customer service and retention, please click here NOW.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Free on Your Campus Presentations on Customer Service, Retention

Customer Service Week is October 4- 10 this year. And for us that week and the next were to be filled with a major campus customer service audit for a major urban university. Unfortunately, the university had to reschedule which means that Customer Service Week for us is now open. And that means it is open for us to do a customer service appreciation special. We are going to do the appreciating
During the weeks of October 4-9 and again from October 11-16 we will provide your campus up to two presentations on academic customer service for the cost of expenses. 
That’s right. We want to give something back and celebrate customer service in colleges and universities as well as help some schools increase retention. We will charge no fee! Of course if you feel the presentations, workshops or training were worth something, we will of course accept an honorarium.
You just pay for the cost of one of us getting to your campus as well as hotel and food and we will not charge any fee for our services. We just want to help others celebrate academic customer service and retention through graduation.
This is a first come first served offer and is only limited by the ability to get from one place to another within those two weeks. And as an added bonus, I will be working in Boston the weekend before so if a school from the Boston area gets to us first, you will even be able to save on transportation costs and even possibly hotel depending where in New England you arte located.
So, contact us NOW. Either click here and may your request or call me at 413.219.6939.
To summarize, this is a chance to have us provide your campus with a full personalized presentation, workshop or training on an area of academic customer service with no fee asked for. All we ask is you cover expenses which one would be called on to do anyhow (and we always spend your money as if it were ours which means low expenses).  No fee charged. If you feel it was worthwhile, we will accept an honorarium of your choosing and be honored even if there is no honorarium involved.
We will give the same full, personalized work we always do and you get the full benefit. This is first call, first scheduled so contact us NOW! Click here and make your request or call me at 413.219.6939.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Telephones and College Customer Service

Last Wednesday we called 50 colleges and universities – 40 not for profit, 10 for-profit to check on what sort of telephone answering and service skills we would find. If this were a pop quiz the class failed.

Of the 50 schools called, 39 had phone answering technologies picking up the calls. They all welcomed us in a fairly tolerant android voice similar to my GPS Jill voice. Pleasant, non-committal and clearly not human.  These technological answering systems are sold as both labor and cost saving devices that could also provide some CRM information on who calls, when they call and for whom they called.  They may have done that with our calls but they clearly turned us off when of the 39, 26 stated that we should “listen closely. Our menu has changed and there will be a quiz. Yes this will be on the test!”

Hasn’t anyone learned that no one cares that your menu has changed. People are not memorizing the menu and they just do not care. The only menu change that interests me is the dim sum menu at Sunflower, my favorite Chinese restaurant in Columbus, OH. And they always just bring the dim sum carts to me and let me choose what I want. No need to memorize anything.
The menus on the tech systems all started with admissions Push 1. But if you want something else, still push 1 for admissions. Or at least that was what the for-profits seemed to be doing. No matter what we wanted, we ended up in admissions. Of the 39 systems, the bursar’s office was number 2 on 28 of the systems with financial aid number 2 on 11.

What was most maddening on 19 of the systems was that pushing 0 for an operator did not get to an operator, just restarting the call tree, branch by branch. The other 20 did go to an operator or at least a promise of one. On seven of the systems, no operator ever answered. Instead we asked if we wanted to leave a message, someone would get back to us. So we did leave a message in the general mailbox. Still waiting.

Telephone technology and answering systems can have their value but we are not fully sure what it is yet. Having and android answer a person’s call is really not the best way to prove the school “cares and gives each student personal attention.”  Rather it shows that the school may have bought into being impersonal and more commercial than educational.

When a living breathing individual calls, he or she is a real person expecting some form of social equity from an educational institution. We really do believe a real person should answer the phone. Whether the idea is real or not any more, Americans have a quaint image of college being a place different than a cold, money-oriented commercial institution.  Technology answering telephones shakes that image quickly.

Especially so when the technology traps one inside telephony hell and will not let you talk to a real person ever. Four of the phone systems refused to let us talk to a real person unless we knew the extension of that person. So, we ended up back at…yup…admissions.

Of the eleven schools that had someone answering the phone, though it may be hard for you to believe this, but six may have been better off with a technological android rather than the human one that answered the phone. Four of the six sounded so bored they made us worry we has woken them. Two of these were actually rude sounding stating the name of the school as if it were some curse they were sending our way.  The others were just not cut out to be receptionists.

There is some odd belief that anyone can answer a phone and greet people well. Nothing is further from the truth. A receptionist that receives people and makes them feel welcome and as if they were the most important person in his or her life at that moment is a rare and valuable individual. These people are worth doing all you can to keep. If you don’t have one yet, find an enthusiastic people person and we can train them in the finer art of phone protocols for you. It is the enthusiasm and people orientation that is most important. It cannot be taught.

But I Don't Want Admissions
In all of the for-profit calls, the receptionist did everything she could to get us to talk to an admissions person. When I told on that I had a PhD and just wanted to talk to Dr.X, she told me admissions could help me get a degree in a new exciting field anyhow. I suppose even with the PhD! All but on for-profit phone call did not lead to speaking with an identified individual. This was partially we suppose because some of the calls were not answered by people at the schools but at call centers and they have no knowledge of the school. A very poor situation.

In the not-for-profits, when we did get a real person to answer the phone, only three could connect us to the person we were trying to call even when that person was a vice president.  Five answerers asked me what department the person worked in. receptionist should either be taught to immediately recognize names of important people on campus such as administrators and key faculty or should have a cheat sheet right in front of them to be able to find the information quickly.

In one instance after a person was located and the call transferred, the next person answering was clearly not a native speaker of English. We fully support diversity but perhaps not when answering the phone when the person could not understand us and we could not understand her.

Our on-campus service audits have led us to realize that too many schools employ students as receptionists and telephone answerers. Not that we have anayu5thing against students working on campus. Not at all;. What we are opposed to is placing students in very important positions without training or at least adequate training. There are definite ways to answer a phone. “Yes” is not one of them. Nor is “Hi, what do you want?” even if said in a half-hearted cheery voice, Just not quite professional.

And if the person answering the phones is having a bad day, that is not a valid reason to share that in the negative or even hostile tone used to answer the phone. 

Train to Avoid a Train Wreck
A telephone call is still the common first contact with a school for potential students outside of the web that is. A telephone call is almost always the first contact when trying to gain resolution on a problem or gaining assistance. Having an overtly bored or rude person answering the phone is a sure way to lose potential enrollment or escalate a problem. An impolite or angry tone tells the caller he or she is not wanted on the phone and by extension ion campus. When someone is already upset or has a problem, an indifferent to disrespectful tone is going to escalate the concern. The receptionist is the point at which a soothing, empathetic tone needs to be used to make the caller feel he or she is important and can get the help or admissions assistance wanted.

We start with mirrors in Here’s Looking at Me: A Way to End Phone Rudeness. That will help. Teach people to follow the procedure outlined there. It is a low cost, high value solution.  When you find someone who follows the procedures, be sure to recognize that person and reward him or her. Point out the person as a role model for others. Praise goes a long way especially when raise is not available.

Be sure to train receptionists, students and all others who answer phones how to modulate their voice, what to say and how to say it. If students are answering the phones, make certain they know they are going front stage to use Goffmans term. Also make sure they are dressed appropriately. The voice and attitudes are actually affected by what one wears so have people dress to positive advantage. Teach all receptionists how to reduce anger and antagonism from callers.

Finally, make certain the telephone receptionist has all the information he or she needs to be able to either address issues from a caller or to know whom to send the call to. Without this information readily available, the phone person will not be able to do the job, feel frustrated and soon get aggravated especially if he or she cares. This aggravation will soon be carried in the voice to every caller.

For an example of a school that does it all wonderfully well, contact Columbus State and Technical College (OH) (http://www.cscc.edu/ 800-621-6407) where we did a campus customer service and some training. CSCC has the very best phone call center in higher education. Their well trained professionals doenot just answer a call better than anywhere else we know of, but can help solve problems. They can change a class section, take payments, explain regulations, even order books and perform counseling for students in need. Nina Reese and her folks are simply the best.

AN APOLOGY    I received a comment from someone after a recent piece on websites correcting a sentence that I screwed up with my wonderful typing. My rules are that we don’t post an anonymous comment so someone in the office deleted it. I corrected the sentence and want to thank the reader. The apology is because the comment was not posted. 

Thank you to the person who sent the correction in. I know I am both a horrible typist and a fast and horrible typist whose fingers often seem to get ahead of my thoughts. I also usually get to writing these pieces late at night after helping clients and some students who are doing research or writing about customer service. So, when I proofread I do not always catch everything. Thus, when people write in with corrections I am thankful.

So thanks to the person who wrote in and helped on that piece. BTW, feel very free to use your name. I don't bite... very often. All comments are appreciated and wanted too. Feel free to comment, agree, argue, raise questions, ask for help or whatever. I love a good dialoguer so feel free.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Some Poor Customer Service and Poor Service to Colleges from Web Sites

customer service in college, customer service in universities, retention, student success, customer service training, attrition, graduation
While the aim of college and university web sites is to provide customer service to potential and extant students as well as to market institutions and provide customer service to students, most  appear to accomplish neither.

We looked at 50 (45 not-for-profit and 5 for-profit) college and university Web sites and found one major problem: the combination  of lack of information and bad design make them nearly impossible to navigate and locate  information a visitor might need or want. They certainly don't represent their colleges well.

Navigating in troubled waters
  • Out of the 50 websites surveyed, only two were easy to navigate and find my way to information and around the site itself.  Web site navigation should be intuitive for the user, and site design should keep the user engaged. Here's a breakdown of some of the problems found: 
  • Thirty-nine of the sites were counterintuitive and appeared to be set up by committees which they likely were. Committees are not what one wants to design a website (nor to get anything done quickly.) These sites forced viewers to navigate from one page to another and to yet others to try and find information that should have been readily available such as the campus directory or addresses of major offices. The sites often led one to a page that was labeled as what the viewer was looking for but the information was not there. The for-profit sites were seriously flawed by these sorts of errors. They seemed to be doing little but leading back to admission pages.
  • Nineteen of the sites had serious flaws that rendered the site un-navigable or quite difficult to navigate. These sites often led to a page that had no way back to the main page. This was often related to the library which was almost always apparently designed by a library committee with little or no web or design ability 
  • Eighteen sites had broken or outdated links or links to nowhere.
  •  Six would allow you to get to your desired page but not provide any way off the page or the information that was promised by the link.
  • Forty-four were just horribly designed with unattractive styles, fonts and maddening home pages loaded with many too many applets, boxes, pictures and bits of information that were likely supposed to make it look “cool or hip” to younger viewers who would actually be turned off by the pages.
  • Twenty-two were marred by love of fonts, a dreaded disease that makes the designer try to use all known fonts opn a single page. The result, fontal anarchy.
  • Five others were written horribly with more typos than even I would make or such thick academic-ese that iut was obvious that they were written for the internal community.

 These flaws should not have been permitted especially the technical ones. There are free apps that can discern them and the professionals at Core Interactive, an associate of ours which has helped many colleges and universities improve their sites and web presence will provide a free web analysis and some solutions to anyone who mentions the blog AcademicMAPS.

Is The President Hiding?
One of the greatest problems was the lack of readily available information on the sites. Only six of the 50 sites featured the kind of information that students, both potential and extant tell us is important to them and their parents.Trying to find the president on some college Web. sites is like reading one of the Where's 'Waldo? Books. Twenty-seven of the 50 web sites made it next impossible to get in touch with the president of the college.

Thirty-three of the. sites made it seem as if the president was off-limits to students and parents. There was no way to find the president’s contact information or address at all on these sites even if one were to search every page.

Leaving thepresident and/or contact information sends a message that the College’s leader does not want to hear from anyone. Similarly, many other senior administrators were not able to be located nor were their contact information available. What sort of a message does this send? Simple. “I can’t be bothered to hear from or engage any of the school’s stakeholders.” And “we don’t care about you.”

Granted the job of a college or university president is not all that much fun nowadays. Many probably feel like a tightropes walker out on the high wire with various constituencies taking turns trying to twang the wire and make her fall off. But this is all the more reason for greater transparency and openness. If a president or administrators do not want to talk with, hear from or email with constituents, students, parents or the public, they are in the wrong job. When people are paying tens of thousands of dollars for their child’s education for example, they want and should be given access to everyone and anyone on campus. If helicopter parents are a problem read the article but talk with them or they will come back in fighter bombers

On 44 of the websites reviewed it was possible to get to a department like the bursar of the math department, but getting the name and email address of an individual in the office or the address proved difficult, if not impossible.

On 22 sites, I could often get to mid- to lower-level management or Staffers, but not to the top people. And ifI was able to locate a telephone number. it was often represented by a campus extension or local number without the area code.

Making matters worse, 24 or the 50 sites made finding the physical address of an office or even the school itself a major feat. They were hidden. I had to dig into site maps, sub-directories or online catalogs which are absolutely near impossible to use on line without some sort of live index or search features which all but one website did not have active indexes or search capabilities. Even then, it was rather difficult or even impossible to get addresses and emails. I often had to try to find them in the college catalog which was an extremely frustrating experience.

In fact, placing the college catalog on the website is one of the worst uses of web sites. Somehow we seem to believe if we scan the catalog and plunk the entire thing on a Web site that will be helpful. Well, it's not. Catalogs in hard copy are extremely difficult for the non-academic (as well as many academics which is why even they don’t use them)  in hardcopy, why would they be any better online? Hint. They aren’t any better. Even worse. If you must post your catalog, at least consider an interactive catalog such as can be created by CoreACADEMICS.

A Foreign Language?
Too often, web sites and the catalogs they rely on are wrlttcn in the arcane foreign language of academic-ese  — the pedantic language used to keep non-academics away and prove. our own status in the academy. Odd words like GPA, cum, bursar, and the like pester non-academics and cluster in our language.

 Moreover, the web is a visual and graphic medium with different rules from the written page while we still embed our thoughts in writing on the printed page. And we create so many printed pages on our webs that they defeat the purpose of the web itself and push the viewers away. And just scanning the catalogue into pdf pages is simply the worst example of the problem as well as the worst use of the website. If one must put the whole catalog onto the web, at least try to guide users with pictograms and provide a usable and workable active search as viewers would find in other commercial sites. That’s right. I said commercial because that’s what a college web is. It is a part of the school’s e-commerce outreach to potential and existing students. So look at good commercial webs and see how they make an effort to provide a complete and intuitive index rather than large chunks of written categories such as academics and student affairs.

If a potential student wants to find out about business programs for example, he or she would get mired down in our academic-ese that is likely there to please some internal constituency rather than the external user. Try providing enough information to help guide the potential student but not so much that you turn her off from continuing with the web. Try providing actively linked categories such as business studies, Then break business studies into small usable, chewable bites of information rather than serving the entire meal of academic stew all at once and asking the student to bite it all at once.

College web sites are supposed to help, to serve the customer but it looks as if once again, they do not. Yes, the for-profits were worse than the not-for-profits but they should not bring joy to anyone’s heart. For-profits do not want to give out ay information so they are bad on purpose. Not-for-profit colleges think they are helping students but they do not seem to be. Not sure which is worse- intentionally or naively poor websites. All I can assure you is that the 50 sites we looked at are not serving students well nor the schools. It may be time to have your school’s website analyzed. Ask me and I can recommend some good people to look at he site – no obligation – just greater success.

If this article was helpful, contact N.Raisman & Associates to see about having a presentation,m audit or workshop done to help your college or university increase success NOW by clicking here. Now booking into 2011.

Get a free digital pre-publication copy of Customer Service Factors and the Cost of Attrition Revised simply by asking here

The bestseller The Power of Retention  by Dr. Neal Raisman is available from the Administrators Bookshelf.