Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Starbucks and Enrollment Increases

The way students look at the world has changed. What they are looking for has changed. How the act and interact with their environment has changed. Colleges and schools have.....not changed. And they wonder why enrolling and retainingh students is getting tougher. Duh!

I have been preaching that we need to get away from old worn out admission and retention approaches. They are not helping. The market mind hs shifted and we have not kept up... and create an atmosphere that is more informal; one in which a potential student can relax yet still feel as if it can be a formal, getting business done arrangement. As I studied high school and college students to see where they seem to be comfortable yet able to do school related work. I needed to find a model that would convey to students that this is a place in which I can see myself and also create an affective bond to from my own experience. A place that feels like what I know and with which I can identify.

The answer- Starbucks or a coffee shop.

If you observe the target market for schools, these locations are where the potential enrollees go and spend large amounts of time talking with friends, reading, doing homework, tutoring or getting tutored, IM’ing, WIFI-ing and generally hanging around. It is surprising how much work, often collaborative work, is done in a Starbucks-like atmosphere.

So it became obvious that this should be the structure. Get out of the cubicles. Dump the formal desk that evokes negative affective responses. Set up a Starbucks-like zone area. Small intimate round tables (or small squares/rectangles) where potential students can sit with an admissions rep or even better, two and just talk. Create a Starbuckian-like atmosphere with colors that relax, photographs that will set a calming atmosphere and even music playing quietly in the background. Keep in mind that today’s students have grown up enveloped in music so much that it is de rigueur in all they do – even watching TV. It will not intrude. It will enhance.

Get a multi-purpose coffee machine than can make lattes, and other frou frou drinks they are used to having. They are available in numerous formats from school owned to vended and a range of costs. And use a premium grade of coffee. Potential students have grown up on Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, Pete’s and other quality brands, Sorry Maxwell House and Folgers. Also, for non-coffee or tea drinkers, get a small fridge so you can offer soft drinks. Oh yes, a cookie or some nosh will certainly be a value-added.

To those who are saying, he’s nuts, maybe I am. But to create an affective connection and increase the A-ROI, we need to connect not to our values and world but to theirs. Starbuck-like places are where they connect so bring that to them. And reap the increased enrollments as Herzing is.

By the way, also think about setting up student lounges in a similar way if retention is of any concern. These can be set up as profit centers too. Want to learn more on how to increase enrollment and revenue through changing the correlative function of your physical set-up, just call me 413.219.6939 or email me. Be glad to tell you how.

Herzing College Got Out of the Admission Cubicle and Increased Enrollment

I had the pleasure of talking with Roger Gugelmeyer today. Roger is the VP of Operations for Herzing College, a college system with 12 campuses in the US and Canada that focus on career education. Roger was telling me about a new admission’s structure that is a variant on what I have been advising colleges to go to for over a year now. And Roger says the new approach is working very well. (i.e., increasing enrollments & starts).

What the College is doing is getting out of the cubicle/individual office approach to admissions. That’s where an admissions person sits in a cubicle or office behind his or her desk. In the cublicle mode, the potential student generally sits to the right or left side in a typically non-descript office chair. Both have to strain a bit to look at one another and make good eye contact. This traditional set-up almost always reminds students of Dilbert or a movie favorite of theirs, Office Spaces. A space that is connotative of a dull, business-like, corporate, uncaring, undesirable work situation.

Potential students have told us they also relate the cubicle to negative k-12 experiences like a high school student would do when called down to the vice-principle’s office (i.e. in trouble) or when a teacher is tutoring or explaining something. They are recalled as superior/inferior situations. And the student is the inferior. Not a good memory to evoke.

Neither is felt as a positive experience yet we in college admissions do all we can to recreate it.

Herzing is doing away with the individual offices for admissions advisors. At Herzing, all the admission advisors share a “bullpen space” rather than have private offices. The private territories were replaced with nicely appointed interview rooms that are used by all the admission reps on an as-needed basis. The interview rooms are more relaxed, intimate and less corporate in their furnishings (round table, floor lamp, plants, etc.) and design. Much in the way that some companies like Steelcase, and many of their clients, have done away with cubicles and replaced them with common workspaces and shared meeting rooms to create a greater sense of community and cooperation.

The result has been that Herzing admission advisors have enjoyed an increase in applications and enrollments; greater cooperation and increased success, personally and by teams. It is not quite the zone approach discussed in an earlier posting (Basketball as Admissions Metaphor), but it is a variant with solid success

Herzing is headed in the right direction. No question. Tomorrow, we'll discuss combining some of what they are doing, with the objective correlative of Starbucks to "vente-size" admissions. (Not sure that is a real word but then again I'm not sure most of the coffee-related terms are real. I am sure of Starbucks's success and how it can help school admissions. Tomorrow or email me know at

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Greatest Gift of All - Saving Student Enrollment

Give a student, the school and yourself a present.

If you believe that students get a great education at your school, better than elsewhere. you should do all you can to keep students at your school. You don’t wish them an inferior education do you?

To really give students a present, give the school the population it needs for next term and to make yourself feel as if you really have accomplished something, start by getting a list of every student who has indicated he or she may or is leaving. Call every one of them personally but as if you do not know they are dropping out. A personal call is often all they need to change their mind.

Here’s a script that works. Change it to your tastes.

“Hi _________, this is ___________, president, dean, professor at _________________. Just calling to wish you a happy holiday and thank you for the honor of having you as a student at ____________. If it weren’t for you, we would not have meaning and value as a college/school. We exist for you students. So I look forward to seeing you next term/semester. Oh by the way, if I can help make next term/semester better, just email me at ______________ or call at _______________. Look forward to hearing from you and seeing you on campus .”

Call every one on the list and sit back. Wait for replies. You’ll get some and every one you get is an opportunity to retain a student in the college where they will get the best education any where.

Yes you can send a similar automated message to every student that is coming back But for the drops, a personal call is needed.

Oh by the way, if you feel that personally calling students I not for you or below your position, you really don’t care about students or the school. Get over yourself and call. If you don’t believe students get the best education at your school, you better be doing everything you can to change that. If you don’t think it will happen, why in the heck are you staying there?

If students and their education are not important enough for you to take the time to personally call them, you’re in the wrong job.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Web Sites, Signs, Objective Correlatives Hurt Enrollment

Let’s take one of the first correlatives students see – the web site. Most school websites are, well since it is the holiday season I’ll say they are not as good as they can be in working as objective correlatives for students. Why? Because they were created by people who believe in words and in linear realities. Not metaphoric leaps based on correlating objects and images.

We create webs as if they were documents, packed with words and minimal graphics or pictures. We even include entire catalogues on web sites as if anyone would want to read them online. Students hate catalogues and their page after page of, you guessed it, words we believe are important. They don’t nor do they believe catalogues are helpful or speak to them. That’s why catalogue personalization programs such as Leadwise are being adapted by schools. They speak to each student’s personal world and provide graphics and photos students can identify with.

Just look at where students go to on the web-YouTube, Facebook, Shoutwire - and you’ll see few words and almost all visuals. Moreover, the pages are packed with small boxes and thumbnails of choices to click on and download. We may have some trouble with this visual overload. They do not. Nor do they have trouble with the crawls at the bottom of screens during TV shows that can drive us nuts. Not them.

And the web is one of the first contacts with a school. Thus it is a very strong objective correlative. It has the power of the law of primacy – that which is first encountered is first and most powerfully to come to mind. And what most college websites do is create a picture of a school as very “old school.” Not good.

Another powerful, primary objective correlative that is almost universally overlooked is the signage, a fancy way of saying signs. When a potential student first comes to a school or campus, the first material object they see are the signs used to direct them, to inform and to welcome them. If the signs are unattractive, too small or not quickly and easily informative, they generate a negative metaphor for the school’s concern for people.

When we do a college service audit, we find that schools usually don’t even have adequate or enough signs to guide people to locations. It is sort of like a test to see if you can find your way around to qualify for going there. After all, we who live at the school now got lost at first because there were no signs for us and we found our way around. If we could do it, new students can too. Dumb belief.

The lack of signs, uninformative signs, outdated signs and so on, create a very powerful correlative to how much the school cares about helping and assisting. So much so that we have found poor signage such a very dominant force in forming early metaphors that we would rank poor signs as a major negative factor leading to lost enrollment. We have found that if students can’t find their way around with signs, they often just trace their way back to their car and leave. Remember that as posted earlier, as much as 12% of enrollment is lost when students make actual contact with a school.

These are just a few examples of the objective correlative in customer service leading to loses in enrollment and retention. It is a topic we will come back to in later postings.

Enrollment, Metaphors and Poetry

A customer service facet that is often overlooked is the “objective correlative" aspects of a college. The phrase objective correlative is one taken from my English background and was discussed primarily with literature. But I find it has numerous applications to colleges. Besides, using the phrase helps justify all those years of study.

The phrase was popularized by the American poet TS Elliot to explain emotional reactions to literature. Objective correlative refers to a physical object or more likely a grouping or combination of objects, images, or visual descriptions that create(s) an emotional response to piece of literature. For example, if a poem has images of grey things, a tumbledown house and crows sitting on a broken fence, these physical objects could set a tone, an emotional metaphoric response, of gloom and foreboding. Try an Edgar Alan Poe poem for examples and pleasure.

In a college, the objective correlatives are physical aspects of the school - websites, the grounds, the buildings themselves, the colors we choose in the buildings, walkways, signs, offices, lobbies, etc. These all have a very powerful response on a potential student’s emotional reaction to the school and do affect his or her decision to enroll and/or stay. These all create a visual metaphor of the school and its potential to meet the three returns on investment all students bring with them. The three ROI’s – fiscal, emotional and affective – are what help determine if a student enrolls and will definitely be the determining factors in whether a student stays at a school, transfers or steps out.. (The three ROI’s are discussed in Customer Service Increases Retention)

We are aware that one of the most important parts of the enrollment process is the tour. But what most people don’t realize is that students have started creating a visual metaphor of the school as soon as they make contact with the objective correlatives of that school. The tour is generally simply that which polishes or corrupts the metaphor through what students see and hear while on the tour.
Metaphors are very powerful. They become emblematic of the institution and are very hard to shake loose or change. It is important to realize that students think not in words, but in pictures, in metaphors of their world as Gerald Altman discusses in How Customers Think. Students live in a visual environment which has them “read” and value objects emotionally. They trust their images much more powerfully than any words, which are the coin or our realm. They make amazingly quick and assertive metaphoric leaps of judgment and embed them deeply in their belief systems. We view the world intellectually in words and numbers that we want to make some logical sense. We wish to have rationality be the basis for decisions. They use visual objective correlatives and the metaphors they generate.
There is an inherent conflict that leads to problems. Examples of a couple of them in the next posting tomorrow.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Make Them Complain to Better Customer Service

A college president called me about having a workshop at his school. They are looking at a potential large enrollment drop following the end of the first semester. He said he wanted me to only focus on the positive aspects of the school’s customer service. “I always believe in focusing on the good. What we do well. Use that as a basis to build.”

“Ahhh” I replied. “There is part of your problem right there. You need to focus on the negatives. On what students are complaining about. We need to set up a system that encourages students to complain.”

He was aghast. “You want us to get our students to complain? But that will just encourage them to be unhappy and focus on the negatives. Besides, I don’t need more problems. I want fewer of them.”

“Exactly the reason to elicit as many complaints as you can.” I replied. “You cannot fix a problem until you know about it. If you aren’t aware of issues, they sit there, fester, grow and then explode in attrition rates. You need to get as many complaints as you can get. Then check into them.”

“To see if they are valid before we go ahead and fix the issue” the president asserted quite presidentially. “No sense putting time and money into an issue if it’s not a real problem. I mean just because a student says something is so doesn’t make it so”

“NO.” I empathetically responded. “If a student thinks it is a problem, it is. If it is only a problem for that student, it is still a problem even if only for that student. Keep in mind that if that student is unhappy, has a complaint. He or she may well get to the point of saying goodbye. That’s how attrition rates get up there. Individual students decide to leave.”

“But if I send a lot of time on one student, I’m not sure that’s an efficient use of resources. Shouldn’t we do a survey or something and see how a larger group of students feel about things. What if that student is wrong and a change makes others unhappy?”

“Okay, first off, if one student complains about something, it is likely that others feel the same way. They just haven’t said anything. And at the very least, they have heard of the problem and will give it credence since it came from a fellow student. Complaints are Malthusian after all. The complainer tells another and another and the “anothers” tell yet others and so on. So they need to be dealt with.” Then I added “But first you need to develop a way to flush out the complaints”

“I see. We have a student satisfaction survey we’ve used before. Our VP of Students developed it with her staff. We generally do well on it so maybe there just aren’t that many issues out there.”

“Well, maybe there aren’t. Surveys can be used as a starting point but they need to be developed by someone who does not have a vested interest in the answers. Your student services group may be the best in the country but I hope you can see that they could have a vested interest in the results. They could have, subconsciously of course, devised items, topics and issues that would lead to certain types of responses. You need someone who is detached from the results. Who is interested only in getting valid results. I can make some recommendations of good people if you like.” Didn’t want him to think I was saying this simply to try and get some more work.

We discussed some consultants and then went on to some other methods of gathering complaints such as comment cards like the Applegrams at Lansing (MI) Community College, or an email address set up just for complaints, or even better, a blog to discuss issues students have. I mentioned that in any of these or other methods, they should not be anonymous if at all possible.

“But will students give their names?” he questioned.

“Some will, some won’t but if you can get a name, it is always better. First you set up a community. Second, names provide a level of integrity to the issue. And third, you have someone to get back to with a solution or a description of the review and resolution of the issue.” I let the pause of silence by note taking go by and continued.

“You’ll want to always acknowledge the complaint. Best to do so in a way that can let others know of it so they can join into the discussion. But also to let them know you are taking the issues seriously.” I added.

“But that will broadcast any problems. That’ll tell everyone we have issues. Won’t that just multiply the problems and hurt our image.”

“Only if you don’t respond to and don’t resolve the problems. If the school accepts it’s not yet perfect and let’s students know what they already know, you will get honesty points. Then when you resolve the complaint and publicly let everyone know you did and what you did, that makes the school a hero.” His “ahh” let me know to go on.

“The research is clear that when a business, in this case a school owns up to an issue and solves it to the customer’s benefit, you turn a complainer into a supporter. Maybe even an advocate. Let the issue stay out there and fester and you could create a group of insurgents dedicated to hurting the school by exploding their complaints to everyone they can reach.”

For further discussion of the benefits of complaints, contact me or just wait for more postings. If you know of any other complaint gathering ideas or stories of how handling a complaint turned a potential insurgent into an advocate, let us all hear.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Basketball as Metaphor for Admissions

In basketball, two common defense setups are the man-on-man and the zone. In the man on man, each defensive player has a specific opponent to guard. And the defender stays with that man no matter where on the court he goes. In the zone defense, the defender works on whatever player comes into the zone he or she is assigned to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As my friend John says “Seems like a plan to me.” Does it to you?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Positive Power of Names

After a customer service and retention workshop for faculty and administrators in Virginia, Prof. Bob Loomis of EPCI in Roanoke provided a powerful example of the value of names. Prof. Loomis was responding to a discussion of the Give a Name – Get a Name technique. (more on this by clicking on the underlined words)

It seems that he supplements his teaching income by doing some computer repair and consulting for businesses on the side. He will go to a business and do all he can to repair a computer or software issue right then and there. From what I can figure, he is rather successful at doing so. (People in the Roanoke, VA take note – Bob Loomis at EPCI)

There are however times when he has to take the computer back with him to make the repairs. In those situations, he provides solid service by leaving a computer behind so the customer has something to use. This loaner, he has named Freddie since it travels with him on all calls just in case and he is with it a lot. Though Bob checks it each time to maker sure it is fine, there have been a few times when the loaner may develop a problem since it is used by many different people with different preferences and networks. He can be sure he will hear about it rather quickly.

One time Bob had mentioned to a client that he was going to leave “Freddie” behind as a loaner. The client was a bit confused until he realized that Freddie was a computer. Well, the next day Bob received a call from the client. “Freddy is having a bad day” he said. Not “the damn machine isn’t working right.” A kind, understanding “Freddie is having a bad day” instead.

The client was not dealing with a soulless machine after all but with Freddie (a soulless machine but with a name.) Ever since that experience, Bob does not leave a loaner computer behind but lends the customer “Freddy”. Complaints with Freddy have dropped and Bob attributes it to giving people a machine with a human name.

It has been pointed out to me at times that it is true that Give a Name – Get a Name may not work with spineless, ineffectual soulless machines and tools with personality deficits who have names and work at schools. There are some folks that have less personality than a computer. For working with people who have less personality and customer ability than Freddie, Principle 15 may be worth considering even if you know their name.

Not everyone is capable of providing good customer service

That does not mean they may not have value somewhere

For a copy of the 15 Principles, just click here.

That does not mean they do have value either but that is a decision you make. Just get them away from interacting with your customers. Or your students and colleagues will develop names for them that are not very flattering, though possibly very indicative. When a person has a name like Quasimoto, The Thing or The %$#&#! take that's a powerful statement too -of the person's ability to negatively affect customer service. Move them away from people.

By the way, check your job descriptions and position requirements. It may be that you are creating some of your own problems by the way you hire. Being too mean to work at the DMV is not a job qualification one should seek for those who provide customer service.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Popping the "Sophomore Dropout Bubble"

The Chronicle of Higher Education (9/8/06) had an article focusing on the large number of sophomores who drop out or transfer. The article looked at a number of reasons why there is an attrition bubble in the sophomore year. There is a very telling quote from Laurie A. Schreiner, Prof of Higher Education and Organizational Leadership at Azusa Pacific University. Professor Schreiner states “It’s a gradual weaning process…all of a sudden the gloves come off, and this is real college.”

Ahh, there it is. Freshman year is not real college? And real college is tough – meant to wean out the weak that should not be in college anyhow. Most every freshman will disagree. It was a tough year. But what she may mean is that in the freshman year students are treated with care, concern and customer service. Sophomore year… Well, screw ‘em? Let them sink?

What is clear here and at most every college is that in the freshman year customer service is considered by many colleges sort of like the Xmas spirit. For a week, people are kind to their fellow man and woman, give donations for the poor, help out those who may need assistance. Then after the holiday, it’s back to WIFM and “hey I gave at the office”.

Now, some people will be kind and helpful all year long and those are the colleges that do not experience the sophomore slump. They pay attention to students, their needs and expectations and provide good customer service throughout the freshman, sophomore, junior, senior and super senior years as if they all mattered.

The solution to the sophomore attrition bubble is easy. Treat students as if they matter every day, every year.

Education is a service industry in which the clients/students make a decision about the level and value of the service everyday, and even many times a day. They skip a class for example if they do not feel it is worth going. They actually judge the school’s concern for them every single day. They decide daily if they are currebtly getting and believe they will get the requisite financial, emotional and affective returns on their investment. If the answers are not at least, "I guess so" the bubble pops right then and there - sophomore year or not.

Then when they have a break – weekends, vacations, semester breaks – they determine if they are going to return on Monday. If they feel they are at Cheers University “where everyone knows their name and is awfully glad they came” they return. Or if they are being forced to attend Dr. House’s clinic where he may be a good doctor but clearly does not give a damn about them, they will seek new doctors.

It is customer service, care, and concern that is the major determinant of the attrition rate as indicated in the blog article Why Students Leave and What You Can Do Today to Retain Them.It shows that 72% of students leave a college due to poor customer service – each and every year. Actuallly, each and every hour of each and every day.

Care about students and retain them.

If there are any issues or topics I can help with, feel very free to call 413.219.6939 or email.

I will be pleased to help out and do it for the pleasure of helping keep students in school.