Tuesday, February 13, 2007

College Tours to Nowhere Can be to Additional Enrollment

One of the most important parts of the enrollment sequence – the campus tour - is also one of the worst for many potential students and their parents. We have cited before that at least 12% of potential probable enrollees is lost as soon as the interested potential enrollees encounter the campus. The poor customer service of the tour is a major contributor. Not the only one by any means, but can be a major one.

Most colleges relegate the tours to a group of students who likely start out enthusiastic and interesting but soon devolve into the bored rote voices of students who have more important things than this #$%ing tour on their mind. This is especially so for students doing the tours to make minimum wage.

And the tour itself…. “Here is a typical classroom (yawn). A computer lab (Woopie! Computers in rows) This is a sample dorm room (which is almost always staged much better than any other room). This is our cafeteria (where the food sucks but I have to pretend it is fine), And on and on. How exciting and motivating.

The tone of an article in today’s (2/13/07) New York Times summarizes rather well.

College tours are pretty standard. A student walking backward will show you the library, the athletic center and a typical dorm room. Then there will be the requisite safety talk. The tour guide will point out blue boxes -- emergency call buttons for the campus police -- and extol the security systems in the residence halls. The spiel usually includes a bit about how, if a student feels uncomfortable walking alone at night on campus, he or she can simply call security for an escort.

Gee, wouldn’t that tour just light up your “gotta go there juices”? Not really since most any tour of one school could also be the tour of another. Sort of interchangeable like school catalogs and websites. No wonder the student tour guides lose their enthusiasm too even though taking students to the library might be their only visit too.

The idea is that a student will provide a more authentic voice and customer service that will seem genuine. Can’t be done when the tour is trying to please two audiences at once – parents and students. These are two very different audiences and one rule of customer service is that it must e focused correctly on the correct audience. And well, let’s face it. Students have different interests than their parents.

Students want to know they will get a good education but also have a good time. Parents walk through the tour focused on the ROI for their tuition dollars, yes the library because they believe students will use books rather than the web, safety issues and how much this all is going to cost me.

Okay, the solutions. First, have two tours and two tour guides. The potential students should go off with a student without the parents. That way they can see the aspects of the school they really want to see and ask real questions like “where do people really eat? Is one dining hall better than another or should I skip them entirely?” “What dorms are the ones you don’t want to get stuck in?” “What’s with web access for downloading on campus?” “If I rush a frat/sorority which is really which?” And so on. Take them to where students really hang out. Buy them a cup of coffee or the such and talk there, in their habitat; not the schools official one. They will feel more comfortable and will feel as if they have joined the school community already. And community is one thing this generation craves. They feel isolated by the society so they have a need to feel as if they can belong in some community. Sitting and talking in an environment they are familiar with sets them into a sense of community with the group around the table. We already suggested this sort of structure for admissions to increase enrollment in another posting.

Parents should go with an adult tour guide and be shown a classroom, a library tour, safety including a brief meeting with the head of security, an introduction to the financial aid office and director to set appointments, an quick introduction to an academic officer, a dean or a chair if you schedule by academic interests. They should meet the Dean/VP/Dir/ Head Honcho of student services too. They want a feeling that there are real people there to help them and their potential tuition provider.

If it is not possible to have two tours, then hire professional tour givers or train the admissions officers to give the tour. And I do mean train. Do not assume that because a person is an admissions representative, he or she can give a good tour. Simply walking with people and pointing out the classrooms like a flight attendant pointing out the emergency doors “two doors aft and two doors in the back…” is not pointing out the safety aspects of our Boeing College 387. Teach them how to fake enthusiasm if it is not there and then wonder why you keep a less than enthusiastic admissions rep. Train them how to get the tourists to talk more than the reps. Teach them questioning and listening as a touring technique.

Combine aspects of the student tour with the parents tour on a checklist and ask the tourists what they want to see. Let them decide or at least provide them the illusion they are deciding. Ever been on a guided tour and felt like you were really missing the good stuff on the “okay everyone, over here now!” Find out what interests them and not what you assume they want to see. Then show it to them.

Keep in mind that this is the ME generation. The I will Manage my Experience generation which by the way is more a state of mind than an age. From what music they load on their IPod, to designing their own home and Face Book pages, to Tivo-ing to watch 24 when they wish to rather than the time the network set, to most everything, they want to make the decisions on how their experiences will be set up and managed. They want control and community. They want to control/manage their experiences. So let them make some decisions and don’t assume you know what they want to see and experience.

Also when setting up the basic concept of the tour, you may want to get external guidance that knows what students really want on a tour. There are consultants who can help. Or get some focus groups pulled together from high school students and learn from them. Let them guide you so you can guide them on their tours of their school - if the tour doesn't lose them somewhere out by Classroom Building B.

Feel free to contact us at AcademicMAPS with any thoughts, questions or issues you'd like to discuss. We are always there to help. Or contact Neal directly at Nealr@GreatServiceMatters.com at 413.219.6939.

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