Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Serve Customers When They Are Hungry

Want a positive response from students?


We have found that colleges are like fast food restaurants in the minds of students. They are places they go to learn when they are hungry for knowledge.

When they are hungry. These are the key words. Not when the restaurant feels like serving but when the customers are hungry.

Sure we older academic folk still adhere to notions of breakfast, lunch and dinner. But then we love traditions and traditional structure.

Not so the students we seek to recruit and retain. Breakfast. Not time for that. Lunch. Gotta run. I’ll grab something. Family all gathered around the table for dinner. Ahhhhh, that Norman Rockwell picture will not be seen on SaturdayEveningPost.com.

And the old burgers with the ketchup, mustard and pickle sitting wrapped under the warmer? Nope. I want it my way not the way it is easiest for your production line and workers. Won’t do it my way? Someone else will and I will go there. I will think beyond the bun.

Yet oddly enough the product is basically the same. The thin, high fat, low nutrition burger in a bun or ground up, seasoned in a taco shell. Quality is not the issue as Mickey D found out a few years back when it tried to sell a low fat, more nutritional burger. Health? Certainly not. Just try to find a veggie burger even at B’King which tried to launch them a few years back.

“When I want it” is the issue. Have you noticed yet how the fast food places have expanded their hours to serve those burgers and fries when the customer is hungry? Fourth meal anyone? Two a.m. at the take-out window? Ready when they want it.

Why? Because they like long inconvenient hours for management and workers? No. Because that’s when they want to eat. If restaurants want to sell burgers they have to do so when the customer is hungry. Not simply when they feel they would like to serve.

Okay. A true example, observed a few months back while at a client college that is trying to increase its retention but will likely fail if it doesn’t recognize the time needs of its client students.

An adult student was talking to an advisor. Students could not register for courses without the okay of an advisor. The student explained that “my job is changing and I need a tech writing course as soon as possible.”

“No problem. We have an excellent one.”

“Great. When can I start?”

“Well, let me see. The next semester starts in June.”

“JUNE! No you don’t u8nderstand. I need the course now. I need to the course now. I need it for my new job. I can’t wait until June.”

“Well, I’m sorry but it’s too late for this semester. June is the earliest. We had to cut back on sections because of financial issues….” She said to his back as he walked out.

Where did he go? To another educational restaurant ten miles down the road that would serve him when he’s hungry.

Would you stay in a restaurant that said it decided to not serve lunch today co come back later for dinner? No. You’d find somewhere else that’ll serve you lunch now, when you are hungry. When you want it. And distance is not the question anymore as much as time is. If the commute is within 15 to twenty minutes, maybe up to half-an-hour and the place has the course when I want to be there… Give me the car keys.

An example. I taught in an executive MBA program that met all day, one weekend a month. Students drove over two hours to get there. Stayed overnight. Were in class all day. Gave up their weekends because the timing fit their schedule. It met their educational appetite.

Our campus customer audits have found college menus (i.e. course schedule and offerings) are not designed to meet student hunger at most schools. For instance, we offer the wrong courses at the wrong times. You can get an introductory appetizer in the fall in early morning but in the spring, the next course in the sequence is available for brunch and the student just has twenty minutes for lunch because other required course were scheduled in overlapping times. Or even worse, the first required course is offered in the fall but the second half of the required sequence is not even offered in the spring.

One thing we have realized is that if courses are not offered, students cannot sign up for them. And if they are hungry enough to learn and graduate, they will go elsewhere to get the course. Especially if that is one course that they will need to graduate.

So what to do? Here are some suggestions.

Learn more about your students’ educational eating habits. Find out when they may be hungry rather than simply when you might wish to serve. And you may even wish to find how long they feel they want to feed as well. It may surprise you.

Stagger the start of some basic courses like English composition. They do not have to all start on the same day. Try offering a start every two weeks with varying time commitments and class lengths that match student hungry times.

Schedule to the customer. People want education when they need it ad the hunger is there. Some colleges have realized this and schedule to need. They offer staggered starts throughout the semesters, condensed programs, variable formats, in class and on-line, fully digitized and hybrid. They are succeeding with their students, building market, enrollment and a reputation for great customer service that will lead to even greater success.

Study your offerings and schedule. Se if you can provide students an educational menu with the right choices in the correct order for proper nutrition and pleasure. And oh yuh – do not substitute candy for real leaning meat. Don’t weaken content in an attempt to say you are meeting student needs.

Oh yes, to those who shake their heads and say “learning is not like fast food. It takes time to develop and maintain quality. Anything less than a semester length in normal times will lack integrity.” Right! What about the three, four, five and six week summer courses we are offering to students to try and maintain some enrollment during the summer? If we can do it in the summer, why not all year round? And if the summer courses are not as good as “regular semester courses” why do we offer inferior education in the summer? Hypocrisy anyone?

Bottom line here – if you want a positive gut reaction. Schedule offerings to meet the customer’s hunger.

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