Thursday, May 31, 2007

Simple Customer Service Tips to Increase Retention of Students Who Hate Lines - THAT'S ALL OF THEM

As we do college customer service and retention audits, some common issues pop up. As well as some simple solutions. One problem we find at most every school that has lines for anything is...well, lines. Students hate them and you should too.

Colleges lose as much as 3% of enrollment from students having to wait in lines. You don’t like to stand in lines I don’t like to stand in lines. Students HATE to stand in a line. Unless it is to be part of some major historical event. Like tickets to the Stones. But paying a college tuition bill or registering for courses or adding/dropping a course…

But your school does not need to lose enrolled students to lines. In this case, we are talking physical lines as opposed to virtual lines caused by poorly designed web sites.

Here are a few customer service tips to help you retain students who would leave a line and never come back.

Appoint a customer service assurance person or two at the school. Provide these people both training and the authority to use that training. Place one or both of the service assurance people smack dab in the middle of any line. Have the person continually moving up and down the lines talking to students to assess your process, their progress and their level of frustration and/or readiness to bolt.

If the customer service assurance person notices a student who seems upset, the assurance person should go right up to him or her and try “Hi, I’m (name). Can I help you?” Next move the student away from the lines before the grumbling becomes viral. Let the student know that his/her place in line will be saved. “I want to help you and can do so better over here.”

Go to a quiet place, away from others and hear him or her out. Normally the issue will be having to wait in line. Agree. Then ask what he or she is trying to get done. If you can solve the problem, do it. If you cannot, let the student know you will see what you can do to help out. Then walk the student back to the line. Say “thank you for letting me help you. I’ll see what we can do to speed up the line” so others hear. That’s the message to get out.

By the way, if the student has an idea to get the line moving faster – try it.

Also have the assurance people act like an airline agent during busy travel periods. Review the paperwork students have with them to see if the documents are complete, the information required is there, and that they are in the correct line. Nothing ticks people off more than standing in the wrong long line!

An airline agent after talking with a traveler and ascertaining that the person is in the right area with the right paperwork may send that person to a digital kiosk to get a boarding pass and save time. In the same way, the customer service assurance should see if a student can complete his/her business by computer or college kiosk.

Or consider letting students whose paperwork is in order to step out of the line an drop the paperwork off to be processed later. Your clerical and administrators can enter the information when things quiet down and the lines end. Mail and email the acknowledgment that the paperwork is completed and entered. Also make sure that if there is a financial transaction, a receipt is sent.

“Yes. But what if the student is trying to register for courses and one of them is closed?”

Easy. Simple customer service answer. Call them as soon as possible. Offer them another section. Provide them an alternative. If that one won’t work, continue with the student until you both agree on a replacement. Closed sections are a major source for walkouts by the way. But, when you provide the service of making the decision for them, odds go way up that you will keep them.

Here’s a way to make the time go by faster in line. Turn the line into a “party”. Hand out candy. Provide free coffee or soft drinks. Pipe in some music. Not MUZAK stuff but music students actually listen to. Make it feel more pleasant than the drudgery of lines.

And, DO NOT FORGET THE WORKERS! Keep thanking them. Encourage them. See if they’d like some coffee, a coke, juice, cookies, whatever. Make sure they know you appreciate them and their work. If they are happy and feel appreciated, odds are better they’ll make students happier.

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