Thursday, April 01, 2010

Starting the Attrition Process- Overselling, Overpromising, Underproviding

Retention, Academic Customer Service, student services
Here’s a real life example from the “real world” of business that helps illuminate a critical point in the attrition process. Yes the attrition, not retention process. I am calling it that because we often work harder to push people out the door than we do to keep them once they have enrolled.

This critical point comes just after Admissions has made a successful sale. Yes, it is a sale. Call it an enrollment if it makes you feel better but Admissions is the college sales department. That’s why we spend so much on marketing and brand building. To make a sale.

As a way to get the word out ever more strongly about the need for colleges and universities of all types to become more focused on academic customer service, we decided to work with a company that provides software and services to help promote our blog/zine and its articles. I had been contacted by the company and since it offered a $50 credit at Barnes and Noble if I listened to its schpiel and I was looking for a service, I figured okay. I listened and did the demo with the sales person. It sounded like what I needed so I decided to try it and bought a contract for a year. The sales person did a great job of selling and getting me to buy. Enthusiastic, caring, compassionate, helpful, promising assistance, training, continuing support and probable success.

I was promised assistance, a personal account executive and training to be sure I would be successful. It is overt two weeks later and I have not been contact by the account exec I was promised, training which was stated as daily is not, the technical and training staff I called yesterday could not find my account. And it appears I was sold one product when I thought I was buying another. Oh I won’t name the company right now but will if I am not able to get resolution to the problems.

Oh yes, I did not get my Barnes and Noble card either.

I have contacted the company and let them know that after two frustrating weeks of no contact from them to help me, train me or just help me get started I want out. They did a great job of selling but follow-up simply hoovered…..vacuumed….. You know what I mean. There is more to it but this should be enough to help illuminate how we in higher education do very similar things.

Admissions sells the student through presentation, promises of help and assistance and whatever needs to be done (within the rules and regs….of course though there are cases on enrollment ethical deficit syndrome – that dreaded disorder that hurts everyone). Then once the sale is made, the application obtained…. Bupkis. Admissions sends the information along to…to…. to the IMS system and the student is now on his own.

There is no clear handoff to assure that the promises made, the service promised and the help assured actually take place. Most schools do not employ a set stitch-in process to assure students who apply actually enroll and show up for classes. Just as the company I am dropping did not realize that the sale is not completed with the salesperson getting the agreement, many too many colleges, universities, community colleges and career colleges seem to erroneously believe enrollment ends with the application. It does not.

In fact, there is a new report that speaks to some of this issue though does not recognize that this is an academic customer service issue. The report Benchmarking and Benchmarks based on the Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE) Published by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas in Austin discusses how students get a great sales pitch and initial welcome but little real follow-up or promised assistance in community colleges. The report tries to focus on best practices at some schools but also realizes that

Less than half of respondents (45%) agree or strongly agree that at least one college staff member (other than an instructor) learned their names, compared with 37% who disagree or strongly disagree.

Less than a quarter of students (23%) say that a specific person was assigned to them so they could see that person each time they needed information or assistance. (page 7)

This year’s survey finds that most institutions are doing a good job rolling out the welcome mat during orientation. Almost three-quarters of students agreed or strongly agreed “that they felt welcome the first time they came to their college.” Beyond the hospitable air, however, students did not find much substance. Just under half of them agreed or strongly agreed “that their college provided them with adequate information about financial assistance” and “that at least one college staff member (other than an instructor) learned their names.” Also, less than a quarter reported that a specific adviser was assigned to them “so they could see that person each time they needed information or assistance.”( March 29, 2010)

There are some examples in the report of some schools that are at least making an effort to try to bring students in closer and help them feel welcome but these are not quite enough. For example, the report mentions Johnson County Community College.

The Welcome to Campus program at Johnson County Community College (KS) encourages staff members to help new students feel welcome. Participating employees —including the president — commit to calling entering students the week before classes begin and to wearing special T-shirts while greeting students from 7:30 a.m. to the start of evening classes at 6:00 p.m. for at least the first two class days. Employees are positioned in high-traffic areas to give students necessary information. In spring 2010, approximately 160 employees participated in the program.

This is a start and perhaps a fairly good one but for the first two class days! That is not enough and there is no evidence of a clear hand-off that continues throughout the student’s full career. Remember that community colleges have a less than 30% graduation rate so the first two classes just will not cut it. A start yes but just a start as part of the sales process not the retention process. Enrollment is not just the first week but through to graduation.

Colleges need to be sure to develop a systematic approach to retention that includes definite and assured handoffs from admissions to an individual who will accept responsibility for the student not just for the first two classes days or even the first week but throughout the career.

I can assure Johnson County that if those 160 employees maintained contact with at least one student throughout the student’s career, the college would see at least 134 more students cross the stage at graduation. Just as I could assure the company I am dropping I would be a continuing customer if they had stayed with the sale after the sale. It is as important in higher education as in the so-called “real world” to provide full service and stitch the customer in; not lose him.

If the PR company had done that, I would not have even been concerned I didn’t get the Barnes and Noble card. But now….

If this article makes sense to you
you will want to get my new book
The Power of Retention
More Customer Service for Higher Education

by clicking here

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Neal is a pleasure to work with – his depth of knowledge and engaging, approachable style creates a strong connection with attendees. He goes beyond the typical, “show up, talk, and leave” experience that some professional speakers use. He “walks the talk” with his passion for customer service. We exchanged multiple emails prior to the event, with his focus being on meeting our needs, understanding our organization and creating a customized presentation. Neal also attended and actively participated in our evening-before team-building event, forging positive relationships with attendees – truly getting to know them. Personable, knowledgeable, down-to-earth and inspiring…. " Jean Wolfe, Training Manager, Davenport University

“We had hoped we’d improve our retention by 3% but with the help of Dr. Raisman, we increased it by 5%. Rachel Albert, Provost, University of Maine-Farmington

“Thank you so much for the wonderful workshop at Lincoln Technical Institute. It served to re-center ideas in a great way. I perceived it to be a morale booster, breath of fresh air, and a burst of passion.” Shelly S, Faculty Member, Lincoln Technical Institute

“Neal led a retreat that initiated customer service and retention as a real focus for us and gave us a clear plan. Then he followed up with presentations and workshops that kicked us all into high gear. We recommend with no reservations; just success.” Susan Mesheau, Executive Director U First: Integrated Recruitment & Retention University of New Brunswick, Canada

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