Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Academic "mystery" Shopping will Increase Customer Service, Enrollment and Retention

academic customer service, enrollment, retention, customer service, attrition, college,customer service in university,
While working as a consultant for colleges concerned with meeting their enrollment goals, a few consistent realities have become apparent to me. These are not necessarily factors that one would discover through a survey or a committee study and report. Neither arc they par­ticulars that would be noticed immediately at your own college. And some realities might strike you as contra-indicated by our academic culture. Yet they seem to be key to enrollment success.

The first, and perhaps most significant, is a recognition that, at its roots, enroll­ment is a business issue for colleges. The recruitment, enrollment and retention process is a commercial interaction not unlike that of a store making a sale.

Colleges attempt to attract   buyers (stu­dents) to purchase (enroll in) their prod­ucts (courses) and not return them (drop out). Furthermore, colleges attempt to sell extremely similar products within a very crowded, highly competitive, consumer-oriented marketplace. Most colleges offer a very similar portfolio of course offerings, programs and majors. A student can 'buy" English, computer science, business, math, technology, crimi­nal justice, accounting, psychology, etc., al any one of thousands of colleges. She can also purchase the course in numerous modes – brick and mortart, hybrid, on-line. There are almost no exclusive products.

And there are too many colleges with empty chairs. As a result, the competition for students has sharpened significantly. The age-old question of commerce-, "How do I attract buyers to my establishment rather than another?" is now echoing in the halls of academia: "How do I success­fully recruit students?"
Successful colleges find the answer in the recognition of the commercial nature of enrollment. Colleges need to look at themselves as competing commercial enterprises that are trying to attract stu­dents into their store to buy their academ­ic products. Like businesses, colleges need to be sure of not just their products, but of the store itself.

Is your college/retailer really structured for the buyer? Have you set up your busi­ness in a manner that best interacts with buyer psychology and patterns? Is the environment helping or hurting? Is your sig­nage hurting you? Are the processes., pro­cedures and registration flow patterns angering or pleasing potential buyers? Are commercial opportunities? How are you making the college-student interaction as seam­less as needed to start bonding your buyers to your store so they don't return the courses they just bought in the first three weeks or go to another establishment at the end of the semester?

What is true for stores is just as true for colleges in today's consumer-oriented market. Both stores and colleges know that their highest cost lies in attracting a customer into the store. The advertising, promotions and publications designed to bring potential customers into the store are expensive. So losing that customer once he or she has entered the store comes at a very high price-. Not only have you wasted money on advertising, but no sale was completed to recoup the cost of recruiting the customer. Worse, if they are not given good service, the customers will likely tell others how poorly the store treat­ed them. Customers are won one by one, but they are lost exponentially.

The same is true for colleges.

Recruiting is expensive.  Losing a student once you have gotten him or her on cam- pus is a double loss. You lose recruitment time and money, as well as the revenue that student would have provided. A stu­dent who receives poor service tells some­one else, the losses become larger and reputations are hurt as well as budgets of both students and the college.

So what will separate the successful store/college from the losers?

Checking the rugs
When I was house hunting, I often went into homes where people had lived for decades. As I looked at one I was inter­ested in, I immediately noted that the rugs were worn out. The owners did not notice this fact. They had lived with the rugs for many years and the rugs looked fine to them. What they did not realize is that they walked the same path each day, and as they walked, they wore down the carpet.

They did not notice because the ero­sion was incremental. To them, it looked the same as when it was first put in place. As a potential buyer, I brought a set of new eyes that had learned what to look for. My eyes immediately saw what they had accepted as just fine was not.. After all, to their eyes, it had always been that way.

Stores periodically bring in new eyes to check their rugs. Those trying to sell a col­lege education should do the same. Stores study their service, the store environment and layout, ease of purchase, the timing and flow of customers and the like. Winning stores want to make it as easy and pleasant as possible to buy the product there rather than at their competi­tor's store. To gain an edge, they also bring in new eyes to shop and study the store for needed changes.
Colleges need to ask the same ques­tions about their enrollment and registra­tion processes. "Do we really have cus­tomer service? Do we make enrollment easy for students? What are we doing that causes students to leave and go elsewhere?"

How can a college find out if it is pro­viding the services, processes and environ-, ment that will attract students and get them to buy the products? You may have to do what merchants do — bring in a fresh set of eyes to check your rugs.

How do stores find out how to please potential shoppers?  One solution is shopping the store by professionals. A college can and should do the same but with academic shoppers. In this scenario, a college or university hires a trained academic "shopper" or a shopping team on a campus to learn firsthand what a college's strengths and weaknesses are. The "shopper" acts out the full role of a potential student and parent trying to get the information he or she needs to enroll.

Bringing a trained eye, ear and a" professional bull detector" directly into a college's process, the shopper looks at every aspect of the college enrollment process. Academic shopping studies everything that touches on students and academic customer service from the front door through to the exit, developing a full report and suggesting solutions to strengthen a college's intake and retention of students.

Shopping determines if you have an enrollment flow that makes it easy for stu­dents or sends them all over a building or campus. Many students are lost when they have to step out of the flow to go some­where else. Once out of the flow area, they have an excuse to forget it all, since many of them are tentative about enrolling or staying anyhow. Give them a reason to leave the regis­tration flow, and they will be gone. Give them reasons to believe they are not getting the services due them, they leave.

There are some surprisingly simple fac­tors that can either help students stay or turn them away. For example, a major con­cern of potential students is: "Can I afford to pay for this?" But filling out financial aid forms can be a turnoff, especially for adults. When they get to the blank in which they must write the college's financial aid code for example, that means they often have to make another trip or another phone call. Many students put it off, eventually failing to complete the form or waiting until it is too late, rather than taking an extra step or admitting they do not know what the heck a college code is.

Having studied a number of colleges, I suggest the following quick fix to help you increase enrollment in the financial aid office: Post the college code in a promi­nent area. Even better, have someone stamp the college code on the forms. You could even tell students they can file more easily online and get a faster answer. Is there a computer for students to use? Sit the student down at the computer and have him or her fill out the request right then and there. lithe-"sale" is not complet­ed, you are opening the opportunity for someone else to grab your potential student.

The long and short of it is that colleges have to think about shoppers to increase their sales.

If this piece made sense to you, you should order a copy of Dr. Raisman's best selling book The Power of Retention NOW by clicking here.


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