Monday, August 09, 2010

Customer Service Guaranteed Retention Increase 6: Deliver on Promise

Customer Service Guaranteed Retention Increase 6: Deliver on Promises

Universities and colleges make two sorts of customer service promises. There are the explicit promises extended such as when selling the school, i.e. recruiting. There are also implicit promises a school makes by its reputation and its very existence as an institution of higher learning.  Either type of promise broken can also break the sense of trust so essential to the continuing engagement of student to institution.

Extrinsic promises of academic customer services are made by every school to attract students to apply and then attend if accepted. They include but are not limited to

“We have small classes.”
“You won’t be just a number here.”
“Every student gets a trained advisor.”
“Our Professors will care about you as an individual.”
“There will be professional tutors if you need help.”
“You should get enough financial aid to make it affordable.”
“You’ll be able to get the classes you need to graduate in four years.”
“We provide excellent career and placement services.”
“Your major leads to jobs that start at $XX,YYY a year.”…

These are all promises that must be backed up by reality and delivery of services proffered to entice a student into applying and attending. Small does not mean 100 or more in a large auditorium. Everyone on campus should be learning the names of students, using those names and never refer to the student by his/her student number. Professors had better be available to help students outside of class, be in office hours and actually show an interest in helping students succeed.  If the student needs help with algebra or composition or any other course, there better be professional tutors available and not some peer who passed the course or is doing well. Etcetera. These are all promises which if kept will help keep students enrolled. If broken, then the trust needed for the engagement to continue is broken and the student will start shuffling to toward the exit.

These are all overt, explicit examples of promises which are easy to recognize and fulfill. It is important that every school reviews all such promises to see if they are true and then are backed up by the customer services provided. If not, even though admissions will complain, they must be changed to match reality to reduce attrition.

A college’s brochures, view books and marketing materials also make explicit if not quite so prominent promises through their pictures, testimonials and wording. A picture of a tree lined campus better be representative of what the college actually looks like and not just a paste up or the only set of trees there.  A Field of Dreams shot of one male Caucasian, one female Caucasian, an African American male and an Asian woman all walking across a large green lawn in their J Crew, Ralph Lauren etc, etc better be representative and not just Photoshopped.  The dorm room shown should be real and not just the one staged for the shot. Every picture provides a promise and thus made be checked to assure it is a promise that can be kept. The same is true of the quotes used, words chosen, descriptions made and so on.

These are the easy ones. Extrinsic promises should be easily discoverable as well as their credibility. If they are true then the promised services or assertions will be provided and available and there should not be a problem.  If any are not representative of reality such as those recently caught by undercover US GAO investigators checking out for-profit schools for veracity of admission statements, they will lead to negative results as they did for Kaplan, Phoenix et al. Admissions departments and their staff are not only under pressure to oversell at for-profit schools but at some not-for-profits that are cash starved as well. Admission reps are all “goaled”, given a number of applicants to hit or their position can be put in jeopardy in both for and not-for-profit schools. It is just the proprietary schools that are being focused on for reasons that deserve another article.

The breaking of intrinsic promises are more difficult to notice from within since many have become part of the culture of a college over time. These include the promises inherent in the very nature of higher education itself. Students and their families actually believe that college is for the student and his or her education. They actually believe the “ten steps to salvation” which are the college mission statements are functional on campus. They believe that their student will be cared for, taught and actually graduate in four years!  This is the national promise of college which is embedded in our national cultural beliefs. Higher education has done such a fine job of selling the image that is has become the promise but one that is not at all true for many, too many universities and colleges.  The conflict of the promise of the university concentrating primarily on educating students and the reality of the university actually focusing on research do not necessarily match.

Even more troubling for a college or university is when the promised intrinsic purpose and mission do not match the reality within the institution itself. For example, Norwich University had distinguished itself as a leading military leadership-based institution for over century but had drifted from its advertised and promised purpose and program in an attempt to find a balance with some of its internal community after it absorbed a liberal arts school and its faculty. The university had sold one thing without realizing it has lost its core focus. This led to increasing attrition in its core and corps students especially in the sophomore year when students began to realize the institution was not what it promised. Following a retention audit, strong, inspired leadership from the institution’s president Dr. Richard Schneider and a newly minted Director of Enrollment Management and Retention, Shelby Wallace, the retention and student population situation has fully turned around. Enrollment is up significantly and applications to the University have increased significantly yielding its largest classes and population in years.  All by focusing on what it promised students.

Norwich learned a great deal on what and how to focus on students through its use of some CRM (Customer Retention Manageability) technology. CRM allows a school to collect and then analyze its data ro really understand its students, their interests and what the institution needs to do to make sure they will be connected well and engaged to the college. Norwich chose to use Hobson's EMT Retain program which is certainly one of the very best technologies out there to slice, dice and re-assemble data on your student body. It answered every data demand I could come up with when I studied it. If I were a college president I think I'd include it in my retention plans since so much of retention systems really need as much data as the techniuqes and understandings we provide.

 Obtain your free digital copy of the REVISED AND UPDATED Customer Service Factors and the Cost of Attrition by the article's author, Dr. Neal Raisman, by clicking here and requesting it. 

Dr. Raisman still has a few dates available in September and October so schedule your workshop or presentation to increase  retention through academic customer service NOW by clicking here or calling 413.219.6939.
 The Power of Retention is available through The Administrators'

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