customer service in college, customer service in universities, retention, student success, customer service training, attrition, graduation
While the aim of college and university web sites is to provide customer service to potential and extant students as well as to market institutions and provide customer service to students, most appear to accomplish neither.
We looked at 50 (45 not-for-profit and 5 for-profit) college and university Web sites and found one major problem: the combination of lack of information and bad design make them nearly impossible to navigate and locate information a visitor might need or want. They certainly don't represent their colleges well.
Navigating in troubled waters
- Out of the 50 websites surveyed, only two were easy to navigate and find my way to information and around the site itself. Web site navigation should be intuitive for the user, and site design should keep the user engaged. Here's a breakdown of some of the problems found:
- Thirty-nine of the sites were counterintuitive and appeared to be set up by committees which they likely were. Committees are not what one wants to design a website (nor to get anything done quickly.) These sites forced viewers to navigate from one page to another and to yet others to try and find information that should have been readily available such as the campus directory or addresses of major offices. The sites often led one to a page that was labeled as what the viewer was looking for but the information was not there. The for-profit sites were seriously flawed by these sorts of errors. They seemed to be doing little but leading back to admission pages.
- Nineteen of the sites had serious flaws that rendered the site un-navigable or quite difficult to navigate. These sites often led to a page that had no way back to the main page. This was often related to the library which was almost always apparently designed by a library committee with little or no web or design ability
- Eighteen sites had broken or outdated links or links to nowhere.
- Six would allow you to get to your desired page but not provide any way off the page or the information that was promised by the link.
- Forty-four were just horribly designed with unattractive styles, fonts and maddening home pages loaded with many too many applets, boxes, pictures and bits of information that were likely supposed to make it look “cool or hip” to younger viewers who would actually be turned off by the pages.
- Twenty-two were marred by love of fonts, a dreaded disease that makes the designer try to use all known fonts opn a single page. The result, fontal anarchy.
- Five others were written horribly with more typos than even I would make or such thick academic-ese that iut was obvious that they were written for the internal community.
These flaws should not have been permitted especially the technical ones. There are free apps that can discern them and the professionals at Core Interactive, an associate of ours which has helped many colleges and universities improve their sites and web presence will provide a free web analysis and some solutions to anyone who mentions the blog AcademicMAPS.
Is The President Hiding?
One of the greatest problems was the lack of readily available information on the sites. Only six of the 50 sites featured the kind of information that students, both potential and extant tell us is important to them and their parents.Trying to find the president on some college Web. sites is like reading one of the Where's 'Waldo? Books. Twenty-seven of the 50 web sites made it next impossible to get in touch with the president of the college.
Thirty-three of the. sites made it seem as if the president was off-limits to students and parents. There was no way to find the president’s contact information or address at all on these sites even if one were to search every page.
Leaving thepresident and/or contact information sends a message that the College’s leader does not want to hear from anyone. Similarly, many other senior administrators were not able to be located nor were their contact information available. What sort of a message does this send? Simple. “I can’t be bothered to hear from or engage any of the school’s stakeholders.” And “we don’t care about you.”
Granted the job of a college or university president is not all that much fun nowadays. Many probably feel like a tightropes walker out on the high wire with various constituencies taking turns trying to twang the wire and make her fall off. But this is all the more reason for greater transparency and openness. If a president or administrators do not want to talk with, hear from or email with constituents, students, parents or the public, they are in the wrong job. When people are paying tens of thousands of dollars for their child’s education for example, they want and should be given access to everyone and anyone on campus. If helicopter parents are a problem read the article but talk with them or they will come back in fighter bombers
On 44 of the websites reviewed it was possible to get to a department like the bursar of the math department, but getting the name and email address of an individual in the office or the address proved difficult, if not impossible.
On 22 sites, I could often get to mid- to lower-level management or Staffers, but not to the top people. And ifI was able to locate a telephone number. it was often represented by a campus extension or local number without the area code.
Making matters worse, 24 or the 50 sites made finding the physical address of an office or even the school itself a major feat. They were hidden. I had to dig into site maps, sub-directories or online catalogs which are absolutely near impossible to use on line without some sort of live index or search features which all but one website did not have active indexes or search capabilities. Even then, it was rather difficult or even impossible to get addresses and emails. I often had to try to find them in the college catalog which was an extremely frustrating experience.
In fact, placing the college catalog on the website is one of the worst uses of web sites. Somehow we seem to believe if we scan the catalog and plunk the entire thing on a Web site that will be helpful. Well, it's not. Catalogs in hard copy are extremely difficult for the non-academic (as well as many academics which is why even they don’t use them) in hardcopy, why would they be any better online? Hint. They aren’t any better. Even worse. If you must post your catalog, at least consider an interactive catalog such as can be created by CoreACADEMICS.
A Foreign Language?
Too often, web sites and the catalogs they rely on are wrlttcn in the arcane foreign language of academic-ese — the pedantic language used to keep non-academics away and prove. our own status in the academy. Odd words like GPA, cum, bursar, and the like pester non-academics and cluster in our language.
Moreover, the web is a visual and graphic medium with different rules from the written page while we still embed our thoughts in writing on the printed page. And we create so many printed pages on our webs that they defeat the purpose of the web itself and push the viewers away. And just scanning the catalogue into pdf pages is simply the worst example of the problem as well as the worst use of the website. If one must put the whole catalog onto the web, at least try to guide users with pictograms and provide a usable and workable active search as viewers would find in other commercial sites. That’s right. I said commercial because that’s what a college web is. It is a part of the school’s e-commerce outreach to potential and existing students. So look at good commercial webs and see how they make an effort to provide a complete and intuitive index rather than large chunks of written categories such as academics and student affairs.
If a potential student wants to find out about business programs for example, he or she would get mired down in our academic-ese that is likely there to please some internal constituency rather than the external user. Try providing enough information to help guide the potential student but not so much that you turn her off from continuing with the web. Try providing actively linked categories such as business studies, Then break business studies into small usable, chewable bites of information rather than serving the entire meal of academic stew all at once and asking the student to bite it all at once.
College web sites are supposed to help, to serve the customer but it looks as if once again, they do not. Yes, the for-profits were worse than the not-for-profits but they should not bring joy to anyone’s heart. For-profits do not want to give out ay information so they are bad on purpose. Not-for-profit colleges think they are helping students but they do not seem to be. Not sure which is worse- intentionally or naively poor websites. All I can assure you is that the 50 sites we looked at are not serving students well nor the schools. It may be time to have your school’s website analyzed. Ask me and I can recommend some good people to look at he site – no obligation – just greater success.
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