Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Data Mining, Customer Service and More Success

Imagine you owned a gold mine with large nuggets lining the walls of the mine. But all you had to dig the nuggets out were your fingers. Yes, you might be able to scratch a few nuggets out but then you found you did not have a smelter to process the gold. Well, you could ask the college to help. You’d set up task forces. get committees going and some faculty would write papers for you on the history of gold smelters in the Gold Rush; the chemical properties of gold, gold versus human capital as an economic strength and of course gold as a metaphor for oppression in the poetry of the Victorian period. The committees and task force would produce why the college is not mining the gold and a recommendation that the university look into setting up another task force to evaluate gold mining tools and a request for release time in their reports that would be filed within a year or two.  

The reality is that every university, college, career and community college has just such a mine. A mine of great value and future wealth. A mine that could increase both enrollment and retention. A mine lined in millions of bites of data just sitting there waiting for you to use it. And unlike a gold mine, this data mine keeps increasing its raw materials every day, every hour, and most every minute as the school collects data on itself and its student body collectively and individually. And all a school needs to do is mine it. And there are tools out there just waiting to be used to bring the gold to the surface and then transform it into very useful material that will bring immense value to the school.

The tools fall into two categories of data miners and customer relationship management and the best of the tools do both to create usable information that will increase enrollment and retention.

Data Mining
Data mining at its simplest is using computer programs to create data and extract patterns from the data collected. For example, when a school enters al the information about students from their applications into an MIS system like Datatel or Banner, that is the start of creating the mine from which data can be collected. But like a gold mine there are not just nuggets of the valuable stuff, there is plenty of dirt, stones and even iron pyrite in among the gold data.

In a college data mine, there are millions of terabytes of information on the students, the institution and everything else entered into the MIS system. The valuable data needs to be sorted out from the piles of unneeded distracting data sets and terabytes of numbers and unwanted data.  For example, when a school wants to learn about the interests of incoming freshmen so they can try to focus on their interests during orientation, someone or something needs to sort through every bit of information gathered on student interests to be able to create a pattern that can inform the design of orientation. This can be done by hand of course and some schools are still doping that. Manually going through piles of paper to pull out information from the question “What do I do for fun?” Some schools may have put the question on a survey with five choices. Then the system can be asked to spit out the results of the survey but of course that limits students to pre-determined interests. The survey is a simple form of data mining but a limited one.

A real data mining system would be able to analyze every bit of information students might have entered into the system and then break it into patterns of interest say by gender, age, town of origin, major, minor, how many will be taking English 101 on Tuesday and Thursday, and so forth. Data mining pulls out all the gold and even sorts it into categories and patterns.

It has great uses in higher education in many areas such as admissions and retention. In admissions a person could use data mining to study application and admission yields from different geographical areas.  It could see that some towns or cities provide greater yields than others indicating that perhaps more time should be spent working that town to increase enrollments; or inversely greater effort needs to be out into turning applications from low yielding areas to enrollment. It could be used to see what towns produce the most applications and then which applications from those towns turn into shows.

When I was a college chancellor and we wanted to expand our admissions reach into new territories, we data mined our information. We determine the geographical, social and characteristics of the last three enrollment pools. We discovered that the students tended to be from working class background, towns of less than 36,000, suburban, families that earned less than 80,000 a year.  We also learned that our new students came from areas with mixed racial populations with prominent African-American population segments. Finally, we also discovered that our students were predominantly from areas in which college attendance was not very high so they were often the first to attend higher education.  With that information mined from our own data, we were able to target populations that matched our demographics to increase the probability of enrollment success.

Conversely, if we were seeking to differentiate our student demographics we would use the information to target populations and areas that could yield new students that were different from our current population.

We also used data mining to discover which advertising worked best to motivate student populations to contact the college. After identifying what our on-campus population was like demographically for business majors, we mailed out direct marketing to families in areas that fit the demographics. The date mining created target markets for us.  Our return from the direct market effort was 27% points higher than a random test mailing. .

We were also able to use data mining from a simple program named Leadwise to create predictive models for students from particular high schools in particular majors. This was part of a retention effort to admit students who came from areas that showed better success than those who did not. We were not simply looking to make the initial admissions numbers but to increase retention to graduation. What we found by using a sophisticated data mining program was that students from one high school who entered this major did poorly in composition and were prone to drop out of school within six weeks. That allowed us to first try to reinforce the developmental aspects of composition for these students. That worked a little but they still dropped out in numbers that were larger than any other high school group we studied through data mining. So we worked to direct these students into other majors in which they seemed to do better.

The predictive modeling we were able to do was significant to our show and retention success. We were able to maintain a show rate, the percentage of students who apply, put down the deposit and actually show by adding to our stitch in effort from some data mining. We knew what students from certain areas would likely need to be abler to make it to school and stay based on the patterns we were able to discover from mining the data. We also had a brilliant stitch-in manager who did an excellent job of working with students to get them to come to school. She was able to get a show rate that was often 90+% of all those who had applied. That was excellent.

Data mining would also allow a school to predict the class sizes of consecutive courses such as a foreign language. For example, the data could be mined of all students who took French 1-4, when they took it and how many dropped the courses, what their majors were, when they dropped and what their social demographics were. The model could show then that 100 students started French. Twenty dropped after the course. Ten were undeclared majors; six were majoring in science related areas and four were English majors. The remaining students were humanities, English, sociology, French, German and Chinese majors, with six in other areas. The data could then show that after French 2, thirty more students dropped out or did not re-enroll. Their majors could be plotted and so would those of the remaining students. The same for French 3 and 4. Let’s say that going into French 4 there were only nine students left and they were six French majors and 3 from liberal arts areas. In rough terms, the model would show that there was a 90% drop in enrollment from French 1 to 4.  This would be able to tell a school how many students are needed in French 1 to get a class of say ten in French 4 as well as predict how many students would be in French 4 based on majors. If this program were run for a grouping of cohorts, say five years of French 1 to 4, a very certain and sophisticated predicative model could then be developed that would show how many students need to start French 1 to get ten in French 2,3, and 4 as well as predict the class sizes based on majors.

Imagine the power of a planning tool that could do that? No need to imagine, get a data mining tool but get one that also has a CRM component to fully do the trick.

If we had a piece of technology that would have given us even more productive and predictive information we would have done even better. If we had a really sophisticated data mining and CRM combined tool like Hobson’s Retain, we would have done even better. And if we had used Leadwise fully to identify interests and student needs earlier, combined with its data mining capabilities we would have had a show rate in the 90% range every time.

Leadwise is a planned data mining tool that is customized for each and every client. It sets up a survey for students that asks them specific questions about the interests, motivation and goals that can be used to help with stitch in and show as well as building larger data mining scenarios. Leadwise asks students a set of questions that the school has worked on with the Leadwise representative; usually 10-15 of the questions.

Leadwise matches student interests from a questionnaire to a college’s catalogue and marketing materials to generate a fully personalized College Plan focused specifically on that student’s interests and goals. Leadwise simultaneously takes the details the student enters and sends it to the admissions department as a self-qualified lead in script form. The individual responses to the questionnaire are compiled in a Marketing Management Data Base to inform marketing decisions based on what potential students want and are viewing. 

Leadwise personalizes college catalogs and materials while also generating informed leads that convert to enrollments. The program digitizes college catalogs and marketing materials so that when students complete a brief questionnaire on their background, goals and interests, a fully personalized, on-line “college plan” is created and sent back to the student’s computer. The questionnaires include basic information such as name, etc but also obtains information on radio, magazine, movie preferences through higher tech information like pod casting or mobile webs. The pages all use the student’s name combined only with that information he or she wants. Each section is also personalized to the college using the pictures and welcomes from administrators, faculty and others.

Leadwise also generates a self-qualified lead in the form of “sales sheet” from the questionnaire providing the details an admissions representative needs to help the student decide to enroll at the school.  

All of this is great but the program also has a data mining section that helps target marketing for the school. The program adds the individual details from each student’s responses into a data base that the school can use to inform its marketing decisions. So for example, if a college decides to ask where the student learned about the school or what marketing piece the student recalls, that information is stored in a data base from which the college can data mine to better target its marketing. 

Leadwise™ is a flexible system that is customized and personalized for each school to integrate it into the college’s visual identity. It has been shown to increase applications and interest in enrolling by 14% and has cut admission’s representative time by as much as 34%. This allows admission representatives more time to follow up to increase show rate or enroll more students.

The system was developed by COREdataCenter in New York. Jerry Alloca is the award winning president of CORE and wrote the technical software for Leadwise. For information on Leadwise, contact Jerry Alloca at Core Data

If this piece had value for you, you will want to get a copy of The Power of Retention by clicking here NOW 


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When Can We Get Anything Done?

Things are about to stop in higher education for the next three months. In a couple of days, the entire tempo and flow of college shifts from doing to maintaining. This came to me very clearly yesterday while making a presentation for a campus-wide customer service audit to a large university.

The president asked when we would begin the audit should the university decide to go ahead with it. I thought about it and realized that if we did not get a decision in the next few days so we could get started in the first two weeks of November, we might have to wait until the last two weeks of January or March.
What? What about November, December January and February? Well, yes we could do some of the work then but American higher education goes into standby mode for much of that time, and perhaps for much of the year anyhow considering the way we lay the schedule out.

By the third week of November, we are all into that Thanksgiving state of mind. A blissful euphoria of a future tryptophane buzz in front of a football game from the bird and seeing friends we have not seen in a while. (But also a dangerous one retention terms. This is the first period that students are going to be away from the school for any continuous period of time. It is a period during which they can reflect on the accumulation of questionable service, one whether or not the school does care and if attending the college is worth it? This is when many students have the space to decide, “NO”.)

In the third week of the eleventh month, the academic world begins to slow down and prepare for finals in December followed by Christmas break. Since finals are coming up, the first two weeks of December are a tough time to talk with students about their experience at the school since they are getting into that stressed out mode to prepare to finally read the books they didn’t get to during the semester. Faculty are gearing up to the last push to get the information and knowledge they didn’t get out there out so it might be on the test.

Then finals hit followed by Holiday break – a period that will likely stretch even further this year as schools look to keep buildings shuttered to save on heating and electricity. Finally, sometime into the first, second or third week of January school starts up again but the rhythm of the college is not set again until later in the month.

Now we can get some work done in the end of January and into February with interruptions for President’s Day and then all shuts again for Spring break and…

Well, you get the idea. It seems to me that we give students too much time off for no good reason. The real reason why students go to college is to get a job. Education and learning are what happen as a by-product along the way. So it seems to me that a primary role we should be playing is to teach and acculturate students for the world after college – the world of work. With that in mind, we should realize that the students’ job while in school is school. This is their job – going to school and learning what they must to be successful.

Considering that employers report that one of the major problems with college graduates is that they do not know how to be responsible for work it seems counterproductive to not just stop the workplace of college for every reason we can come up with. There is no spring break in work! No semester break after a big report is completed; just another work day and more to do.

A customer service that we should be providing to students is teaching them what work is really like and that starts with the basic reality that it is an everyday thing broken by a week, maybe two of vacation.  Summer off? Yuh right. Just if you work at a college!

Is it that there is just not enough to learn? Not when we are dropping further behind ion most every learning category in the world. We are not doing our students any favor when we are allowing them to leave college having learned less science for example than forty-seven other countries. We are cheating our customers.

Sure it would allow us to do more college customer service audits but that is not the point really. The point is that we need to examine some of our traditional assumptions about college starting with simple stuff like scheduling and adjust to meet the real needs of students. 

If this made sense to you, consider obtaining a copy of my best selling new book on retention and academic customer service

AcademicMAPS is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through research training and customer service solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them
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“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

“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

“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, Lincoln Technical Institute

Monday, October 11, 2010

Angry Society Creates Angry College Customers

It’s been a very busy two weeks of giving presentations all over the country. And there has been a common question coming up in as diverse places as Los
Angeles, Texas, NYC and Arkansas . “Are students more upset today than they were in the past?”
My answer surprises a few folks. “Yes. They are.”
Students are more easily upset and even prone to outbursts of anger more this year than they have been in the past. People are even hearing more gerunds coming up in discussions with them. Gerunds? Words ending in “–ing” used in phrases such as “this #%&ing school”.

Students are reflections of our society and the result of the culture’s culture or lack of it. And today’s national culture is one of free floating antagonism, anger and attack. And this is not just in the political debates but is pervasive in our society. Students and the campus are not separate or isolated from what is going on in our society.  In fact they bring the societal mood and the messages that are floating in our society onto campus, into the halls and classrooms each and every day.

And right now our national mood is rather dour if not out and out nasty. The nature  of politics and everyday life are combative and aggressive. Everywhere one turns the message is attack what you don’t agree with. Even to the point of physical as well as verbal abuse. Just this morning there were reports of pastors polluting the funerals or soldiers with messages thanking G-d for killing them, people beating and torturing men simply because they were born gay, politicians making outrageous claims and attack ads. TV and radio pundits smearing and assaulting anyone and everyone with whom they might disagree with attack words and statements using a very heated level of discourse. I and you can feel the anger and you can be sure our students do too.

I am not a language prude in any way and have been known to use some strong words myself but I am surprised how crass and low our use of language has become. Words we would have only used when deeply provoked or not at all are now common (and yes I chose that word purposefully) in everyday discussion. The gerunds fly.

All of this accompanied with the ever increasing costs of attending college have made our students into angrier and less tolerant consumers.  There is a clear and consistent relationship between the cost of a product or service and the demands that a consumer/customer places on it. The higher the cost or the stress to pay for something, the greater the demand that it perform at a level equal to expectations for the product or service. So as tuition and the hidden tuition we call fees keep climbing, the increases push expectations to higher levels  This in turn generates more  anxiety leading to greater levels of anger.

This increases even more when we do not meet the expectations of students or treat them as they feel they are due for all the money and personal investments they are making in our schools. And unfortunate, I have not been on a campus where the bulk of students feel the school is meeting the expectations it created to recruit them.

The expansion of college throughout the society making college a rite of passage to a job rather than to the upper and middle class has also made higher education familiar and taken away the mystique of academia. Familiarity does breed contempt in some cases and college is one of them. As more and more people have gone to college and been in contact with the denizens of academia, they have seen how some do have what appears to be an easy life or are not responsive to their needs.

Couple higher expectations with lowered behavior levels and that is a formula for bad customer behavior that often comes out in the common statement “I pay your salary.” So, yes, students are more demanding/difficult.

If this piece had value for you, you will want to get a copy of The Power of Retention by clicking here NOW 


Thursday, October 07, 2010

Ten Customer Service Rules for Managers and Those Who Manage Themselves Too

I have been on the road for two weeks now and not have had time to write at length after long cross country flights, cross state drives and not long enough sleep. But I wanted to get these out these out to you to ponder and implement. Look forward to comments.

Customer Service Rules for Managers

Rule 1
Students are our primary customers
Rule 2
Our colleagues are our customers too
Rule 3
Take care of our customers
Our customers’ needs must come before our own or we will lose customers. Always have time for customers!
Rule 4
If an employee deserves praise, praise her
If an employee does not deserve praise, retrain him
Rule 5
Annual reviews are too late and have limited value
Conduct informal reviews at least once a month and
Listen twice as much as you talk
Rule 6
Say thank you to each employee at least once a day
Rule 7
Celebrate small victories
Celebrate big victories big
Rule 8
Remember that your colleagues have lives outside of work
You do too
Rule 9
If the phone is ringing and everyone is busy, answer it
No work is below you
Rule 10

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

CRM and Targeted Customer Service

Technology is an important part of retention that can provide some significant customer service gains. I was just talking with Shelby Wallace, Norwich University’s Director of the Canter for Student Success who told me that CRM is a powerful tool the University uses to predict when a student might drop out and intervene to save him or her.

A little background here. Norwich University decided that it had to increase retention at the school.  It did so by having some consultant groups in to test various aspects of the university’s performance. We were asked to do the customer service for retention part.

Since the work, the University has had some amazing results including the largest entering class in the history of the school but more important is the 35 additional students retained. That means that population is also up since admissions was not just refilling emptied slots. We are of course pleased to have helped out and it was reported that customer service has definitely improved on campus. But that was not the whole factor to the solution.

The University really focused on retention and crated a whole new structure with Shelby heading it to increase retention at the University. One tool they used was the technology of CRM and in particular a package put out by Hobson’s called Retain.  This package does all the CRM things any school could want some of which were discussed ion an earlier article posted.

It should be noted that Norwich has the proud distinction of being the first private college to offer officers training at a college. It was the creator of what would also become ROTC. So it has been an innovator since its beginning.

One of the exciting things it does is allows schools to develop predictive models that can help them pinpoint students who the model indicates may be candidates to drop out. CRM has the school collect a lot of data and imports data into it through the school’s existing MIS system such as Banner or Datatel. It does not replace the MIS system because it does other things that Datatel, Banner or Jenzebar does not do.

What the Retain CRM does is cut through the data to identify certain characteristics that Norwich students who have dropped out exemplify. It can help pinpoint the times that students drop out and the attributes of the students who dropped out at the identified times. For example, when we did our study of customer service and retention we found out that a number of students dropped out after first semester sophomore year.  They seemed disillusioned by some of the things that had been occurring to them as members of the Corps.

With CRM, the University could not only pinpoint when the students were dropping but the characteristics of students who did and might drop. They then could intercede with the identified students and work to keep them in schools. They could also identify the characteristics of students who did and could drop out. These were fed back into the Retain CRM package and the University was able to identify those students who fit the characteristic and use the system as an early warning device.
They were able to build email lists of students who fit all sorts of specific criteria such as major, minor, grades, courses taken, from a particular state etc. The lists were then generated and they would automatically send out emails with information that applied to the students. As a result, the University could send out emails to a specific set of students who could actually be interested in the subject matter. No more spam.

CRM is a great retention tool that should be used by many more schools to increase retention as it has helped at schools such as Norwich.

If this piece had value for you, you will want to get a copy of The Power of Retention by clicking here NOW