Retention can be understood in part by buying a dress. When a woman buys a dress she wants something that will be a good fit. She also wants to be attractive, for her to look good in it and for it to be worth the cost of the dress in her mind. Like buying that dress, the final decision to buy or not is not an intellectual conclusion It is an emotional one. It is a decision that is supposed to make you happy. (Unless you’re a bridesmaid and have to spend a lot of money on what is almost always a bad looking, ill-fitting and costly ugly choice. But in the analogy that is the same as having to choose a school which is a runner up and not the top choice.) If the choice does not make you feel as if it is a good fit which means it is does not provide an emotional, affective and financial (time, money and effort) return of investment, then the dress is one that is discarded or returned. For a school, that means a student leaves it hanging in his or her historical closet and walks away from it.
This is an emotional not intellectual decision. The initial shopping can and will often be an rational one. I need a dress. I want it to be a certain color, size, hem length, style, price range and even brand. So I begin by looking for dresses that fit that initial logical set of considerations. Dresses that do not fit into the intelligent framework are not considered, at least at first. For a school these considerations are often level of selectivity. location, size, majors, and name value. Those that do not fit into the schema are not looked at.
Then the purchaser goes to the store to look at dresses that could work and to try them on. The schools visit, tour and even stay over. This will eliminate some contenders but the decision to continue to consider is now an emotional one. What dress fits well? What dress looks right on me? What shade of the color I want is really the right shade? Does the length look right for me? Does wearing it make me feel good? Attractive? More appealing? Does it make my butt look big?
The same is true of schools now under consideration? Did visiting or applying to it make me feel good about myself. Will it make me look smarter? More fit for the job I want? Does it make my brain look big? These are not intellectual issues but purely emotional ones that go to the core issue of “is the dress/school a good fit for me?”
The salesperson in the store will of course try to make the buyer believe the dress is a great fit, makes the buyer look wonderful and by the way, you look just right in that dress. Cash of charge?” In a similar way, the admissions office of some schools try to make the school a good fit by tailoring the image to the students’ desires. In fact, some intelligent schools even use CRM to totally tailor the school to the specific shape of the student’s interest. These schools will even have current students who are similar to the prospective student email or call to reinforce the feeling of a good fit just like a salesperson in a store may call over another salesperson to give her “opinion” on how the dress looks. If there are any issues, the buyer is assured that the situation can be altered to fit better. They are after the sale so they do all they can to convince the student that this is the right school and fit so apply here now.
The decision is made. The dress or school is bought and brought home. But if that initial sale and fit become questioned there is a problem. If the dress is worn and in the actual wearing it feels too big, or tight or the color is wrong or the neckline off, hem too short or long or the color is not complimenting the original feelings about it. In other words it is not a good fit finally.. The purchase either gets discarded (dropout) or returned (transfer). The buyer feels she was oversold quite often and loses faith in the store. She decides not to go back so the store loses future sales as well as the school loses revenue it would have gained from the student who leaves.
So what determines a good fit? Will I get an emotional, financial and affective return on my purchase? These three roi’s will determine if it is finally a good fit. Now it has to be granted that there are times when the label of the dress, the name of the school will override the balancing of the three returns on investments. Sometimes a person buys a dress primarily because the label is a designer brand and that name alone will make the person fit into the dress even if it is not a really good fit in and of itself. And because the name and the cost are high, the person will likely continue to wear the dress even if it is tight for example. It is so affectively satisfying to say “the dress? Oh, well it is a NAME BRAND”. Or “I go to XXXX”
But there is an additional factor in the decision to buy. The way the store treats the customer. If the employee of the store or the college is not courteous, does not provide good customer service, makes you feel unworthy or sells too hard and gets caught at it there is an automatic decision that this is not a good fit. The potential dress buyer or student leaves quickly. Equally negative is indifference to the customer. That is also a form of bad service.
And don’t be fooled by the cost of the dress or school and the student’s ability to by either. If someone feels the fit is there, wants the dress of school enough he or she will do what is necessary to get that dress if they feel they need it. For example, that ugly bridesmaid dress discussed earlier, the buyer will get it even if it is much more expensive than it should be because the need for it is there. The dress may be ugly but it is a definite fit for the need. The school may not be all the student wanted but if it where he or she can get a major leading to a life goal, the student will by it even if it is expensive. There are credit cards and student loans for that purpose.
But if the fit is not there, believe it or not it is better to do what you can to dissuade the person from buying the school unless it is a choice or a necessity. Because if you sell the school and the fit is wrong, you have wasted your energy, will lose money and a customer who will tell at least twelve others that the buying experience was very disappointing. Don’t go there.
To paraphrase Johnny Cochran “If the dress don’t fit; don’t admit.”
The author Dr. Neal Raisman is the leading presenter, researcher and consultant on customer service for retention in colleges, universities, community and career colleges in the US, Canada and Europe. He and his associates have provided retention solutions for over 300 schools and businesses that want to work with higher education. Dr. Raisman is the author of over 400 articles and four books including his latest bestseller The Power of Retention; More Customer Service for Higher Education available from The Administrators' Bookshelf in hard copy and digital editions.
If you would like to discuss a retention issue or see if he has a time available to come to your school or business for a workshop, presentation or other retention solution such as a full customer servicing audit,
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