Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Telephone Can be a Good Source of Good Collegiate Customer Service

Twelve percent of enrollment is lost when the potential student makes, or tries to make contact with the school.  Twelve percent of enrollments are lost because the initial contact with the school is handled so poorly. These are potential students who are interested enough in the school to actually make contact so losing them is losing a motivated lead and adds to the need to work even harder to enroll a class of students each semester.

One area of service in which colleges and universities are really falling down is in the answering of phone calls and emails. A primary contact point for potential students. In fact, when we do a campus service and hospitality audit, these two services are invariably weak. They cause many student complaints.

Our findings were also found by Terri Giltner as she related in an article article in the Community College Journal (April/May 2012).about the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. KCTCS had shoppers contact each community college in the system to see how they responded to phone calls and emails. Here are the results she received.

Each scenario was tested at all 16 KCTCS colleges for a total of 240 shops. Results indicated that it was not always easy for prospective students to contact KCTCS colleges, either by phone or email. Just 45 percent of telephone inquiries elicited an answer to a question
on the first call; 10 percent of the shops were never completed. Email inquiries fared worse. Sixty-four percent of email inquiries received no response, even after extending the response time two additional weeks.

This is simply unacceptable service and is losing students from the schools as well as from your schools as we have found similar results in hundreds of colleges and universities. When someone calls a college, a trained person should be answering the phone in less than four rings. And that person should answer the phone with a standard response that begins by saying hello, introducing him or herself by name, welcoming the caller to the school and then asking “what can I help you with?”

This is the way it should be done but too many calls are being answered in a rude, indifferent, and offensive manner. It seems that people answering phones have been doing so while distracted, angry or apparently annoyed at having to answer the phone at all. And these attitudes clearly affect tone, and voice style.

I don’t know but I guess there is something offsetting about a person answering the phone with “Yuh. What?” or with a very bored and indifferent “NameofCollege, WhatCanIDo ForYuh?” And the tone that accompanies that is so often very negative telling the caller that he or she is disturbing the answerer. As we call around to schools to test the customer service on the telephone last week, we hit the best response yet. The person picked up the phone and just said “What?”

And little tells a person he or she is unwanted than being “dissed” on the phone. If a student gets the feeling that he or she is not wanted from an early or first phone call, it can be an uphill battle to retain the student’s interest in attending the school. And it is so simple to assure that people answer the phone in a friendly manner.

Here is one quick and inexpensive customer service solution. Mirrors.
Yes. Mirrors. Go to a local craft store and buy simple, small mirrors and double-sided tape. Give the mirror with the tape to everyone who might answer a phone. Have them tape the mirror to a spot level with their face or where they could easily see their face when they go to answer the phone. Then have everyone look into the mirror and smile before picking up a phone. All they need to do is retain the smile when saying “hello, how can I help you?” Problem solved.

It is a simple fact that when a person is smiling, he or she cannot answer the phone with an angry or negative tone. In fact, the caller will hear the smile come through in the voice. This may not eliminate all the phone protocol issues a school will have but it will certainly help.

Another telephone customer service solution TRAINING
Training. People do not use the phone well anymore and need to be trained how to answer it. They need to be taught how to get their mind into a mellow welcoming tone before answering the phone. They need to learn a set response such as “Hello, this is (name) Thank you for calling (school name). How may I assist you?” This answering script gets a number of things right. It incorporates give-a-name get-a-name and then goes on to offer assistance.

They also need to be taught to answer the phone before it rings for the fourth time. Four rings is the limit on how many times a phone should ring. After four, it is often voice mail or the person hangs up thinking it will go to voice mail.

And voice mail!!!!! It is actually there as a tool for the caller. It is not a default situation that allows the answerer to ignore the call. People really do not care for voice mail too much believing (quite often rightly so) that it will not be responded to. This is the situation we have found at many schools. People let phones go to voice mail so they are not disturbed but do not return the calls. And if they do more than 24 hours pass.

  Voice mail logs must be cleared every day by actually getting back to the callers. At the very least, a voice mail should be returned within 24 hours. Not everyone can be Southwest Airlines which takes the number of a caller in the queue and gets back to him or her within ten minutes or less but any school should demand and make sure that people return voice mails within 24 hours or less.
If this article made sense to you, you may want to contact N.Raisman & Associates to see how you can improve academic customer service and hospitality to increase student satisfaction and retention.
UMass Dartmouth invited Dr. Neal Raisman to campus to present on "Service Excellence in Higher Ed"  as a catalyst event used to kick off a service excellence program.  Dr. Neal Raisman presents a very powerful but simple message about the impact that customer service can have on retention and the overall success of the university.  Participants embraced his philosophy as was noted with heads nods and hallway conversations after the session.  Not only did he have data to back up what he was saying, but Dr. Raisman spoke of specific examples based on his own personal experience working at a college as  Dean and President.  Our Leadership Team welcomed the "8 Rules of Customer Service", showing their eagerness to go to the next step in rolling Raisman's message out.  We could not have been more pleased with his eye-opening presentation.    Sheila Whitaker UMass-Dartmouth
If you want more information on NRaisman & Associates or to learn more about what you can do to improve academic customer service excellence on campus, get in touch with us or get a copy of our best selling book The Power of Retention. 

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