Monday, March 20, 2017

Quick study of Email and Voicemail Habits in Bursar Offices

All the talk about money, job losses, and deficits as well as schools cutting budgets, jobs, sections and people is definitely having an effect on student and family attitudes and their anxiety levels. One cannot get away from the
economic news of Trump's new budget, increasing college costs and the difficulty of completing FAFSA's now that the IRS has closed access to past tax records for parents, never mind the pundit chatter. People cannot help but be affected and make money a larger issue than it normally would be on campus. This is creating new demands for service and services assistance.  And in most every case, schools are not meeting the demand in either style or substance.

The past week, we made actual person to person telephone contact with 50 bursar offices in colleges and universities posing as students or family members. We focused here as a result of the fiscal anxiety we are hearing from families. We called 78 schools. At 31 schools, we left a voice message on the phone. The message said the caller was very concerned about the family financial condition and needed to understand what to do to be able to pay bills if a job was lost. In each voice, we did also leave a clear call to action. Please. It is very important that you call me back today or tomorrow and left a number.

The voice messages led to three, that’s right THREE call backs in twenty-four hours.

We also emailed 50 colleges and universities. A week later, we are still waiting for responses from 28. TWENTY-EIGHT. Oh sure, we did receive the automatic response telling us we are very important so someone would be back as soon as is possible. For twenty-eight schools, it simply wasn’t possible to get back to us I guess.

The very worst thing a school can do at this time is not to respond to people. In normal times, non-responsiveness is a customer service sin that should consign the person at the school that ignored a request for help to getting all faculty to wear pins that say STUDENTS ARE MY CUSTOMERS?

In times of high stress such as right now, people are feeling depressed and less significant. Psychologists know that the way we establish value in others is listen to them and then respond to their issues. When we do not respond, we are telling people they are not important, not valued. Additionally we know that for students and families a major attrition tipping point is whether or not they feel they are valued. And when colleges do not return calls and emails that leaves people feeling less valued.

The simplest customer service value you can provide your students and their families is respect. Not returning calls or emails is disrespectful.  By not returning or responding to their calls or emails, you are telling your customers they do not matter to you and thus the entire college. In do doing, if money becomes tight for them, you will be less important to them. The result - Expect more drops and unpaid bills.

Yes, unpaid bills and more collection fees. Because willingness to pay (WTP) is based on whether or not the customer believes he or she feels valued in the services being paid for as well as whether or not he or she feels valued.  If a customer i.e. student feels he is getting a full return on investment, then WTP will be high. Conversely, if a person believes that the college is not providing value, it will be hard to pry the dollars loose to pay bills. The emotional ROI is equally important. If a person feels valued, he or she will not have resistance to paying for the service - even if the price i.e. tuition goes up. But again, if the student or family feels the college does not value them as individuals… You can fill in the blanks but it will not be with payments on bills.

So, the message here. Value your customers, your students and their families.
Answer the phone. Call back all voice mails within 24 hours. Respond to emails. Do not let any opportunity to communicate with students and families get lost. Every time they reach out to you – reach back. Especially when the calls deal with anxiety points such as money.
5 Ways to Improve Customer Service Communication

  1. Make certain that people know how to use email and the telephone, listen and help. The art of professional telephone communication has been lost for most people. We no longer are good at greeting, listening and responding with the correct tones, attitudes and even use of language. People may need to be trained, or retrained on how to answer and use the phone.  The same is true of email.  At the least read Here's Looking at Me: A Simple Soultion to Phone Rudeness.

  1. Be certain that people use the correct customer first tone, attitude and language. For example, have people avoid academic-ese . That’s the language we use with one another. The argot, slang and specialized language that is part of our culture and not anyone else’s. So avoid acronyms and technical terms.

  1. If you are not sure that folks are not responding appropriately, you may want to set up an accountability system to log incoming and outgoing communications.

  1. Conduct a contact to conclusion assessment. Find out how long it takes for a call or email to be responded to. Then shorten the time.

  1. Do a follow-up study to the callers to see if their request was appropriately and positively responded to and resolved. This does not mean that they got what they wanted since it may not be possible to do so but that they were treated with respect and the person did all he or she could to help.
Ignore phone and email protocols and rest assured that you will lose enrollment and revenue.
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