Monday, May 07, 2018

The Best Information Center on Any College Campus

David DeCenzo, the President of Coastal Carolina University, wanted to improve customer service on the campus. He knew how important academic customer service is to enrollment and the University. President DeCenzo wanted to provide faster, friendlier and more accurate help for students. He was intrigued by the idea of a concierge service to help students and turned to newly hired April Betsch to explore the idea.

April ran with it. She set up focus groups with students to explore the concierge concept. She focused on one very pertinent question. “What frustrates you most about Coastal?” The responses surprised her. One of the items that came up often was the campus map. It was very frustrating for students especially new ones trying to find their way around because the map listed buildings by their names while their schedules listed them by an abbreviation. They could not find their way to classes easily. Campus maps by the way are often bad because they are created by people who already know their way around campus as was Coastal’s. April added abbreviations (and I would suggest that she and others add functions within the buildings, i.e. billing, classroom, financial aid, etc, to further help).

She also heard a problem common at most universities, especially ones growing quickly as Coastal was under Pres. DeCenzo. Communication was a major issue. Things were happening, events taking place, locations changing and students were not being informed that well about these and other issues on campus. Students were also getting “the shuffle” as they tried to get answers to issues. April felt that she needed to address communications as a major service issue so she came up with the idea of a “super communication’s desk” rather than a concierge and the President supported her idea.
CHANT411 was born (CHANT is short for the school’s mascot Chanticleer).

This desk was going to be able to answer all student questions and meet all student inquiries no matter what it was from a class location to a movie’s schedule to where is…. and what is…..and...? And CHANT411 does all this and more so well that it is used extensively by the Coastal community, not just by students.

Faculty and staff call it to get answers to students’ and their own questions too. It has even has received calls from other university students seeking help. Like the time there was a snowstorm that closed Western Carolina University. Students from WCU could not get information at their own school to they contacted CHANT411 to see if their local Starbucks was still open. The person at CHANT411 did some investigating, found out it was, and called the students at WCU back to let them know.

CHANT 411 takes both phone calls and even more often, text message issues and questions. In fact, 92% of the total number of questions it has received have been via text message.

Since its start five years ago when CHANT411 received 8,601 calls, texts and questions, the volume of calls and texts has grown. In the second year of operation, the desk received a 162% increase to 22,548 and last year its volume grew to 57,382. Daily this year the desk receives 150-200 calls or texts on an average day but that numbers grows precipitously at the start of a semester when it receives questions from “Can I bring xyz to my dorm room”, to locations on campus, events, financial aid concerns among other issues like “how do I reach Prof..z and what are his office hours?”, even “I heard there is sis there a shuttle to the airport for students. Is this true?” (BTW, there is a shuttle at the beginning of a semester as there is during major school breaks to make it easier for students). There is no question CHANT411 does not get or won’t answer.

CHANT411 has a staff of 14 students and 1 professional. The desk is held down by two students with a third added during peak periods. These students are chosen through a fairly rigorous hiring process. Potential receptionists must display excellent critical thinking skills. They must know how to listen well and ask the right question to narrow the caller’s issues down to the actual critical concern. They must know how to tactfully drill down to focus the caller and get to the nub of the issue rather than respond too quickly. They must also have the persistence to gig through and get the correct information and answer for the student the first time. This can require many calls to get the correct response. Giving an incorrect one is simply not acceptable. They must also have excellent spoken and written grammar and spelling skills. Coastal Carolina does not want to be represented by someone who will not provide it a good representation.

And finally, and almost most importantly, they must be passionate about Coastal Carolina University and helping others.  

Each question and response is recorded and entered into the system for review and monitoring by the staff’s one. non-student, professional. He checks each response to assure it is accurate. If it might be not quite correct, the information specialist  needs to get in touch with the caller and provide the corrected information. This by the way does not happen often but “CHANT411 does not want to misdirect or not give fully accurate information so each response is nitpicked” according to Betsch.

To experience CHANT411 for myself, I called on a Saturday at 6:00 p.m. I asked a question that I thought might be from left field but the information specialist picked it right up and answered it completely and quite politely. I asked if the University had any programs for seniors. She told me about the OLLI (Osher Life Long Learning program she also gave me its phone number and politely cautioned that I should wait to call on Monday after 8:30 because they were not open until then. She then went on to assure that I was completely satisfied with the information which I was.

“The main thing CHANT411 has done for Coastal Carolina, its students, staff, faculty and anyone who calls in is take the I don’t know out of Coastal” said Betsch. And I fully concur. CHANT 411 is the best student information center I have found on any campus.

Well done Coastal Carolina University which, by the way, is a national leader in academic customer service.

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