Effective Service Strategies for a New Generation: Meeting Today’s Customer Service Expectations
No one involved in today’s higher education market can question that we are experiencing a dramatic shift in the expectations of our students. Whereas higher education was something of a privilege in the past, it has evolved into a marketplace where many more students expect to go to college and are savvy enough to want the best deal.”. The dramatic growth of online learning has further contributed to the expansion of our market base and therefore, our competition for these students.
We can no longer sit idly by and expect students to come to our university just because of our name, our history or our alumni. Today’s customers expect more, and it is our job to answer those expectations within our ever-dwindling budgets and resources. This is true across the university in areas including admissions, advising, registration, financial aid, business services, instruction and even career services after graduation.
One very effective measure in attracting and retaining students is to personalize our services so that each student feels that they are retaining their individuality. Additionally, by attempting to provide an on-demand environment, we are meeting or exceeding their expectations. One of the inherent problems with the higher education customer base is that we are not only dealing with the traditional-age students—recent high school graduates (millennials and now Gen Z’ers)—but often their parents who are paying for the education and have completely different service expectations (often baby boomers or gen X’ers) as well as non-traditional students whose expectations may be anywhere in between. Look at the many publications referencing these generational descriptions and you will find wide variations in what each individual would expect in terms of service.
While we strive to personalize our service to every customer, how do we do so effectively and within our budget?
Every institution has a unique operational history, organizational structure, mission and potential customer base. We can no longer afford to rest on our laurels and ignore the fact that we now have customers and we must work to meet their service expectations. By acknowledging that students are customers with many choices in the marketplace and by answering their needs, you build a personal relationship with them, which can directly impact admissions and retention.
Today’s society relies heavily on technology to both automate processing as well as to provide the immediacy of a real-time environment. The significant and continual growth of distance education programs is testament to the change in expectation from a face-to-face interaction to an online environment. Universities must address these expectations and can do so despite declining budgets and resources. Requesting a one-time investment to provide customizable services—such as a text-in queueing service, automated communications, workflow products and using electronically submitted forms—can have long-lasting impacts on your student base. Many of these options can even be implemented at a low cost or no cost to the university. For more costly initiatives, consider leveraging licenses or costs across multiple departments.
One example of a very low-cost resource can be the use of an auto-dialer. These can be configured to conform to your institution’s needs and brand. Auto-dialers may be utilized to contact students by phone, text or sometimes both. While email has been the most recent communication standard, it is quickly becoming a last choice for today’s student population. An auto-dialer tool can be used to immediately notify students of due dates, upcoming special events, or pending cancellations, which equates more closely with the student’s expectation of immediacy in communication. It is important to keep messages short and generic, such as “Please contact us immediately,” to avoid potentially disclosing student information inadvertently. It is also extremely important to obtain student consent to use the contact information they have provided to the university for these purposes. Many schools choose to include that acknowledgment within their financial agreement stating students may be required to accept every term or at least annually. Considerations should also be made for what phone numbers to include in the messaging if your institution allows for multiple phone contacts to be listed.
Depending on your needs and your institution’s software licensing agreements, you may also be able to utilize low-cost (or free) software downloads that can provide automated processing efficiencies. Using software to facilitate the online entry and submission of forms as well as workflow processing can ensure your institution is providing its students with timely and efficient service. If you have available information service resources or strong technical personnel, these forms can be integrated with your student system to facilitate automated upload of the data and also your electronic document retention system. Automating these tasks can often free up human resources that can then be utilized to enhance the customer service experience.
Students and their families are highly concerned about the use of their time. Any opportunity we have as an institution to reflect our respect for that time can be construed by the student as providing a high level of customer service. By utilizing current technology which allows customers to text in or leave a call-back number so that they do not have to spend undue time in our offices or on hold on a phone, it sets a standard of service that can then be translated to a quality experience with our institution.
Today’s student truly has developed the expectation of having it their way. We have seen recent evidence that the current student population has no hesitation in staging public protests to generate interest in their cause. While most of these protests deal with much larger issues than expectations of public service, we often experience escalations to our executive officers if a customer’s service expectation is not met.
By being proactive and innovative in establishing customer service standards using today’s technology, an institution can position themselves to attract and retain the best and brightest students.
Author Perspective: Administrator