Archive for April, 2010

A True Story of Horror

April 26th, 2010

This is a true story. A story that causes anyone in an admissions office to wince and utter, “Ouch.” I witnessed it a couple of months ago.

Recently, a college had engaged Longmire and Company to conduct a full-day Interactive Training Workshop for their counselors. I was accompanied on the trip by Rick Montgomery, an associate with our firm. The college graciously offered to put us up in a beautifully renovated house they owned near campus for our overnight stay prior to the workshop. We were instructed to call the campus security office upon arriving to obtain the keys to our rooms on the second floor.

We arrived at the house after dark and phoned campus security. “I’ll be over in about 10 minutes,” the security officer said. “I’d be over sooner but the kids are getting back on campus after break and I’m having to open alot of dorm room doors because they’ve lost their keys.” The tinge of exasperation I noted in his voice prompted me to assure him that we were in no hurry.

The security officer arrived not long thereafter. He was helpful yet seemed rushed. After letting us in the house and manufacturing a little small talk, he handed over the keys to our upstairs bedrooms and promptly left to, presumably, go open more dorm room doors.

Rick and I threw our bags in our respective rooms and agreed to meet downstairs in the large living room to talk about an upcoming consulting engagement. After an hour or so, we decided that our work was done for the day. It was getting late. Except for Rick and me, the large house was empty and quiet on a Northeastern night that had transformed into a misty chill.

As I was closing my laptop we heard the tall, heavy front door squeak as it opened slowly. Rick and I looked at each other as if to silently question who might be entering at such a late hour. We heard voices and footsteps coming toward us from the long hallway on the other side of the living room wall. We remained in our chairs, our eyes fixed on the doorway leading into the hall. These visitors, whoever they may be, would appear any second.

What appeared was a delightful, smiling mom with two high school seniors in tow. They had driven hours through the night for a campus visit scheduled the next morning. The woman, her daughter, and her daughter’s boyfriend all looked a little damp and frizzy from the mist outside. The dampness and the hour had not suppressed their excitement, though. Their eyes were bright and engaging as we introduced each other. They, like us, had been invited to stay in the house by the admissions office.

Within minutes, another family arrived. They, too, had traveled a long distance to visit campus.

Excitement and noise had replaced quiet and calm. The atmosphere was infectious. Everyone was laughing and asking questions of each other. It was a first visit for all. A sense of anticipation permeated the conversations. No one had seen the campus. The morning would reveal it.

In a tone slightly louder than that of this developing mini-crowd, I asked if everyone had called the campus security office to get their room keys. They all said yes, and that the guard would arrive at the house soon to drop them off.

While waiting for campus security to arrive, and after everyone discovered that Rick and I knew a great deal about the college, questions started flying at us from every direction. Faster than we could attempt to answer.

What did we know about the faculty? What did we know about the quality of the programs? What level of personal attention do students receive? Is the campus pretty? Do we know students who attend there? What is the town like? What fun things are there to do? Are the students nice? What are the dorms like?

We assured everyone that the admissions office was looking forward to answering all of their questions, and that they would do a much better job than we ever could. Unfortunately, that reassurance did little to quell their excitement and anticipation.

Just then, the campus security officer arrived with sets of keys. He looked even more damp and disheveled than I had remembered. He seemed just as hurried. He was now the center of attention, and he spoke.

“Sorry it took me so long to get here,” he said. “All of the students are getting back on campus and some of them are being stupid, as usual. They’re locking themselves out of their rooms and they gotta call me.” He punctuated that sentence with a laugh.

He continued. “I had to confiscate a bong, I had to take away a bunch of pot from another kid, and I had to bust up a party and lock up all the beer that people brought back on campus.”

The room went suddenly quiet. Expressions on faces neutralized faster than a flash.

I’m sure my expression bordered on horror.

Oblivious to the damage he had just inflicted on the poor admissions office that had not even had their first visit with these people, the security guard happily handed everyone their keys, smiled, and offered a sincere offer of help to anyone who desired it. To all he bid a cheerful farewell.

From that moment forward, all perceptions that these visitors formulated about the college were most likely influenced by or filtered through the prism of this innocent yet unfortunate encounter.

Will it make a difference in the institution’s ability to recruit these students and parents? Maybe not. But it may.

Customer service and brand is demonstrated at each and every touch point between the institution and the student and parent. This was reinforced in our recent co-sponsored Study of Parents: How They Evaluate Colleges and Influence Enrollment. Any touch point can reinforce the perceptions that the college promotes and any touch point can derail or destroy it. The only way to ensure that the institution’s brand is protected at all touch points is through institution-wide and ongoing training of every single person on campus.

All representatives of the college, regardless of function, should proudly carry the same job title: Director of First Impressions. The impressions they should convey must be clearly understood and they should be equipped with the tools and training to advance them.