Archive for March, 2011

Pre-Enrollment Customer Service: It Will Build or Kill Your Brand

March 7th, 2011

What do parents and prospective students think about the customer service they receive from colleges during the “college shopping” process? Longmire and Company’s most recent co-sponsored national study sought to answer this question. Approximately 5,000 students and parents rated their pre-enrollment experiences with colleges across a number of brand touch points including administrators, the admission office, faculty, student affairs, housing, grounds, coaches and more.

The measurement of multiple brand touch points was important. Our previous co-sponsored studies have clearly revealed that a single bad experience – anywhere on campus, with anyone on campus – can derail the interest and commitment of the prospective student or parent toward the college.

Just how important is pre-enrollment customer service delivery in attracting students? It is very important. About one-half of students and parents said that the pre-enrollment customer service they received was influential in their selection or rejection of a college. They viewed pre-enrollment service as predictive of what they would receive after enrolling.

Think for a minute about how your institution would rate on a ten-point scale (ten high) if your prospective students and parents were asked to measure your campus wide pre-enrollment customer service. Nationally, students and parents gave colleges and universities a rating of 6.83 in overall service during the college selection process. One could interpret that number as suggestive of room for improvement. One could also see that number as an opportunity to differentiate their institution.

Differentiation. The study revealed that only about 48% of students and parents viewed the colleges they were considering as having unique reputations or brand identities. Where a brand perception existed, the respondent was asked to describe it. In the vast majority of cases, they described the “brand” using words that could easily fit hundreds of schools.

It could be assumed that brand identity becomes clearer to students and parents as they get deeper into a college’s funnel. In truth, perception of uniqueness or brand identity gets clearer for only 8% more students and parents after being admitted. This suggests that the brand is not being reflected or supported across the many touch points that students and parents experience campus wide.

Among eleven key brand touch points measured, students and parents rated their experiences with the admission office and faculty most favorably.  Experiences with coaches and the financial aid office registered least favorable. Results from this and our other co-sponsored studies suggest that dissatisfaction with the financial aid office is not solely based on the amount of the aid package. More often than not, it’s due to miscommunication, lack of responsiveness and insufficient guidance and counsel, all of which are customer service issues.

Over 11% of students and parents said they experienced problems with the pre-enrollment service they received from colleges. Only 40% reported the problem to the institution. Of those who did, less than a third said that someone at the college attempted to resolve it. Less than 25% of this subgroup said it was resolved to their satisfaction.

With this data in mind, any senior leader of the institution could legitimately ask, “Do we have a way for prospective students and parents to easily make us aware of a problem, regardless of the department involved? Do we have a system to record the problem, track our follow-up, and determine if it was resolved to the satisfaction of our prospective student or parent?”

The benchmarking results of this study have been helpful to the co-sponsoring colleges because it has enabled them to isolate areas on campus needing change in pre-enrollment service delivery. Further, the data specific to their college provides a clear roadmap for necessary improvements.

The aggregated national data supports the need for improvement by the industry. It is desired by consumers, certainly. Yet it also presents colleges with an opportunity to differentiate their institution in an increasingly competitive and demanding marketplace.