The Frogs are Boiling!

Big Frog

The Frogs are Boiling!

Bill Bradfield
Senior Vice President of Higher Education Partnerships, Greenwood Hall

Years ago I read Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline.  There was a lot of valuable insight and advice to companies facing an uncertain future.  Most memorable was his invoking of the time worn story of the “Boiled Frog.”  The core tenet of the story is that organizations react to rapid changes in their environment (a frog thrown into a pot of boiling water will immediately leap to safety while a frog in a pot that is gradually heated will react too slowly and boil to death).

I was reminded of this story while reading the following article in Inside Higher Ed this week:  Moody’s predicts small colleges will triple their closure rate.  The article thoughtfully places the blame at declining enrollment (and I would add atrocious retention and 6-year graduation rates).  While there are vigorous defenses and vociferous refutations of Moody’s predictions; such as the spirited statement, “Schools will do anything to survive;” such statements don’t do much to build confidence that the schools are actually doing what is necessary to survive.

Decision-making on college campuses is notoriously slow and cumbersome…  and it probably needs to be given the contemplative nature of school governance.  But, for many of these schools the water in the pot is heating up rapidly.  I would contend that for many it has already reached the boiling point.  Schools need to rapidly do the kinds of things that will increase revenue, sustain revenue and reduce operating costs…dramatically.  And many of them need to do it now!  Today!

Increasing revenue is a function of enrollment management…  getting students into seats!  Sustaining revenue is a function of assertive and effective student retention programs…  giving students the service and care they deserve.  Reducing operating expenses is a function of resolve at eliminating those things that don’t progress the school’s mission or differentiation…  not fun, but it’s a necessary component and one which American business learned dearly in the 1980s in the face of international competition.

Fortunately, there are models in the market in which the enrollment, retention and cost issues have been beaten.  In short, education leadership teams need to look to the market for help and good models.  They need to make bold moves to get out of the pot.  It may not be fun.  It may not be glorious.  But, it beats the alternative.

Howard University Struggled with Its Semester Start — Why All the Headlines?

Howard University Struggled with Its Semester Start — Why All the Headlines?

Bill Bradfield
Senior Vice President of Higher Education Partnerships, Greenwood Hall

There was a useful article in Friday’s Washington Post dealing with the struggles at Howard University in serving students during the Fall 2015 semester start-up. The article chronicled problems with broken air conditioners, non-responsive financial aid staff and processes, network failures and a myriad of other glitches. There were so many issues that the students took to the Twittersphere and demanded action. Howard’s president acted immediately and vowed to fix the problems. However, as the article points out for some of the issues, like student service, there is no quick fix.

The article used the HBCU moniker in its headline, almost as if poor customer service was unique to historically black colleges. Hence my question, “Why all the Headlines?” The issues of poor customer service (euphemistically called student services) run through virtually every school in the country. And, it is most evident twice a year: at the start of new semesters, when all enrollment, financial aid and technical systems should be at their peak performance to handle the influx of new and returning students.

So I ask again, why all the headlines? The outcry at Howard was probably no worse than anywhere else. Maybe it was unique because it spilled into social media… but I don’t think so. The Post article was accompanied with a very well-constructed article on how to make HBCUs “more nimble.” And while it may be true that HBCUs need to be more nimble at addressing systemic issues, I contend that all schools need to be “more nimble.” That’s particularly true when dealing with issues of customer service for students. This is not an HBCU issue; it is a higher education issue.

Howard’s president acted correctly in quelling the uproar and he is not the first to have faced the issue. As a 15-year veteran of the college and university customer service industry, I have stories that would curl your hair. In the early days of my addressing the customer service problem, senior university leadership often asked me if I could guarantee that no calls from students (or worse, parents) would be escalated to the president’s or provost’s desk. I never had the courage to make that promise 😉 but together, my clients and my team built a roadmap and a culture of service that virtually eliminated them in every client we served. What made us successful was a simple phrase that “we are all responsible for customer service.” I would announce it and then use a sweeping hand gesture that was intended to include my team, the school’s team and pretty much everybody in the room.

It worked. At almost every client, escalated issues ceased to exist. Students knew that they would get service in an expeditious way and we all lived up to the culture of customer service. We formed great partnerships with schools that wanted to solve the problem. We pioneered solving a problem that still exists and every now and then ends up in the Washington Post.


Higher Education and Making Service Easy to Get

Higher Education and Making Service Easy to Get

Bill Bradfield
Senior Vice President of Higher Education Partnerships, Greenwood Hall

I read an interesting article last week.  It was authored by and it had the classically cumbersome title of “5 Ways to Make Service Easy for Today’s Customers.”  While a lot of the detail dealt with more commercial endeavors, there was a lot that was relevant to Higher Education.  Here are some thoughts:

If you want to increase customer loyalty, minimize the effort it takes to get service.

What an interesting thought.  If you make the experience easy for the customer, they will be more likely to remain loyal.  While there is no direct correlation, think of the broken admissions and enrollment and financial aid systems that students are required to navigate just to get started.  In many cases that drama plays out semester after semester throughout their college experience.

I wonder how many students have walked away because of the excessive lines at the financial aid office.

  • Customers/students need to be empowered
  • Schools need to put tools in place that resolve the needs of their students
  • Broken or disconnected systems cause friction and friction causes heat and wear

The “5 Ways to Make Service Easy for Today’s Customers” enumerated in the article included:

1. Create a Single View of Your Customers

At first I was concerned that this meant view all your customers/students the same way.  I was relieved to read that it really means having all information about the customer available in a consistent manner to all staff who might have interactions with the customer.  Wow, eliminate siloed data. What a concept…but so critical.

2. Deliver Consistent Engagement on Every Channel

Again, this is about empowering staff to take care of the student in a consistent manner.  It invokes the requirement that data be not only available but also inclusive.  Every service person must know the student/customer and understand the history of transactions with her/him.  Consistency of service is the basis of customer delight.

3. Equip Your People with a Single Source of Knowledge

Another truism in customer service.  Multiple sources of siloed data create inconsistencies, whether by omission or timing, and disrupt the ability to be consistent.

4. Empower Customers with Self-Service and Mobile Options

Students are more savvy users of technology than most other groups.  Meet them on their own ground by making self-help and service tools available for them to use.  The happiest customer is one who never has to call.

5. Embed Service Everywhere

Seems like a simple thought, but making service available, easy to use and ubiquitous drive customer loyalty.  Students, like or as customers, want to know that the school cares.

So, that’s it.  Useful guidelines whether you are a producer of consumer goods or an institution of Higher Education.  The big leap for schools is learning to think of students as customers.  They are both.  They are students when they are in the classroom, but everywhere else, they are customers.  They should be treated as such.