Everyone knows that Thanksgiving is the busiest travel time of the year. On Sunday, Chicago’s Midway Airport had a 1.2 mile long line of people waiting to get through security as they returned home. It’s stressful and chaotic. People are rude and selfish.
It’s even harder on airport and airline employees who have to deal with all of these people. It’s difficult to maintain a pleasant personality despite the negative responses received and the frustrated looks by passengers, but when you work for an airlines that is built around mantras such as “Customer Appreciation Day is every day” and “low fares don’t mean low service,” customers have set expectations regardless of surrounding circumstances.
I made a conscious choice to travel back on the Monday after Thanksgiving instead of Sunday knowing the massive amount of people who would be trying to make it home. My plan worked. The airports were much less crowded and for the most part, employees and passengers alike were in a better mood. Over the years and after having flown with several airlines, there is one I choose to fly with because of the level and consistency of service.
Everyone has an “off-day” and Monday was an “off-day” for the crew of Flight 190. The normal joking and jovial faces were replaced with tired looks hoping to make it through another flight without incident. There was little communication from the flight crew and a 4 hour flight seemed much longer. Now everyone has “off-days,” but when you are representing a brand and the culture of a company, one “off-day” can have a negative effect on new customers. It only takes one “off-day” to lose a customer or a student for that matter.
This same scenario applies to higher education. Students choose to attend an institution for specific reasons. Sometimes it’s the majors offered, the flexibility, the cost, or even the level of student service. Even one “off-day” can create an unhappy student and start to tear at the brand the institution so carefully built. Today, there are so many options and readily available reviews that students can use to “shop” the institution they choose to attend. Whether or not it’s intentional, institutions are in competition with each other much like airline companies.
Higher education institutions need to be aware of how their culture is presented to the public, but most importantly students’ perception of the institution. Staff, faculty, and even admissions representatives can have an “off-day”, but the important part is the recovery. Students want assurances that their positive experience throughout the admissions process will continue once they have enrolled. This is similar to passengers who choose to fly with a specific airline. They come to expect a certain level of service, set fees, and a consistent boarding process which even extends to the attitudes and personalities of the crew members.
Although “off-days” will happen, it is the institution’s responsibility to ensure they are few and far between. Students need consistency and support throughout their enrollment. Institutions can increase their retention rates through careful monitoring and assessment of the student experience throughout all phases of the enrollment process.
To successfully build and maintain a positive public perception and increase retention, institutions need to:
- Ensure marketing messages accurately describe the level of education and service students can expect to receive. Additionally, the institution needs to consistently deliver on these expectations.
- Over-deliver on the services offered and have specific procedures in place for students who need additional support. Institutions need processes in place to be able to identify students who need assistance.
- All students should receive the same level of service and education regardless of their previous experience or background. Once they have been accepted into an academic program, it is the institution’s responsibility to provide students with the support necessary to be successful.
While these are not new concepts or solutions, they are often forgotten especially during busy times where an “off-day” can be magnified, but that is when well-implemented procedures which exceed expectations and a proactive culture prove their effectiveness. Students need to know that the institution they chose to attend cares about them individually.
It’s the little things that make a difference, for example, all employees at Chick-fil-a are trained to respond to a “thank you” with “it’s my pleasure.” While “it’s my pleasure” and “you’re welcome” essentially mean the same thing, the message conveyed and how it makes a person feel is different. This is similar for the staff, faculty, and admissions representatives at an institution who interact with students. Sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference between a new student enrolling through graduation and a student leaving.
How does your institution set itself apart?