Tag Archives: customer service

Facebook Live and incoming student Q&A: a promising idea

On Sunday night, we might have seen the future of Facebook Live in higher education, and it was awesome.

Alyssa Levenberg, known best for her Alyssa Explains It All video blogging series offering advice to incoming students, posted a question to our Class of 2020 + Transfers page: If she did a Facebook Live Q&A, would they participate?

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 8.45.09 AM

The answer via likes was a resounding yes, so at 8 p.m. Alyssa went live on her Alyssa Explains It All Facebook page and fielded questions for two hours. The post reads 138 comments, not all of which were questions, but the interest and questions were especially active early and pretty steady throughout the broadcast.

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 1.14.36 PMThe number of viewers at any given time may not look impressive — it hovered in the upper teens and 20s most of the night — but remained fairly consistent and this is about quality of over quantity. Sure, a Facebook Live video of a watermelon with rubber bands can get millions of views, but how much does it impact anybody’s lives? With Alyssa’s webcast, incoming students received words of comfort and encouragement in addition to getting their questions answered. That’s a bigger impact than mere numbers show.

The short throw in terms of promotion and using a relatively new delivery method not yet in wide use may have kept the numbers down a bit, but Alyssa said Monday she was pleased overall.

“I think it went really well!” Alyssa said. “When people first came, they asked a lot of questions, but then it started to die down to only a few people asking. But they seemed to really like me answering them honestly and live for them.” This personal touch from somebody who was in their shoes certainly represents a real value-added for incoming students.

For the rare things Alyssa did not know fluently, a couple of current students (and this blogger) joined the channel to lend expertise or insight when needed, which wasn’t very often. It’s worth noting, I aimed to take a fairly hands-off approach as this was an “unofficial” activity Alyssa just thought of, proposed and ran with.

For future planning for our college and other institutions, a current student (or recent yet dedicated grad in Alyssa’s case) or student team doing a Facebook Live Q&A has a lot of potential. It could work well in different parts of the cycle; during college choice, discussions would more likely involve fit and what a college has to offer, while after students have committed it more moves toward specific questions and concerns (mostly about living on campus, for this session).

Since empowering student ambassadors and storytellers is a big interest, Alyssa’s Facebook Live provided proof this could work. The challenge is finding a student as engaging and knowledgeable as Alyssa — something we think about all the time now that she’s graduated and will one day yield her active ambassador role — but it’s definitely worth considering. Go in with an open mind and don’t necessarily expect it to “go viral” but with an understanding it can genuinely help and satisfy concerns of incoming students. That alone is a worthy goal.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Web

Customer service: even technology can’t replace a good attitude

ariushat

This is currently my favorite hat, and not just because Arius looks adorable in it. This hat is a reminder that you don’t need oodles of technology and listening strategies to provide good customer service — sometimes all you need is the right attitude.

With Arius’ birthday coming up and also needing to update his wardrobe, I made a recent Saturday trip to the Great Northern Mall (and its outbuildings) and engaged in consumer activity. When I got home and unpacked the bags, I noticed that one item I bought at the Children’s Place was not in its bag. I wasn’t sure if I’d dropped the hat or lost it in the shuffle and while it wasn’t all that expensive (because they have great bargains), I was a little bummed.

But.

Then I checked the answering machine to my landline (which gets little action beyond robocalls) to find a message there from the Children’s Place. I’m a member of their rewards club, so an associate called that number apologizing profusely that the hat somehow didn’t make it into the bag.

While I wasn’t sure what could be done — Great Northern is out of town and not something I visit every day — I called back, and the associate offered to mail it. She apologized that it may not be there immediately because that Monday was a postal holiday (Columbus Day) but I responded that as long as it made it to Oswego before it was too cold (insert expected weather joke), I’d be happy. Lo and behold, the package was waiting on the porch when Arius and I got back from daycare on Tuesday.

I’ve worked retail and I know it’s not always a barrel of fun, especially as the holidays approach. With any transaction and follow-up, there are any number of break points where somebody has reasons not to provide added service, let alone go the extra mile. Yet consider this associate:
1) Realized the packing error
2) Looked up my phone number
3) Found time to call
4) Cheerfully took my return call
5) Suggested mailing it (taking on additional duties and expense)
6) Mailed it right away

If you don’t think that kind of customer service is extraordinary, then you probably haven’t been shopping lately. I commend the Children’s Place for empowering this kind of service and for following all the way through. The store now ranks even higher on my future shopping list.

Now we’re just hoping Arius won’t actually need the winter hat for a while, but if he does, seeing him in it will remind me that simple, good old-fashioned customer service is alive and well.

Leave a comment

Filed under writing

FAQs: the goose barnacles of higher education

In the Middle Ages, even so-called learned men believed in the bizarre duality of goose barnacles and barnacle geese. Noticing that floating barnacles bore great resemblance to local waterfowl, they put 2 and 2 together, and got 22: These animals they dubbed barnacle geese certainly must spring from the fruit they called goose barnacles when the time was right. The two things looked so similar that despite any real evidence (correlation is not causation), it seemed a stout conclusion.

While science has moved past this, I can’t help but notice that we create our share of goose barnacles in higher education: We see what we think perfectly reasonable from our perspective even when it doesn’t resonate with the real world. I’d put the curious creatures known as Frequently Asked Questions/FAQ pages near the top of the list.

Yes, this happened at a school you may have heard of.

Yes, this happened at a school you may have heard of.

Have you visited any college FAQ pages recently? On many, you’ll find a lot of questions, but not necessarily ones that students actually, you know, frequently ask. Not all are as outlandish as “What is the mission statement of the college?” (sorry I’m not making that up), but many FAQs are simply the result of administrators deciding what they want to communicate and working backwards by creating answers then writing questions people would never ask.

Some content experts would like to see FAQ pages eliminated from college websites entirely. They raise a good point: If your website is really good at providing answers within its pages, users will find the answers they need without an FAQ. This is a noble aspiration, but in reality users want quick answers, and many colleges (like ours) have to rely on content editors (more than 300 on our campus) to maintain department, program, office and section websites. In a perfect world, you can somehow find a way to clean up a 20,000+ page website, but in an imperfect world FAQs may remain at least a temporary evil until you can miraculously heal your college’s digital body.

If internal forces still necessitate FAQs, at least make sure they involve real frequently asked questions. Since our office maintains and monitors social media channels frequented by prospective and incoming students, we see questions they ask may bear no resemblance to FAQs maintained by offices and programs addressing future students. How to reconcile fiction and reality? Take notes and set up meetings. For example, I met with the Orientation office and showed what our students actually asked was completely different than the program’s posted FAQ. I worked with offices and staff to add questions that were asked and remove questions that they even admitted they hadn’t heard asked in years.

But we went a step further. If a question came up over and over that wasn’t adequately addressed on oswego.edu, we made sure that main or primary pages (not just FAQs) were updated to address these questions. No, this shouldn’t be rocket science, but it seemed like a revelation to some folks.

I can’t emphasize enough: Listen to your customers. Our Class of 2018 Facebook group bubbles with earnest questions, many of which we have answers to — including some that a few students, honestly, haven’t seemed to have looked for on our site (where the info is prominently featured). I’ve sometimes taken a deep breath and reminded myself saying “let me Google that for you” would be a bad idea, but at the same time our customers’ experiences (which may include not using our website much) are our reality.

How can we bridge this gap? Ah, that will be the topic of my next next blog installment, which involves lots of listening and tapping student creativity. Stay tuned.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

pulling a plug: today’s new/shiny can be tomorrow’s dead/dull

Screen shot 2013-11-08 at 10.17.14 AM

On Friday, I did something for the first time as a social media manager: I pulled the plug on a once-thriving platform for us.

Once a hot platform that brought many prospective-student questions, Formspring/Spring.Me has been functionally dead (to us, anyway) for months. We created a SUNY Oswego account after Mallory Wood (now with mStoner) mentioned on a Higher Ed Live episode how many Formspring questions accounts at St. Michael’s College received. When we waded in, the current was strong — 10 to 20 questions a week, almost all from prospective students, demonstrated we could provide a valid service as well as see what questions we perhaps weren’t answering very clearly or prominently on our website.

But back in February came the announcement the site could no longer afford to stay open and would shut down operations at the end of March. But while the bustling thoroughfare turned into a tumbleweed-strewn ghost town, it didn’t entirely go away. SUNY Oswego’s account still received a few scattered user questions but — worse — received emails from somebody/something at the company with vapid Questions of the Day such as whether we were going to see the latest Brad Pitt movie. (Lame sauce.) The site may boast nearly 26 million users, but that’s just a reminder that sheer numbers don’t mean everything in social media relevance.

Useful though it was, Formspring’s usability had shortcomings.

  • We saw the same questions over and over and over, and while we have a backstage wiki that allows us to copy/paste/modify responses, it still becomes tiresome for the manager to answer the same question about application deadlines (which are pretty clear on our site) multiple times a day. Formspring’s interface made the site more about asking questions more than making answers easy to find.
  • The site didn’t seem to cultivate user inclination for detail in questions. We’d receive one-word queries like “deadline.” Really, that’s all it would say. Which deadline? We have so many for different things. Many questions were just one-worders such as “scholarships,” “jobs” or “cost” that showed a very shallow level of user interaction … even though, as a customer-service-focused organization, we felt inclined to not be lazy in replies.
  • The mostly anonymous format meant that you could get off-base and inappropriate questions. This didn’t impact us much but I know others who grew weary of the site for such reason.
  • What should have been a simple and quick-loading interface was anything but. Instead there was a long delay, and then the cursor bumped me into its Question of the Day … not the actual question we wanted to answer. Protip: Emphasize the customers’ experience first, not your vanity feature.

As I went through the (thankfully) brief process of disabling our college’s moribund account, I didn’t really feel much remorse as if leaving a community that ever meant much to me. More than anything, it reminds us that one day’s new and shiny can easily become the next day’s dead and dull. So we should be wary when new communities or platforms suddenly become “hot” in the fanboy tech press, and consider the sustainability of any efforts. And we should know that there comes a time, when a community is no longer useful, to move on.

2 Comments

Filed under Web

Living in silos: Blindness, elephants and higher ed customer service.

Few poems or fables seem to describe higher ed dysfunction better than “Blind Men and the Elephant,” best known via John Godfrey Saxe’s 19th-century translation of a story from the Indian subcontinent about intolerance. Yet the tale in which six sightless men encounter different parts of the pachyderm and make assumptions about what it is (a wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan, a rope) also aptly describes one of the biggest elephants in the room hurting higher ed customer service.

Around the time Saxe was penning poems (and even stopping in Oswego long enough to marvel over the public library being built), educators like Edward Austin Sheldon were looking to fix education via radical methods that fused ideas based in science, experimentation and hands-on learning. In founding the Oswego Primary Teachers’ Training School in 1861 (the forerunner of SUNY Oswego), Sheldon saw transmitting the best techniques and content as the key to success — training teachers even as they took active roles leading classrooms of young students in the then-booming city of Oswego. The passing of knowledge was active on-the-job work that aimed for a seamless experience. Of course, he didn’t have big admissions, student affairs, alumni relations or other staffs … in part because the first training school class only had nine students, who took their pedagogy lessons in a cloakroom.

Jimmy Moreland teaching freshman English, 1949. Courtesy of SUNY Oswego's Penfield Library Special Collections

Jimmy Moreland teaching freshman English, 1949. Courtesy of SUNY Oswego’s Penfield Library Special Collections

But the development of specialty roles and the profusion of offices didn’t occur until much later in the 20th century. I’ve mentioned before the remembrances of Oswego legend Jimmy Moreland, who passed away in 1950. Jimmy — and that’s what he asked students to call him even in the more formal time — was a man of many talents for the school:

He was a revered English professor, a chief recruiter, advisor for 300 to 400 freshmen, and even director of public relations. In his spare time, he advised the fledgling Hillel club and volunteered in the Oswego community. … Jimmy wore a lot of hats well, and he never looked at his watch and declared his day done, knowing any time he saw a student provided an opportunity to connect. He recruited students, advised them, taught them, excelling in all areas. There were no silos, cubicles or boundaries to what we would, and could, do to serve students.

Flash forward 60+ years, and I cringe at the runaround students receive today — passed from one office to another when no one has an answer or because another office needs to approve something that should be common sense. Of course, colleges and their populations are much bigger, regulations more complex, services required and requested more extensive, technology constantly evolving and structures so different than the 1950s or the 1860s.

But if different offices can’t find a way to work together to help students, we’re not doing our jobs. Period. An army of specialists who can do one or two tasks but cannot help a student with the big picture — of college, and of life — does students a disservice. Higher ed is not an assembly line; it should be more like a community barn-raising where everybody does whatever necessary for success. The Admissions Office isn’t the English department which isn’t Career Services … I get that. But when a student has to run several obstacle courses just to register, pay their bill and deal with the hurdles we throw up as organizations — and anyone can only help with one piece of the puzzle — then a bigger army really isn’t better.

Moreover, do employees think of themselves as supplying customer service or just another cog in the machine? This is a management issue and an attitude more than a staffing issue. If a freshman at your college has a bad experience, rest assured hundreds of other colleges would happily take her on as a customer. Portability is an increasingly popular feature of the college experience — especially with educational disruptions where students can learn anytime, anywhere from any institution — so for any college to think they are the entity in the control, as opposed to students controlling their own destinies in increasing ways, is an arrogant and archaic attitude.

Another problem is see is in the array of software “solutions” students have to conquer like levels on a video game. Colleges use an array of “solutions” to create separate communities or systems for potential students, freshmen, registration and academic progress, student organizations, internships, career plans, alumni activities and myriad other pieces. With the number of software programs they’re asked to learn, accounts they’re asked to create and communities they’re impelled to join, it’s like we make them change planes seven times to get from Syracuse to Schenectady. All these “solutions” tackle various specialties and tasks, some better than others, but it’s miles away from even approaching a seamless, customer-friendly system.

The answers don’t need to be rocket science: Cross-training more employees. Collaborating. Communicating. Solutions (true solutions, not software “solutions”) could offer many benefits. If offices get together to create that online community or install that software package that solves problems across many areas, functions and student tasks — instead of everybody running out to buy their own niche “solution” — not only will they save money and increase efficiency, but they can provide a better student experience.

But more than anything, it’s a mindset. An attitude. A willingness to work with others to truly put students first. Jimmy Moreland figured out how to do that more than 60 years ago without consultants, vendor pitches or sophisticated software. What I wrote after reading about his amazing life speaks toward how his positive, people-based attitude transcended the system we’ve set up in the decades since, yet could guide us in our future plans:

I can’t see Jimmy poring through the pages upon pages of policies, procedures and precedents we’ve foisted upon higher education governance. If he had a mission statement, it would likely simply read: Do the right thing. Maybe we’ve made this business a lot more difficult than it should be. You see how one man, one incredible man like Jimmy Moreland could follow his head and his heart and serve as educator, inspiration and friend to thousands of students, and you wonder.

You wonder indeed how we’ve made something simple as good customer service so complex. We can’t see the elephant in the room unless we think as a team.

Next time: Higher ed getting iTuned, and the role of customer service

3 Comments

Filed under writing

The trouble with personal branding.

In the film “Miracle,” the story of the underdog USA hockey team that struck gold at the 1980 Olympics, there’s a running theme where coach Herb Brooks asks his players their name, their hometown and who they play for. For the latter answer, they say “University of Minnesota,” “Boston University” and so on, to Brooks’ stoic consternation.

After a lackluster performance in an exhibition, Brooks has had enough and has the team skating suicides for hours, to the point where they’re exhausted and heaving. Finally, eventual captain Mike Eruzione yells out his name and where he’s from.

“Who do you play for?” Brooks asks.

“I play for the United States of America!” Eruzione replies.

Brooks has finally heard the answer he wants, and tells his players they can finally call it a night.

Now this scene comes to mind every time I hear a college (mis)use the term “personal branding.”

If you mean “personal branding” as making sure a Google search first finds the good things you’ve done, your LinkedIn profile and positive impressions — instead of just photos of you at a frat party — then I agree. If you mean “personal branding” in terms of finding things you enjoy and can do better than just about anybody, and trying to figure out how to do that for a living, then I applaud.

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 9.14.25 AMIf you mean “personal branding” as the equivalent of “make sure everything you do puts your own marketability and brand first,” then you’re doing students a disservice. And in the process, you’re contributing to the customer service shortcomings facing the higher education industry.

The fact of the matter is unless you go straight from college graduate to running your own startup (a very tiny percentage), ultimately you’re servicing someone else’s brand. Whether you’re a pro basketball player, reporter or cashier, putting your own need for branding ahead of your team or employer is not a successful formula. I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t infuse personality, but ultimately you’re a part of a bigger brand.

In a Harvard Business Review blog post titled “Your Brand is the Exhaust Fume of the Engine of Your Life,” Nilofer Merchant perfectly explains that “the brand follows your work,” not vice versa. Any brand is what you do, who you work with to make it happen and what you care about. Creating a “personal brand” is a byproduct — not a determinant — of doing things the right way.

The “personal branding” interpretation is especially a challenge at many institutions where every school, department and office wants to “express themselves” and in turn hire graphic design students they encourage to “express themselves.” They run off and design logos that don’t use the right colors or fonts … or even the name (or right name) of the institution. (And they often are quick to design logos and slow to design useful content.) The main identity of the college is lost in countless subbrands that distract and confuse, diluting and contradicting the idea of working across the institution to better serve students.

Often departments will contact us to say they’ve hired an art student to “redesign their page” (we have a CMS and an aim for a common look and experience across oswego.edu), and ask how they get started. Besides training, we tell them to start with content. An awkward silence tends to follow. Signing up an art student to “make a website pop” without a content strategy is like repainting a restaurant without giving any thought to what’s on the menu. I don’t go to a restaurant because of its design, I go because I want a good meal. (I also feel like the “any art student can build a professional website” is demeaning to the industry. I wouldn’t tell the art department to just hire an English major to teach their courses because he must be good with words. This isn’t a dig against art students but a statement: Web communication is about subject matter and knowing how to tell your story, not merely making pretty pictures.)

If you’re looking for the ultimate example of the personal brand damaging the institutional brand, look no further than Syracuse University’s Twitter account earlier this year. At the end of the final regular season home game, a mysterious tweet under the university account appeared to be coming up with one of the biggest sports scoops of the year:

Screen shot 2013-07-11 at 8.15.21 AM

The link was to a blog by a local community college student full of speculation but empty of reliable sourcing. At that and just about every subsequent news conference, Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim repeatedly and with increasing exasperation denied he planned to retire, and he hasn’t. Why would the SU account — an official and popular representation of the institution — start a rumor so wrong and detrimental? Is it possible that someone trying to make a name for themselves in the business saw this as a great chance to put over their personal brand? Even if it was at the expense of the university trusting them enough to gain this valuable experience?

When I hire student bloggers, vloggers and videographers, I encourage them to show personality and honesty, because our students are our top brand ambassadors. But they ultimately understand this opportunity is also about supporting and enhancing the college brand. I would hope all of our employees at every level are about helping our students more than their own “personal brand” or creating a “personal brand” for a department or office that runs counter to what we’re trying to accomplish across campus. Helping students should be a core part of any college’s brand in the first place.

So ultimately: Who do you play for?

Next time: Blind Men and the Elephant, or how silos destroy customer service

9 Comments

Filed under writing

A customer relationship management (CRM) tool is NOT customer service.

Technology is good. It enables connections, conversations and communities. It can fulfill business and personal goals. It can solve problems. But not by itself. Never by itself. Any technology or software “solution” is nothing without competent and caring people.

So I bristle when I hear about a college or company purchasing a customer relationship management (CRM) tool and declaring it a customer service solution. Because it’s not. A CRM tool, however sophisticated, is a cookbook. Without someone to do something with all the ingredients, there’s no meal.

It’s interesting to see what colleges do with their CRMs, which usually key on databases with tracking and reminder ability. Almost no institution I know of has ever set up all the expensive features in their “solution.” Some do a pretty decent job of tracking and interacting. Some limp along and do a passable job with their sunk-cost albatross, not notably improving the student experience. Others give up entirely when — surprise — the CRM actually requires them to do a whole bunch of work they thought it would obviate.

Put simply: If you’re not committed to customer service, don’t buy a CRM.

The best customer relationship management you can have is the willingness to interact with your stakeholders and help them along the way. It’s not about software, it’s about soft skills. If you’re helpful, responsive and flexible, you will provide better customer experiences, period. Sure, a CRM can tell you who’s inquired about your college, how far they’ve made it in the inquiry process, their student status and maybe their degree progress. But almost every student encounters questions and challenges along the way, and if you’re not there to help them (and no, an FAQ page full of questions no one has actually asked doesn’t count), then your “solution” doesn’t really solve anything.

(On a related note, those who use HootSuite or other social media tools only to blast their audiences with messages but don’t listen and respond to posts on their colleges or brands aren’t really taking part in “social” media. Anti-social or perhaps sociopathic media is more like it. But I digress.)

And while CRMs can allow you to collect data about students and their progress, are you using that data in some way to make the experience better? If not, then you’re not thinking about customers, relationships or management. In my blog series quest for how colleges can better deliver customer service, I know CRMs can play a role. But only if used in tandem with humans dedicated and driven to provide real solutions.

Next time: The trouble with ‘personal branding’ at colleges

8 Comments

Filed under writing