In 2011, when I was deciding what PhD program to apply for and enroll in, I contacted Capella University. This is one of the communications that I got from an “Enrollment Counselor” who immediately started the relationship. That first email was accompanied by a phone call and immediate follow-up in subsequent days. The email included:
- My name “Dear Alexandera”
- How to set up an admissions account to go through the process
- Steps for requesting transcripts
- Follow-up once application was complete
- It was sent from a human – Amy S., whose signature included M.S., Class of ’08 – talk about a powerful graduate-to-learner endorsement
It also included her schedule. It said “I am an evening enrollment counselor” and had her calendar day by day, Monday through Friday.
During this process, some notable things happened:
- Capella University requested my transcripts for me AND paid for the transcript fees
- They waived my application fee
- They pre-registered me for my courses.
The email from 2011 stated:
“When you pre-register for courses, Capella takes care of processing your registrations each quarter, so you don’t have to” (Capella University, 2011, personal communication).
Contrast this with my experience at Kent State University. At Kent State University, I was responsible for requesting my transcripts and paying for them. I got communications about the status of my application from offices, not from people. I had to reach out to get the status of my application materials. I actually had to request my transcript for my masters degree FROM Kent State University to send TO Kent State University (that happened). I also had to retake the GRE in order to get into the PhD program even though I already had taken the GRE to get into my masters program that I got a 4.0 in AT Kent State University. KSU also (unfortunately) lost 2 of my requested transcripts and one of my letters of recommendation, which I had to re-request.
Which customer service experience makes it easier for learners to enroll and commit to an institution?
As a working professional, I had confidence that Capella University was going to do everything possible to simplify the process for me. I had doubts about my ability to navigate the processes of Kent’s bureaucracy, which was clearly not built for the customer. To boot, Capella sent me a welcome packet with my first textbook and Capella University swag. That happened.
For me, making the choice to go the slower, painful route was an intentional one for my career. For many learners, having the degree from a more traditional institution is not worth the aggravation.
In a world where the time for inquiry to admit makes a difference in how many learners commit, which institution do you think has more learners as a result of their admissions processes?
Supporting Online Learners
How are learners supported once they are in an online learning experience? Providing “white glove” support would include things like navigating registering for classes, ordering textbooks, ensuring financial aid is processed appropriately, even ensuring that learners are acclimated to the learning environment.
Sometimes institutions have online orientations, or “trial classes”. For some online credentials that are not directly associated with credit, there can be a trial period before a fee kicks in for participating in courses.
Take a look at this video which is both intended for support and for marketing purposes. Notice how it focuses on supporting the learner. It also highlights the brand of Penn State as well as having specific video of staff supporting learners. Notice there’s also that focus on a learner explaining the advantages of the program as well as faculty and staff.
American Public University System highlights their advisor experience. Take a look at this video explaining the benefits of their model. Notice how the focus is on the learner, on the learner’s goals, and on holistic support. This advising model is organized in verticals, associated with the program areas. This is also a model that is adopted by Southern New Hampshire University.
They also “tell the story” of learner support. Note the story about one individual learner’s story, and the name of the advisor, the connection. There’s also an emphasis on learner retention. Notice the language around “warmth” – a component of nurturing that learner to keep them in their program. Also notice their focus on touchpoints and social media.
The customer service experience in online education widely varies depending upon the type of institution. Most of the examples provided here are specific to institutions that have successfully scaled online learning. As these programs are increasingly used as the demographics and needs of learners change, learning from best practices in marketing and support can help inform the development of effective strategies for enrollment growth.