Colleges and the Customer Service Algorithm

phoneYesterday’s Chronicle of Higher Education tells how big data’s influence is growing in the admissions office. Enrollment officers are learning what Amazon, Netflix, Zappos and countless others already know: there’s big opportunity in algorithms that capture and analyze clicks on a website.

Interestingly, however, the story leads with a young woman – presumably one of thousands – who bypasses college websites to find information about schools.

When Lara Wyatt began her college search last summer,

“She turned to Tumblr, where photos of Wagner College impressed her. She scrolled through Twitter and Instagram, seeking glimpses of campus life from ‘actual students,’ she says, not the ones who appear in videos produced by colleges. ‘They seem a bit fake, especially if they are smiling the whole time.”

Growing numbers of prospective students form their opinions about colleges outside official online channels. The trend unnerves enrollment managers because they can’t control the message, analyze the data or even identify who is out there considering their school.

One step enrollment officers can take is earnestly demanding that faculty and staff understand their daily impact on admissions.

A tweet about a campus police officer that relishes writing parking tickets can appear anytime. So can one about a cop who smiles, allows some extra time to pay the meter and wishes students good luck on exams.

Both tweets will make an impression. Only one will send a message the admissions office wants.

Big data offers big promise, but it can’t help surface “off the radar” prospects like Lara. Creating a campus environment that encourages more compliments and fewer complaints online can.

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