I was the 3rd President of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and when I first arrived on campus I heard that students were complaining about registration problems. So when the first registration period came up, I went and observed the process. It seemed quite smooth. I found out that students, in general, were handled within 10 minutes of their scheduled time and that the outlier worse case was 18 minutes.
I had felt the problem was licked. However, when I surveyed students informally, they mostly relayed to me that registration ‘sucked’ and they had to wait and wait. In fact, sometimes they had to wait almost 10 minutes. Furthermore, they had heard of a student who had to wait about 12 minutes.
Further investigation resulted in interesting dynamics. Turns out the registration system used to be extremely poor. Students would camp out with sleeping bags to get a good first-come, first-served class schedule. This system has recently been modified and with new rules and computer scheduling, students were assigned a time slot. And as shown above, we were pretty good at keeping on schedule, given the complexity of dealing with student requests.
Turns out the upper-classmen had told the students that registration was terrible and the freshman believed it. When they showed up and the wait was 10 minutes they were impatiently stomping their feet. Clearly, student expectations were not being met. We suffered from two problems.
We wanted to be perceived as having a student-friendly registration system, had changed so the reality was close to what we wanted, but the communication about it was poor. Naturally, the desired perception was not achieved.
Secondly, since we lost control of the communications and let word of mouth control the situation, student expectations weren’t being set. They came with a pre-conceived notion that registration was bad and classified whatever they observed as bad.
So we launched a multi-pronged attack to achieve the desired result. We worked with the student paper to talk about the new program, compare it to the old horror stories, and solicited examples of the old days and how great the current students have it.
Another key part of the program was to engage the students one at a time. As they registered they were each asked if they started their registration appointment within 10 minutes of their scheduled time. This was to teach them a standard. I heard that some registrar agents would give a cookie to those who said yes. I heard others hit one of those countertop bells to announce the success.
Using these steps in one quarter we reversed the perception and got the new reality acknowledged with an effective communication program that also worked to establish an appropriate expectation level for the service.