By Hattie Bernstein
What a difference six months makes.
In June, One Stop’s financial aid office began making changes at its call centers.
By November, Tim Lehmann, vice president of Enrolled Student Services, and his team of managers, team leaders and Enrolled Student Services associates were celebrating the results: more phone contacts, more callbacks and more completed applications.
“We took a deeper dive, assessing the skill set of each member of the team, identifying who was better at (what) and putting them on that,” Lehmann said.
At the call center, which was restructured from a shared service with the main campus to one dedicated solely to the College of Online and Continuing Education, a new task was worked into the daily routine: Associates were asked to write an update for each prospective student and provide notes to the admission office. “It was time-consuming but valuable,” Lehmann said.
Another innovation that yielded results was the call review — recording all calls to enable team leaders and managers to identify ways that associates might improve their customer service skills.
A new way to keep associates sharp and eager to keep learning was implemented as well. Instead of doing the same job day after day, teams were rotated weekly to fill various roles within the department, from researching and advising to providing information to other offices under the One Stop roof.
Lehmann said the changes were driven by numbers: a burgeoning COCE enrollment that led to an increase in his staff from 18 in June 2013 to 74 a year later and an 80 percent jump since last year in the number of calls handled from term to term.
But a few things aren’t easily quantified. Take people skills, for example, which Carol Suter, a One Stop manager who rose up through the ranks of team leaders, said she looks for when hiring Enrolled Student Services associates.
“It’s easier to teach financial aid to people than it is good customer service skills and how to relate to people,” she said. “They have to be able to translate a difficult subject to a real level that a student can understand.”
This skill set wasn’t lost on Yvonne Sing, an MBA student from New York who realized just before her second term that she’d filled out the wrong financial form. “The deadline for the term was looming, and the advisor was able to register me,” Sing said. “There was even a follow-up email asking me if everything was okay. And at the end, they went a step further, waiving a late fee even though it was my fault.”