Carl Gratiot: From Bravery Media, this is Appendix B. On this week’s episode, part two of our discussion on summer melt, reducing friction. And now here are your hosts, Kristin Van Dorn and Joel Goodman.
Kristin: So last week we talked about summer melt. Joel, what do you think? Do you have more to say on it?
Joel: I always have more to say on it. I think we wanted to spend a couple more episodes talking about this mostly because you know, there are a lot of practical ways that we can address melt from, especially from a user experience kind of perspective or service design perspective. And today I thought we could kind of talk about the friction part of this because I think when you look at how accepted students websites services are kind of built in most institutions, I say most because this is you know, we’ve got what like over, are we at nearly 4,000 institutions in the US alone?
Kristin: Title 4 eligible yeah.
Joel: Right, so there’s so many institutions. So there are people that are doing it well. There are institutions that are doing and handling this yield management really well in Higher Ed, but they’re not the majority. Like the majority of the majority of institutions are trying their best and then wondering what happened and then trying to figure out how to fix some of these things. And I think the if we’re taking like a low-hanging fruit kind of perspective, friction is at least in my mind one of those things that is not always easy to get rid of, but can be really apparent.
And so how do you go about looking at where those friction points are?
I want to get some of your thoughts, Kristin, because you’ve got such a strong UX background. But I’ll start off by saying, I think the first thing to do is look at the entire journey that a prospective or a newly accepted student takes to go from that point where they’ve gotten their acceptance letter or email or whatever. and getting them to deposit and then getting them to do all of the onboarding activities that they need to do in order to actually get to campus or, you know, if they’re online, get to the online orientation and be able to become that full-fledged student.
And there are a lot of different touch points within that process. And the number one question that I have for most, for any institution that hires Bravery Media or decides to engage Bravery Media on working with one of these accepted students processes, also secret goes into like general website practice. But the number one question is, how hard is it for people to take the actions that you want them to take?
Because anytime you put up a barrier to someone taking that action, whether it’s going in and paying you that deposit or going and taking those placement exams or filling out their immunization records or registering for housing or finding a roommate, you know, all those different, those different little things in there. Anytime you make that more difficult than it should be, you’re increasing the potential for that person to melt away and go to one of the schools, one of your competitors that actually accepted them to a program there.
Kristin: Yeah, so I think one way to look at melt and how easy it is to muddle through all of the expected processes that someone has to do to officially be quote unquote onboarded is you have to look at how much control you’re giving them over that process.
So giving them control means giving them all the information that they need up front before they even start a process, because you don’t want them to get midway through, and realize that they’ve forgotten some key element or not brought it with them or they need to request it from someone it’s gonna take about two weeks to get it, right? You want that information to be upfront so that they have the list of what they need to do before they start.
You also want to give them the overall picture, like how long is this going to take? Where do you start? What kinds of processes are going to be along the way? And I think that you really want to give them a chance to go at their own pace. I think sometimes schools will break it up over the summer and say, now it’s time for you to do this. Now it’s time for you to do this. But… if someone doesn’t have the bandwidth to divide these things up between multiple sessions, how easy are you making it for them to consolidate and get it done all at once?
Joel: Right. Yeah, I think part of that that’s difficult is, so we’ll break this down a little bit. So giving people a general kind of general view of what the time commitment is going to be for a specific task I think is really important. And then on the flip side, you should be asking yourself, is this taking too long? And can we reduce the issues of that process? I think we mentioned this in the last conversation we had, but you know, there are all these disparate software platforms and tools and services that institutions put together. There’s something, you know, there’s like StarRez for housing, and there’s, you know, something different for taking your placement tests, and there’s something different for submitting your immunization forms, and you know, all this kind of stuff, and all of those interfaces come with an inherent learning curve because you’re dumping them out of whatever, hopefully more branded experience you’ve created something that is completely different, completely new, definitely not designed with a good user experience in mind.
And so like that time commitment can vary a lot and you’re not doing yourself any favors if you’re putting it, making the process long and convoluted or putting it into tools that are not user friendly and are built for enterprise class, you know, whatever type of services.
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Joel: So the second part that you mentioned was this idea of not breaking things up over the summer. And a lot of times this is also a systemic internal process issue, right? It’s, well, the student affairs or student life isn’t ready to open up housing reservations and stuff until August or until whatever. And I get like you have to work within that. But again, it goes back to what we talked about in the last conversation, this disparity between the experience that marketing is selling on the front end and then what the experience internally is. It’s one of those things that’s always bugged me since I was even a student was, cool, we’ll wine and dine and like tell you, I mean, hopefully you’re not giving perspective students wine, but you know, like…
Joel: We’ll make you, you know, we’ll really sell you on this great experience about the institution, but if the internal processes are awful when they hit, and this starts as soon as they’re accepted and start working through things, if you have to, this doesn’t happen as much anymore, but when I was in college, we had to walk across campus to go and hand a paper sheet to register for classes. When we had the tools online to do it, but it wasn’t set up, when you put those friction points in place, not only on the front end does that affect the level of melt that you’re going to see, but it affects the level of student attrition when they’ve been there for a while.
So if you’re looking at retention issues and you’re wanting to retain students, one of the, it’s not easy, but one of the more straightforward ways to fix that is make sure that the service design for tasks that need to get done, the everyday kind of whatever sort of stuff for students, make sure that service design is impeccable, is like, is focused on them has great user experience with low friction because the higher that friction level, the more discomfort, the more frustration and the more likelihood to leave you’re going to see in your students.
Kristin: Yeah, and I think another big elephant in the room that we’re not addressing yet is the financial aid process for students.
And this could be a whole series of episodes on its own, but as we’ve gotten better about providing students an estimate of what they can expect from their aid, and then we send them out information about a packet over the summer, we have to be prepared for students to be overwhelmed by making them… a big financial decision and then give them the tools to work through it and feel confident about the decision they’re making.
And one way that we can do that is by providing a lot of help, a lot of service, and a lot of simplification. Right now we’re relying a lot on companies like Oracle, PeopleSoft to dictate the user experience of that financial aid portal. And that system comes with a lot of code that can be pretty difficult to change or develop other than to just tirelessly, you know, beg for PeopleSoft to make a difference or make a make a change. But each of those processes that become more and more opaque to a new student will contribute to your losing your applicant pool by the end of summer.
Joel: So yeah, 100%. And I think… The moral of this entire story is that the processes that we have in place and have used for the last 10, 15, 20 years are the things that are the most ripe for us going through and reconsidering and redesigning. It’s that process from the point where you’re accepted to the point where you’re on campus. And then from the point that you’re on campus until the point that you graduate, the processes, the day-to-day and, you know, quarter to quarter and semester to semester and year to year sorts of administrata that students have to deal with. are the things that stick in their head as making your institution feel old if they’re out of date, feel tired if they’re out of date, feel not particularly modern if they’re out of date, and fixing those things with the student in mind versus the software application or IT’s contract or whatever it is, is super, super important and can make a huge, huge difference in retention and in yield.
Kristin: Yeah, I mean think about it this way. If you were to walk into a tech store and they were selling walls of VCRs…
Joel: I’d buy one personally.
Kristin: Me too, and you got a bunch of possibilities of getting different tapes, but it just felt out of sync with your expectations for that store, then would you trust them when you had a question that you couldn’t answer yourself, was hard to research, but they have an expert on staff that could advise you? Do you trust that expert? Maybe not, because something else about the experience is throwing you off. And that’s what happens when you’ve marketed your institution one way, and then they have an experience that feels out of sync with that marketing. This experience that it’s really difficult to wade through all of these different processes just to get registered, just to get officially enrolled, just to get money in the right place so that I can start my classes. If those experiences are rough on the student or confusing or discombobulating, they’re not going to trust you when you need to advise them on other things that are meant for their future wellbeing.
Carl Gratiot: Thank you so much for listening to Appendix B. If you enjoy the show at all, please let us know by talking to us on social, or leave a review on Apple Podcasts, or Spotify, and if you want more from Bravery, please check out our Higher Ed Hot Takes newsletter at bravery.co/newsletter. Thank you so much, and we will talk to you next week.