About a month ago my wife and I went car shopping. On a list of the top 10 things I enjoy doing most – purchasing a new vehicle ranks near, if not at the very bottom.
I doubt I’m alone and I’m sure some common experiences quickly come to mind. You’ve just made an offer and the sales person says “You know, I’ll have a lot more leverage if I go to my sales manager with a $100 deposit.” That’s one strategy I’ve encountered.
Another favorite is the sort of negative recruiting car sales people often do. They’ll walk around my trade in and find dings and dents that don’t exist. They’ll look at the tires and say they need replacing. They’ll say that model car has one of the highest depreciation rates of any vehicle out there. And lastly, they’ll criticize some other dealership offering the same vehicle.
Sadly, something that should be really exciting (the purchase of a brand new vehicle) often has a popularity somewhere slightly higher than a trip to the dentist, with all due respect to any dentists out there! Why is that the case? I suspect a lot of it goes back to the lack of customer service we find in many of our daily encounters, including interactions we have on some college campuses during the recruiting process.
The landscape of higher education is vast and recruits and their families have endless choices. Academic options abound and frequently align closely, separated only by a course here or a course there. Similarly you can find that same academic program at everything from major universities to small town campuses. The span of intercollegiate athletic opportunities is no less varied. If you follow comments coming from Tudor Collegiate Strategies you know we urge coaches to hone in on two critical questions recruits want YOU to answer:
- We should they choose you?
- What makes you different from everyone else?
I suggest that how you define customer service not only within your program but more broadly across your campus can answer those two questions. When I was an athletic director at a mid-sized Division III school I made it my personal mission to pick up any trash I’d see traveling from one building to the next. It was intentional and it was purposeful. I felt picking up trash demonstrated my conviction that looks matter and a clean campus looks good.
This one day I picked up some trash on my way to an open house we were hosting for around 20 football recruits and families. At the end of the day the father of one recruit approached me and said their son had just committed to our coach and the fact that they saw me picking up trash on my way to the session spoke volumes about the college and my expectations for our coaching staff. He said “When we saw the athletic director picking up trash around campus we knew it was a campus we could relate to and would be a good place for our son.” It was a small gesture on my part but clearly carried a large message.
The difficulty of creating that mindset across your entire campus is undeniable. Hopefully you are at an institution where financial aid personnel, admission office staff, and grounds/custodial workers all recognize the importance of customer service. Hopefully they realize that if there are no students there are no jobs and recruits and their families don’t just have choices – they have a ton of choices!
Even if you can’t undo long waits in the financial aid office or a grumpy custodian you can make positive strides within your program and the athletic department. When you have recruits/families on campus they love meeting not just your staff but others involved with the department. If you are going to have a key recruit on campus let everyone in the department know their name so they can say hello when you tour them through your facilities. Stop in a peer’s office and introduce the recruit to another coach or staff member. It’s a small thing with a large message that says this is a friendly place and we’re all on the same team.
I know not all offices are created equal. If you the have benefit of a nice office have drinks and snacks for the recruit and their family when they arrive. If your space is not great move the meet and greet to a better location with the same snacks.
Probably the most under-rated skill in all recruiting is the ability to be an engaged listener. When the parent or recruit are asking questions, re-phrase the question to demonstrate that you were listening AND understand. Just as important is your body language so lean in to the discussion and eliminate any potential distractions (phone, computer, outside noise, etc.).
These are just a few things under your control that promote customer service and help answer that critical question “why should I choose you?”
To close the loop on my car purchase, my wife and I wound up driving to a dealership 180 miles from our home to purchase a car because the sales person went above and beyond to assure we had a great buying experience. We literally drove past more than a dozen other Chevrolet dealerships because that one dealer made customer service their priority.
Greg Carroll is a former college Athletic Director, and now serves Tudor Collegiate Strategies as Northeast Regional Recruiting Coordinator, helping coaches and athletic departments with their recruiting strategies and communication. To contact Greg, email him at email@example.com