Coastal Carolina University has created a new service that aims to improve student retention by making navigating the university faster, friendlier and easier for students, as well as for staff members and visitors.
The CHANT411 service is part of the “Feel the Teal” initiative, started last year by CCU President David DeCenzo, who wanted to establish a campus-wide culture of service excellence to provide a better experience for all involved with the university, said April Sager, CHANT411 program coordinator.
“Sometimes we get so caught up in rules and regulations that getting information can be a problem,” Sager said. “We’re getting back to the business of good, old-fashioned customer service and taking it to the next level.”
Students staff the new service from an office in the Lib Jackson Student Center and can be reached by phone, email, text or live chat, and also are available on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Staff members can be identified by their teal scarves and bow ties, and they are on duty around campus and at all home football games, sometimes riding adult trikes, handing out goodies, such as water bottles when it’s hot and rain ponchos for coping with sudden coastal showers.
CHANT411 rolled out in June to help all incoming, first-year students and families at orientation, and is gaining recognition on campus, Sager said, but it eventually will move beyond campus borders. The service reached its 1,000th Twitter follower on Wednesday, and to date has logged more than 2,000 questions.
“I am exceptionally thrilled with how well it’s going – it has exceeded my expectations,” said DeCenzo, who said inspiration for the service came from an elaborate concierge system he saw firsthand at High Point University, a private institution in North Carolina. “We have done some things that are different and adapted the service to who we are as a public institution, and we are getting our community on campus involved in how we tailor it to work for us.”
DeCenzo cited national data that says 85 percent of students leave an institution because of a lack of customer service, saying it makes sense that students leave when they aren’t happy with how they are treated. CHANT411 provides a one-stop shop where anyone can get the information they need, but it also provides follow-up on how well issues are resolved, a piece that in the past has been missing, he said. Staff members also are an important part of CCU’s service initiative and are expected to follow through when presented with a problem, whether it stems from their department or not, he said.
The CHANT411 staff is comprised of exceptional students who truly want to make a difference, Sager said, and they are charged with putting school first, going above and beyond, and having fun. More than 100 students applied each time applications have been taken, she said, but it’s not the typical student job, and staff members represent the university at all times.
“We’re never really off duty,” said senior Scott Karchner, “but we’re like a little family.”
Sophomore Alesha Pressley is an example of a nontraditional student – a mom and transfer student – whom Sager said gives the team a different perspective on student needs. Pressley said what is easy for one person is confusing for another, depending on their situation, and she has to remember to take a step back and focus on how the service can provide help on an individual basis.
Part of the team’s job is to be proactive and improve things before they can become frustrations, Sager said, such as identifying broken links on the CCU website and spotting missing or inconsistent information. They were able to rework the campus map when a student pointed out that building abbreviations on the map didn’t align with those on class schedules, and shuttle service was added to University Place housing after a summer student wondered why they were without transportation.
Family members also are discovering CHANT411, and one who was en route from out of state made a call for help when a required form failed to transmit through a campus fax machine, Sager said. A staff member finally was able to receive the form and hand-deliver it to the proper office.
“That’s what we’re here for, although not everything is an instant fix,” Sager said.
The service has fielded more than a few odd queries, such as “How many blades of grass are on Prince Lawn?” and “Why do we keep going for these two-point conversions?” (during a football game), but senior Britney Stewart fielded one of the strangest requests.
“A live chat with someone who needed toilet paper,” Stewart said, and they found a way to meet the need.
CHANT411 is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, before the university opens and after it closes, and for four hours Saturday and Sunday, said Sager, who said she fully expects to expand the hours as they address the growing pains of a growing university. Students like senior Ryan Klinges, who works at the university’s HTC Student Recreation and Convocation Center, said it already has become an invaluable resource.
“I work behind the desk, and I call them for information, especially when we have prospective students,” Klinges said. “We ask a lot of general stuff – everyone at work uses it.”
Word is getting out about the service on campus, and it already has piqued interest at other institutions, said Sager, who said she has been contacted by officials from Emory University and the University of North Carolina, who are interested in setting up a similar model.
“This is something that absolutely will pop up at other universities,” Sager said, “and it’s exciting to be part of the retention solution and a leader with this.”