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We have a new writer/editor on board as of yesterday. Desperately needed, I might add. I’ve already passed her two tasks that I really needed an editor’s eye on, and she already caught a typo I missed (I did write it and hadn’t proofed it yet–nor had I put it up yet, but that’s beside the point).

I’d love to tell the story and link it, but it’s not ready for public viewing just yet. I’ll give some background instead.

In a cost-saving/environmentalist attempt to be more efficient, our office is going to stop sending a letter reminding students who apply that we’re missing information from them like standardized test scores and their high school transcript. Instead, we’ll be directing them to their online account with us, where they can view their regularly-updated status and see exactly what we’re missing at the time.

In the past, this letter and the transcript or scores often crossed in the mail, prompting anxious calls. At the same time, I expect we’ll get “I didn’t know I had to check that” calls from now on, even though we’ve made every effort to point them to the resource, and we know that most students are using it. Obsessively, even.

So there’s rewriting of current material to be done. We have to catch everywhere we might mention that letter.

Even though the process of halting this letter started almost last year at this time, it was only today that we made the decision to stop the letter entirely. Starting tomorrow.

So there was, of course, a bit of a scramble to make sure we’d killed it everywhere we needed to. Most of it was double-checking on things I’d changed six months ago and forgotten about for certain, but it was a scramble nonetheless. I checked the last place I needed to at about 5:10 this afternoon.

In the process, a few things were proven to me.

I had considered asking the new writer/editor to help me locate the letter references, but quickly dismissed that as folly. She would have no idea where to start other than a search engine.

If I hadn’t been in the office today, this might have been a problem. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I really do think that I’m the only one in the office that knows all the content on our site backwards and forwards. And given that memory isn’t always my strong suit (I digitize most of it to give me more processing room), that resource needs to reside somewhere else too.

Basically, I’d argue that for a large site containing lots of procedures, you need documentation for where things that may need to be changed reside. And it has to cross platforms.

We’ve yanked a lot of references in my time with Admissions:

  • SAT I became just SAT.
  • We used to recommend against the rush option for their scores–strangely enough, there was a time this came to us via paper, whereas the normal scores came electronically and were loaded faster.
  • We used to take scores as official if they were printed on a high school transcript. No longer.

And that’s just standardized test scores.

Now that I’ve been there long enough and I know all of our materials, I can name most of the spots all the above used to appear: which brochures (viewbook, fact brochure), presentations (prospect, out-of-state, SASD), letters (AU001–the missing information letter; a host of others not worth mentioning), pages on our site (news/html/newsat.htm, from our old site–and I’m sure you can recognize the archaic structure there), the application for admission, and a ton of standard email we send out as reminders.

It’s the pieces I don’t touch regularly that have gotten missed. I found an email from what used to be a separate team in the office that still has both the rush score and transcript mention that was sent out as recently as last January.  And, I suspect, more recently than that still, but have yet to have proof.

Our office is, unfortunately, a bit of a Kraken: multi-armed and sprawling. Such is the nature of a large office with independent functions, much less a large university or a multi-campus institution like ours. We can occasionally collect all our arms, but most of the time a tentacle does get loose. They’re squirmy little buggers.

And no, I’m not going to make the Cthulhu comparison some of you might be expecting.

But back to my point.

Not everyone in the organization is going to be an expert. You’ll always have new staff. Help with managing sites, processes, etc is always welcome. Documentation may be key to keep all your miscellaneous bits in line.

Everything is Miscellaneous, and it doesn’t always flock as neatly as Weinberger demonstrates. Learn to manage your organization’s information, both for the benefit of your own memory and sanity, and to help the new folks on your team.

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Prompted by an excellent post by Shelby Thayer, as well as a meeting today with IntelliResponse, our knowledge base provider, I’d like to dig into what you can find out from and how you can fine-tune a knowledge base.

I personally find it fun and entertaining to track our top ten over time and see how things shift. Yes, I’m a strange bird. I know this and embrace it. But watching “how do I apply” crawl up over inquiries for our academic calendar shows the shift in the year again: that shift in what students and parents are thinking about. Likewise, inquiries for campus tours.

And I was thrilled to see “is Penn State a multicampus system” actually gain enough traction to make it to one of our top tens (the one that people actually type in, rather than browsing the provided questions). Thrilled. Essentially, that means that the message that Penn State is not one place has gotten out there.

But I found, when I looked farther, that “2+2” goes unanswered if someone enters it. Likewise, “campus offer.” And these oversights (my own fault, mostly) are pretty egregious.

Now, those not familiar with the Penn State system might say “huh?” But both those questions should likely point to the “is Penn State a multicampus system” answer, or one like it.  (2+2 is what we call our system of two years at a smaller campus, followed by two years at a larger one to finish an undergraduate degree; campus offer is an offer of admission to one of our campuses.)

As much help as we’ve gotten from IntelliReponse (and we’ve gotten a ton: they’ve been great), you really need someone who knows the institution and office in question pretty much inside and out to evaluate your answers on a regular basis. I’ve found miscategorized questions, questions that don’t get answered, and quite a few that are really just garbage–often someone with a juvenile sense of humor trying to see what they can get the system to answer to pretty ridiculous questions.

The miscategorized and unanswered worry me the most. That said, we’re almost at a 90% response rate, and haven’t been up and running too terribly long, so I’m not losing sleep over it. Yet.

I’ve seen as many misspellings as I think might exist for “Schreyer” (referring to our Honors College), including “shriars,”  “shryer,” and “scyers” (virtually never capitalized, I might add), as well as referral to the aforementioned as “honros colelge.”  I also know the Penn State system is confusing, but I really wish we could get enough info out there that people wouldn’t be so bewildered as to ask “what college is the university campus on?”

I’m also sincerely hoping that “convicted of a felony” does not become a common question to turn up.

Examples aside, paying attention to these and getting them categorized appropriately not only helps your numbers, it helps your community, and that has real results when it comes to customer service. I’ve found that it’s not just prospective students and parents using our knowledge base: it’s also Penn State staff and faculty, some of them internal to admissions.

And people are using it all hours of the day, from all around the world. So rather than staying up until it’s business hours on our side of the world, a student from Thailand or China can get the answer they need right then. Likewise those that are in our time zone and don’t want to pick up the phone or write an email. Not to mention those right at any one of our Penn State campuses.

So in the end, to serve your customer, you have to find out what they want or need and try to deliver it to them in the way that’s easiest for them to use, not the easiest for you to manage, although the two often intersect. Keep in touch with your community and serve them well, and you’ll find the benefit is enormous.

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