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Before my daughter departed for college she received a flyer from a company offering to have her belongings waiting in her room for $35 per box.  They even supplied the box.  Great deal I thought; saves me having to lug her stuff through the airport. I read through the information several times, just to make sure the process was clear.

So, her mother took her shopping to buy all of the necessities: bedding, hangers, laundry bag, desk lamp, and so on.  We brought it home and prepared to pack it all up for shipping.  My daughter went on-line and signed up for the service, paid the $70 for shipping two boxes and we thought we were all set.  One small problem – the company then informed her we would have to ship the items to their warehouse at our expense.  Quick, re-read all the promotional material.  No, nowhere did it say anything about having to arrange and pay to have the items shipped to them first.  We both felt like we had been taken, swindled, bamboozled.  So we called to cancel. Guess what? The only way the company could refund her money was after the scheduled delivery date, when the company could reconcile the fact we did not ship anything with them.  Things seemed to get shadier every minute, but after a call to the university we were assured they were a reputable company and the program was endorsed by the university so there was no need to worry.

The cost of shipping her stuff with any of the major carriers would cost $300, so we opted for the $60 in extra baggage fees, returned everything we could to the store so we could re-purchase the items near the university.

The big day arrived and Mother and Daughter flew from Connecticut to Chicago with 3 huge suitcases in tow.  I’ll spare you trauma associated with sending an 18 year old girl off to college – suffice to say they and all of the belongings arrived safely.  Move in was as smooth as could be expected at a major Big 10 school.

Sometimes as a consultant, you feel the need to help – even when someone doesn’t ask.  So, I decided to help the school better understand how the exclusion of information can create a negative experience for a new student and her family.  I dashed off an e-mail to the Executive Director of Residential Services saying something like “the flyer was misleading” and “Next year… I would humbly suggest the flyer provide a little more transparency in regard to the process and the costs involved. ”  Well, as you can image there was much more to the e-mail than this, but you get the idea.  Now I felt better having bestowed my infinite marketing and advertising wisdom upon the university.

Here is where the story takes a unforeseen turn.  Most times when unsolicited feedback is provided it usually marks the end of the story.  At the very least, one might receive an automated e-mail reply or some pre-written response.  I was thoroughly impressed when I received a voice mail from the Executive Director of Residential Services thanking me for taking the time to write, providing such insightful feedback, and for sharing our experience.  He was meeting with the company this week and was very glad to have the opportunity to improve how the program is introduced and communicated.  Keep in mind, he just moved in 19,000 students over a 4 day period and took the time to personally call and express his gratitude. He even apologized for not having called sooner.  (As it turns out, the service is designed to alleviate traffic congestion on moving day as much as it is designed to help incoming students.  Imagine dozens of package delivery trucks trying to maneuver among thousands of cars, students and helpers. Logistical nightmare.)

My faith is now restored in academic administration, and I feel completely comfortable my daughter made the right decision to attend Northwestern University. Do I really care if Mr. Riel ever discusses my suggestions?  Not really.  I took the time to voice my concerns and I believe I was heard and someone listened.  From my perspective, we all just want to know that what we think and do matters.  From Northwestern’s perspective they should know they embody a customer service mentality and approach that helps them stand out far and above other higher education institutions and most corporations.  One simple act, one short phone call, one timely response can solidify the image of an organization and help to build the brand.  We can all learn something from a university, and we don’t necessarily need to be in the classroom.  Thank you Northwestern and Paul Riel.

And, yes, my daughter did receive her refund.

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