Using terms such as “customer service” and “business-mindedness” in a school is sure to get a reaction. But those words reflect a changed reality in school admissions and everyone needs to shift their thinking.
Today’s customers (parents) are savvy and know a lot about us even before they walk through our doors. The millennial consumer conducts in-depth online research, relies on peer reviews, and is looking for evidence to back up marketing claims. So when we have the opportunity to engage with these families, there is no doubt our focus is on customer service. From their first inquiry to the school, via our website or a phone call, to a visit in our building, we must consider their impression of who we are. Every staff member contributes to the consumer experience. We pride ourselves on warm greetings from office staff and security, handshakes and a welcome from passing teachers in the hallway, enthusiastic students sharing their learning in classes. Over the past three years, our admission department has transformed the way we do business, with a clear emphasis on building relationships.
First, we think about cultivating relationships over time. We look for opportunities to engage with our community and to provide families with the chance to participate in what our school has to offer without the weight of a transaction. We see this as a taste test. The goal should be to create programming that allows young families to come into your school, see your teachers in action, and begin to understand your values and approach to teaching and learning.
These events provide the perfect backdrop to highlight current students by having them serve as student ambassadors. Student ambassadors greet families and escort them through the school to the event location. We take the time to coach our students on how to talk to guests: how to introduce themselves, what kinds of questions they might ask visitors, and a handoff line such as, “We’re so glad you joined us this morning and hope you enjoy the program our teachers have created for you.” There isn’t a prospective family who attends who won’t notice the confidence and presence of these ambassadors. It provides a clear picture of who their child might be if they choose your school.
The creation of formal parent ambassador teams is also a key ingredient to developing relationships and delivering quality service. Parent ambassadors at events can be used strategically to participate in the programs with their young children. Participants receive a tag that reads “Current Parent,” and once again, we work with these identified ambassadors on how to approach prospective families, what questions to ask and key pieces of information about our school to share. The goal is to create authentic interactions that focus on ambassador families’ true experience and love for the school.
Use the data to your advantage. Data collection before and after events provides valuable information about prospective families and allows for targeted marketing. Post-event follow-up focuses on personalized, service-minded delivery of how our school can be the answer to a given family’s needs and desires for its child(ren). We carefully track each prospective family’s connection to our school and craft an intentional plan to encourage further and deeper engagement through the formal admission process.
It may not be an easy journey to shift a school’s focus to prioritize service-mindedness; schools traditionally aren’t seen as places of business. But the proof is in the pudding. Relationships, cultivated over time and steeped in a sincere desire to understand your customer, offer an amazing opportunity to present your unique value proposition and will ultimately lead to greater enrollment. At our school, the implementation of these techniques raised entry-level applications by 25% in one year. There’s no doubt you will see your school’s retention increase as well. Despite what your Bubby has taught you, don’t be afraid to use these dirty words in your school’s admission approach.