Offline Communicating - It Really Is That Important

Francis M. Ryan


on December 3, 2012

Offline Communicating - It Really Is That Important

“If we can just get people to campus, we can interest them and yield them.”

This is a comment I hear frequently from good colleagues in admission. Of course, there are many variables that occur in this equation, beginning with if you can get them to campus. Admission offices tend to create processes that work best for the school, rather than what works best for the potential customers. It usually begins with a visit to a website and a subsequent phone call.

Having a human being, a real live human being, answering the phone at all times, even after hours, especially for our global customers, is essential. Many admission offices use automated systems for phone answering, and customers potentially spending tens of thousands of dollars (on tuition alone) for your service need a human being on the other end of the line. It really is that important to them. Many offices refer callers back to the website to fill out an inquiry, even if a staff member answers the initial phone call from a prospect. This is an example of a process that is designed for the organization, not the customer. I assure you that if a parent has phoned the office to begin with, that is their preferred method of making the inquiry and / or interview appointment. Online interview scheduling is a bad idea for the prospective customer for many reasons. Again, it is a process built for the organization, not the potential customer. You would be surprised at just how many potential families are lost just because they haven’t made a human contact on initial reasonable attempts. Having a human answering the phone at all possible times allows your school and your staff to begin a relationship with a prospective family. It really is that important.

Another practice that is often relegated to a junior, energetic, organized admission officer is the development of a school’s tour guide program. Ongoing customer research that Aimee Gruber, Senior Director of Outreach & Business Development at SSATB, and I are conducting suggests that over 8 in 10 students find the tour guide to be ‘somewhat’ to ‘very’ influential in a student’s decision to apply to a school. That is a significant number. Further, close to 20% of students in the last two years’ applicant pools have decided NOT to apply to a school due to a negative experience with a tour guide. Can you live with losing 1 out of 5 prospective families that visit and tour your campus? If your tour guide program is a function of a work/ job program or simply a function of academic scheduling, the admission staff must be active in training the tour guides. Obviously, many things are beyond our control and things do not always go well, but if at all possible, assign the tour guide program to a more seasoned admission officer who can best train and seek a match to provide as much of a customized admission visit for families as possible. Ask newly-enrolled students about their experiences with their tour guides. Get specific information and aggregate effective common talking points, mannerisms, and attitudes that were interpreted positively. Use mobile technology to anonymously survey families about their visits. You can gain real-time information about tour guide conversion. It is important that this aspect of the school visit goes well. It really is that important to your prospective families, rather than an onerous task to be done as part of paying early career dues.

With sophisticated Customer Relationship Management tools becoming more prevalent on the scene, you must consider how you will choose to communicate with prospective students. Surveyed students clearly and overwhelmingly indicated that their preferred method of communication with a school is through email. This is counter-intuitive and contrary to the advice, social media tools and products, and strategies offered by vendors at conferences and meetings. Social media networks, according to survey data (and this is a sophisticated sample of prospects!) are not places at which prospective students research or become interested in your schools. Don’t have your staff or coaches "text" students either. Students do not value this communication. It is ineffective - and simply, creepy.

Think about how you manage your own virtual and real-life experience. Think about how you access customer service by telephone. Think about how you search for information online. Then, use first hand information, empirical data, and student point of view to develop how you manage your potential customers. Don’t rely on opinion, anecdote, and rumor. It really is that important to your office practices. Maximize opportunities concerning how you ‘get people to campus,’ interest them, and in the springtime, "‘yield them."

Resources:

What Kids Think! An article from the Fall 2012 Memberanda

Rethinking Admission Technology An article from the Fall 2012 Memberanda

Inquiry to Enrollment Correspondence An ALC/SSATB webinar by Tom Sheppard

The Communication Expectations of College-Bound High School Students An E-Expectations Trend Report

The Sweet and Subtle Science of Wooing the Admitted An article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/25/10

The Personal Touch at Seton Hall University An online article about Seton Hall's practices