by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Why is it that many of us don’t hesitate to sponsor or donate money to one of the neighborhood kids when they ring the doorbell with that Jump Rope for Heart form? What’s our primary reason for buying Girl Scout cookies other than the fact that they taste really good?
Conversely, why do we try and get off the phone as fast possible when a telemarketer calls?
It boils down to trust. The organization sponsoring the child from our neighborhood or those girls selling cookies has spent years building trust, and we have faith that our donation is going to a worthwhile cause. The reason we don’t trust the telemarketer that calls is because we don’t know him or her, and something just doesn’t feel right about a complete stranger calling us at home to sell us something.
The gut reaction we have to each of those scenarios has big implications for college admissions professionals.
Most of us don’t like interacting with people we don’t feel like we can trust. Prospective students and parents are no different. Establishing trust with them early on is an important element of the college search process that often times we see admissions undervalue. Without trust, how can the student believe that your school will deliver on those statements or assurances that get made during the recruiting cycle?
Lately I’ve been talking to a number of admissions directors who are reassessing how their institution interacts with prospects and parents. If you’re doing the same or plan to have discussions about your communications during an upcoming retreat, I encourage you to remember that the same factors you use to judge the trustworthiness of people and organizations are being used by this generation of prospects, and their parents, to judge your trustworthiness. Many of those prospects and parents tell us that early in the process they’re figuring out whether or not to have a serious interaction with your school based on whether they feel like they can trust you or not.
The decision to interact happens before your prospect actually listens to what you have to say. How you construct your letters, what you say in your emails, the layout of your website, and how you interact with them on social media will determine whether or not you get to communicate with that prospect.
I’ll bet you might be surprised at how many different types of interactions factor into whether or not a new prospect chooses to trust you enough to communicate with you or a member of your admissions team. Here are a few of the most important:
What your website and email templates look like: When they look at those properties, which studies say they do, what’s the brand image that comes to their mind? If you’re a smaller school, do you look like the bigger brand institutions? If you’re a well-known college or university, how are you separating yourself from your other big-name competitors? These are serious questions that you need to consistently ask.
Your first letter or email between you and your prospect: Does it look and sound like everybody else’s, because I can guarantee you that when you reach out and communicate with a prospective student for the first time the way your message is worded is going to determine whether or not they feel you’re worth interacting with. When you’re writing your message, does it sound like you would if you were talking face to face with your prospect? Or, does it sound so formal that your prospect is going to know it’s the typical, mass mail, semi-personalized message they’ve become used to seeing from your competition?
What they’ve heard about you: If your prospect has heard good things about your school from people he or she knows, the entire relationship changes. You automatically get the benefit of the doubt. That begs the question: What are you doing to make sure that your current students, as well as the students (and their parents) who chose another college instead of yours, experience superior customer service? Remember, you can actually control what they’re saying.
Their fear: As we talk about extensively in our On-Campus Workshop that we conduct for college admissions departments, your recruit’s fear is present throughout the recruiting experience. What are you doing to answer that fear? How are you doing that early on as well as late in the process? If you don’t think their fear matters, you’d be wrong, and I’d strongly encourage you to read my article in last week’s newsletter.
What you’re asking them to do early on: If you’re asking a prospect to reply to your email early in the recruiting process, there’s a decent chance that’s going to happen. On the contrary, counselors and schools who want to jump into an early conversation about a campus visit or filling out the application immediately might be going too fast, too soon. Urgency like that rarely leads to increased trust from your prospect. Be mindful of what you’re asking them to do and whether or not you’ve given then ample reasons as to why they should.
What they see about you social media: How well you post on Facebook, Instagram and the other social media platforms matters to this generation of prospects. In fact, it matters a lot! Your online presence is one of the most immediate impressions that gets formed by your recruit. And in most cases it helps to determine how much interaction they wish to have with you and whether or not they’re excited to learn more about your school.
You understand it’s about them: How are you proving that you understand the college search process is about their wants and needs and not why you think they’d be crazy not to pick your school? More importantly, how are you communicating that?
Your honesty: This generation of prospects and their parents are actively searching for people who prove they’re honest. It’s vital that you demonstrate that honesty and showcase it to them through your recruiting emails and letters. Don’t be the counselor who, in trying to build trust, over promises and under delivers. You need to repeatedly demonstrate that you are the counselor they can trust. That means from time to time it’s okay to admit when you’re wrong or your school isn’t better than a competitor in a particular area. The counselors who are trusted always end up with a decisive advantage.
How consistent you are in your recruitment efforts: How much did you communicate with this next class of prospects when they were juniors? Do you have consistent messaging for transfer students? These are important questions in the minds of your prospects. When we work with new clients and take their admissions team through a series of focus group questions to determine how best to help formulate their recruiting strategy, one of the most common themes that stands out as being vitally important to prospects is how consistent a counselor or school is in the way they communicate. If your school sends a couple of messages at the start, and then is hit-and-miss during the rest of the recruiting process, you’re probably going to get labeled as inconsistent. If this sounds like you, then make a change now because our research shows that’s going to hurt you when your prospect reaches their final decision.
Since you’re going to be judged by this generation of prospects, doesn’t it make sense to make sure you’re taking an intelligent, thorough approach to establishing trust?
Jeremy Tiers and the team of recruiting experts at Tudor Collegiate Strategies answer questions and work with admissions professionals of all levels every day. If you have a question, just email Jeremy at firstname.lastname@example.org