By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Put up your hand if you enjoy making phone calls. I can’t see you but there’s a good chance that you didn’t raise your hand. I know this because every time I lead an admissions training workshop I ask that exact question of the 15-20 people in the room. If I’m lucky, one person raises their hand.
Let me tell you what I always tell the room. Phone calls are never, ever going away if you stay in college admissions. They will always be, as one counselor put it, “a necessary evil.”
Like them or not, I want you to understand that when done correctly (i.e. following the advice of your target audience), the majority of prospective students continue tell us in our surveys that a phone call feels extremely personal, can be quite helpful, and is an efficient use of their time. I cannot reiterate those points enough!
Plus, the new reality is that without in-person campus visits, both phone calls and video calls are essential for building personal relationships that ultimately help you yield more students. Voice (and voice with video) can lead to deeper relationships, and it can help alleviate fear of the unknown which has increased a lot over the past two weeks for students at all stages of the college search process.
While virtual events are great, they should not take the place of 1-1 phone calls and video calls. Your office should be doing a mix of both. Personalization is key always, and in all ways during the recruitment process.
So then why don’t they answer the phone, right? I’m about to help you with that problem, as well as give you some additional tips that will lead to effective phone calls and video calls.
- Schedule your calls ahead of time AND explain why you want to have a call. Most students don’t answer the phone because admissions counselors and student callers cold call at random times. Some of this will be unavoidable because of the size of territories, but particularly with your admitted students, set up you calls via a short text message or email. Along with that, explain why you want to talk to them on the phone or on video chat. Doing that helps alleviate fear. And to be clear, “just checking in” is not a good enough reason for scheduling a call. It’s need to be something more important, or something that’s valuable/helpful for the student (or parent).
- Have a goal in mind. A lot of times that goal will involve you getting an answer to the how, what, when, or why. (i.e. how are they feeling about making their decision; what will be the most important factor in their decision; when do they plan to make their decision; why haven’t they done something – applied, completed the FAFSA, etc.).
- Make them shorter and more informal. Students want you to be direct and forget about the fluff. In the words of one student, “Make them short and not so businessy.” 10 minutes is a good baseline if you’re trying to figure out when a call may be getting too long. Most of the time you can accomplish your goal in less than that. Most of us have short attention spans (6-9 seconds) so starting out strong will be important. Ask a relevant, easy to answer question to get them to engage and feel comfortable talking to you. Considering the current state of things, that could be something like, “How are you feeling about everything that’s going on right now – mad, sad, maybe a little scared or nervous?” In the words of one student, “Be human and be more casual rather than serious so that it comforts and relaxes the student.”
- Lead the conversation. Without having a defined goal and preparing talking points ahead of time, this become much harder. Never just wing it. Leading or guiding the conversation doesn’t include asking them, “What questions can I answer for you?” That’s too general. Most students don’t have a plan and don’t want to feel stupid or embarrassed by not knowing what to say. You need to be more intentional and specific about whatever it is you’re asking or wanting to talk with them about.
- Always make sure it’s a two-way conversation. As you’re sharing stories and talking about things related to your college or university, consistently engage the student and/or parents through eye contact (if you’re on a video call) and effective questioning. You should always be speaking with the other person, not at them. You lead the conversation, they engage. When they stop talking you lead again and they engage again until you’ve accomplished the goal of your phone call or video call.
- Be enthusiastic and authentic. We can all tell when someone is doing something because it’s their job, or they’re doing something because they want to help us. Along with that, your calls need to feel authentic and not scripted. Having aforementioned talking points or even a script is fine, but reading it line for line will make you sound robotic. Without that authenticity and enthusiasm, getting the student (or parent) to engage becomes a lot harder. Same thing goes for current or deposited students if your college or university is utilizing them right now. Just because it’s a peer doesn’t change anything. Humanize the process and be helpful.
- Your pace matters. Slow down, pronounce things clearly, and take pauses between thoughts or before you answer a question. It doesn’t have to sound perfect and rehearsed. It just needs to be authentic and helpful (not confusing).
- Clearly explain and confirm the next step. Every conversation should end with a next step – singular, not plural. I want you to clearly define it, and it’s also good practice to have the other person verbally confirm back that everything is clear and there are no questions.
If you get their voicemail remember the following. Your message should be 20-30 seconds max, not 1 minute and 54 seconds. Tell them it’s you, be authentic (not scripted), explain why you’re calling, and tell them how they can get back in contact with you. Then, right after the voicemail send them a very short text message alerting them to your voicemail.
While each one of those eight tips applies for video calls – Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc., here are a few other video specific tips I want you to remember.
- Video gives you face to face contact that can be powerful in this time of social distancing.
- A lot of teenagers haven’t heard of or have never used Zoom and other business apps. That doesn’t mean you can’t use one, but consider asking them if Instagram, WhatsApp, FaceTime, or even Skype would make them feel more comfortable.
- If you’re using a desktop computer, test your microphone before the video call.
- Position your computer or your phone properly (i.e. no weird angles or too far away). Aim for eye level.
- When you’re talking make sure you look at the camera on your laptop (or in my case on my MacBook Pro, the green light) versus just staring at the other person on your screen. Eye contact matters.
- And when you’re not talking on a video call you need to act like you’re truly engaged. Nod your head. Focus on the other person.
You don’t have to like phone calls or video calls, but if you’ll take all these tips and execute them consistently, I’m confident you’ll see a big ROI.
If you thought this article was helpful, I encourage you to forward it on to a colleague that you think might also benefit from it. And if it was forwarded on to you and it was helpful, I’d love to have you sign up for my weekly newsletter where it first appeared. You can do that right here at the top of this page.
One final thing – I talk a lot about leading the conversation and being intentional with the questions you ask. The same thing goes if you’re now leading a team doing remote work. Being intentional with your leadership is key. Each week should be a balance of formal and informal meetings. How are you making sure each team member is adjusting to this new normal and making progress? 1-1 meetings remain vital and should be used to check in and check on progress. Your group meetings, video chats, etc., should have a broader focus.