By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Last week my doorbell rang and standing on my porch was a young salesman who immediately told me that I had some cobwebs around the outside of my house, and that likely meant I had spiders or other bugs inside.
Despite me assuring him that everything was fine, he launched into, “Well your neighbors so and so and so and so from down the street are having us help them and I can give you a great deal, and…” It was like I was listening to an infomercial. And on top of that, I know most of my neighbors pretty well and the names he mentioned definitely don’t live on my street.
My gut reaction was not to trust this young man. And most of us don’t like interacting with people we don’t feel like we can trust.
Lately I’ve been talking to a number of admissions leaders who are reassessing how their staff interacts and communicates with prospective students and parents. If you’re doing the same, or plan to have discussions during an upcoming staff 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 students, and their parents, to judge your trustworthiness.
Many of those students 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.
Here are some things I encourage you to think about as you and your colleagues communicate and interact with this next class:
- What they’ve heard about you matters. If they’ve heard good things about your school from people they know, you automatically get the benefit of the doubt. Let me ask you, what are you doing to make sure that your current students, alumni, high school counselors, the local communities around your school, as well as the students who chose another college instead of yours all have positive things to say about your school’s customer service?
- Those early marketing pieces and emails. Do they look and sound like every other school? Because I can guarantee you that when you reach out and communicate with a prospective student early on, the amount of text and pictures you use, the language and phrases, along with whose name is or isn’t on that email are all going to determine whether or not they feel you’re worth interacting with. Personalization is the number one thing in our ongoing survey research that prospective students tell us they want when a college communicates with them. Give it to them, and it will be much easier to gain their trust.
- What they see online. What they read when they Google your school or go to YouTube and Instagram and type it in matters…a lot! Your online presence is one of the most immediate impressions that gets formed by a prospective student.
- The first impression at that campus visit, college fair, or high school visit. Do you ask them what major they’re interested in and then dive right into all the reasons why they should pick your school? Or do you understand that this process is all about them, and instead through a series of questions, try and figure out where they’re at, what they’re struggling with, and what advice or solutions you can offer. The same thing goes for your tour guides and anyone else involved in these visits and events.
- What you’re asking them to do early on. If you or one of your school’s marketing materials immediately pushes a new inquiry to visit campus or apply before they feel they’re ready, you’re making it harder to gain their attention and trust. Instead, consider asking them an easy to answer question about their process or timeline as your call to action in those early emails. Do that, and there’s a better than average chance that they’ll reply back. Forced urgency rarely leads to increased trust. Be mindful of what you’re asking them to do and whether or not you’ve defined the why for them.
- It’s important to be a good listener. The quickest way to destroy trust is to dominate the conversation. When you do most of the talking, you make it impossible to discover what’s really motivating a student to consider your school. There’s a big difference between leading the conversation (which is what I want you to do) and dominating it.
- Their fear. If you read this newsletter on a regular basis, or you’ve heard me speak at a conference over the past 18 months, you know that fear is controlling just about every decision that students make during their college search. Because of that fact, I want you to ask them about it early on as well as down the stretch. When you do, it vastly increases their comfort level and trust in you.
- Your honesty. This generation of students and their parents are actively searching to see which colleges will be completely honest and transparent with them from the beginning. Don’t, in trying to build trust, over promise and under deliver. That also means it’s okay to talk about your negatives and things your school doesn’t excel at. The counselors who do always end up with a decisive advantage.
- Your consistency. How much did you communicate with this next class of students when they were juniors? One of the most common themes that stand out as being vitally important to prospects is how consistent a counselor or school is in the way they communicate. If you send a couple of messages at the start and then are hit-and-miss during the rest of the recruiting process, you’re probably going to get labeled as inconsistent. Same thing if you wait until they apply before inserting them into your communication stream. Our research shows that a consistent message in the same tone from the same person matters when it comes time to set up a visit, apply, or make a final decision.
If you want to talk more about today’s article, we can do that. Email me any time.