By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
At some point this summer I’m sure you’ve experienced poor customer service. You know, the kind that frustrates you to no end, and you proceed to tell your family, friends and neighbors all about it.
Customer service, specifically that of your admissions staff, is a critical component to growing the enrollment on your campus. When everybody puts the wants and needs of prospective students and parents first, it’s noticeable, good things happen, and word spreads. The same thing is true about a bad experience. If you or one of your colleagues comes across as unpleasant, can’t be bothered, or is down right rude, many complaints these days get aired through one of the oh-so-public social media platforms.
All of this begs the question – Can superior treatment by a college’s admissions staff really influence a prospect’s final decision? I continue to argue absolutely, and here’s why.
Each time we begin work with a college, we conduct focus group research with their incoming or current freshmen. One of the survey questions we ask those freshmen is to rate the importance of 16 different factors in terms of how they influenced them to choose their college over the competition. Factors include affordability, location, the “feel” of campus, the history of the school, the perception of the college as a whole, and how the admissions staff treated them throughout the process.
Taking nearly three years of data into account, this generation of students continues to tell us that the treatment they receive from a college’s admissions staff is one of the top three factors in their final decision (consistently ranking ahead of things like affordability and location). In fact, it ranked #1 at a private university in Georgia and a private college in New Jersey that I worked with last week. And it’s also number one for a private college in South Dakota that I’ll be leading a workshop at the next two days.
So, when was the last time you evaluated your office’s customer service? I’m talking about anyone that a typical student or parent interacts with on your campus during the college search process.
Today I’m going to give you 9 strategies that will help you and your colleagues deliver exceptional customer service…the kind that results in a student quote like this one which came from a recent survey we conducted:
“My counselor was amazing in that she not only remembered my name, but she remembered other aspects from when we spoke over the phone. She continually kept in touch through email and she even wrote some hand written cards, which really meant a lot because it meant that she took the time to write it instead of say, an automatic email. She even kept in touch after I finished the application process and enrolled at (college name)! I think the little things like that really go a long way when kids are trying to pick a school.”
- Listen more than you talk. Being a good listener is one of the key principles I stress with our clients. Doing so is often the difference between developing a superior relationship with a prospect/family and being just another college on their list. When you do most of the talking, you make it nearly impossible to discover what’s really motivating your prospect to consider your college. You‘re also cheating yourself out of valuable information that you can discover from the comments a student or parent gives when they feel like you’re making the conversation about them.
- Talk about deadlines far in advance. Most prospective students don’t have a clear picture in their mind of how they’re going to get from A to Z in the college search process. Helping them build out a timeline benefits both them and you. Reiterate when they need to submit specific paperwork, and explain the differences between deadlines and timelines depending on the other colleges they’re considering. Deadlines help to keep everyone focused on the task at hand.
- Continually look for ways to engage. If you’re sending long, wordy mailings or always asking yes/no type questions in person and on the phone, are you really gaining their interest? It’s hard enough for this generation of students to respond to your communication because of fear, so what are you consistently doing to create an environment where they’re comfortable sharing their wants and needs?
- Become their “go-to-person.” I use this phrase all the time when I lead a staff-training workshop. The more you do for them, the more they’ll look at your school as the logical choice. As that “go-to person”, some of you will even find that prospects and parents will call you when they have questions about other schools they’re considering. Another tip on how to do this – When it comes to your recruiting communications, why not have all your emails and letters come from each individual admissions counselor? It’s the strategy we use with our clients and it’s yet another way to deliver exceptional customer service.
- Always tell them what’s next. There’s always a next step throughout the college search process. I think part of your job is to explain it clearly at each point along the way. And narrow it down to one thing, not two or three. By doing this, you’ll increase the comfort levels of your prospects and their parents and minimize what can otherwise easily become a stressful time in their lives.
- Ask the parents how they’re coping with the college search process. And do it long before you deliver their child’s financial aid award letter. You need to understand how this process is affecting them and what obstacles it creates when it comes to considering your school.
- Gain agreement along the way. I call them “little yeses.” I want you to gain agreement throughout the process that they like what they’re hearing about your college and that they understand why it would be a “good fit” for them. Agreement along the way makes that next phone call or communication and that next step much easier…especially when it comes time to “close.”
- Be where your customers are. Most of this generation thinks colleges have no idea how to effectively use social media during the student recruitment process. It’s one of their biggest complaints on our surveys. In addition to being on the platforms that your prospects use the most, what kind of content are you generating, and is it “real and raw?” That’s what this next class wants. Developing a social media strategy that provides content that’s native to each platform and gives them a “behind the scenes” look at daily life on your campus will results in a massive ROI.
- If your prospect chooses another school. Sometimes no matter how great your customer service is your prospect will choose to go elsewhere. The reasons rarely make sense, but that’s the reality. When this happens, send them a personal note wishing them well. Tell them you’re even excited for them. That kind of customer service will pay dividends down the road when others around them inquire about your college and the overall experience that they received from you.
If you want to talk about any of these 9 points in greater detail and you’re going to be in Boston next week for NACAC, stop by Booth 311 and we’ll have a conversation. Or you can always email me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org