By Jeremy Tiers, Senior Director of Admissions Services
4 minute read
Here’s something that probably won’t surprise you. Most admissions counselors don’t enjoy making phone calls to prospective students.
The most common reason? They’re time consuming and oftentimes nobody picks up their phone, which then feels like a lot of wasted time.
Love them or hate them, I would argue that phone calls definitely need to be a part of your student recruitment communications strategy in 2021. Let me explain why, then I’ll provide you with a handful of tips that will result in more effective calls in the coming weeks and months.
Let’s start with the latest data (both quantitative and qualitative). In our ongoing survey research, we ask students, “In terms of communication, tell us how often throughout your college search process you wanted colleges to contact you in each of the forms below.” Those forms are by phone, mail, email, text and on social media. And the options to choose are once a day, once a week, multiple times per week, once per month, and never.
We’ve heard from almost 9,300 students over the past year with 33.4% saying they never wanted a phone call. That means two-thirds of the students you’re trying to convert are okay with them.
The easiest way to figure out who never wants a phone call is to ask them a direct question as early as possible once they demonstrate interest in your school. You could simply say, “If I have something important I need to talk with you about <First Name>, are you okay with us having a quick phone call?” Be sure and mark their preference accordingly in your CRM.
Now, you might be saying, “Then why don’t they pick up the phone?” The answer is clear cut. Students tell us they don’t answer calls from phone numbers they don’t recognize. And even if they do have your number saved in their phone, or see your school’s name on their caller i.d., when you “cold call”, they don’t know what you want to talk with them about, and that makes them very anxious. Right or wrong, most assume it will either be bad news, you’re going to put them on the spot which makes them feel unprepared, or you’re going to “sell” your school and push them to take an action they may or may not be ready to do.
Bottom line – Phone calls should only be used for important conversations, not for “checking in” or just calling to say congratulations. It needs to be something more concrete like talking about their plan to pay for college, their financial aid package, or following up a day or two after their campus visit so you can answer any questions that have come up as well as discuss their next step in the process.
Now let’s talk about solutions. Here are seven things that you (as well as your student callers) can do to improve your phone calls:
- Schedule your calls ahead of time AND explain why you want to have a call. This can be done with a short email or text message. The why is an important part, so make sure it’s crystal clear.
- 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 planning to pay for college; what will be the most important factor in their decision; when do they plan to make their decision; why haven’t they done something).
- Calls should be short and very casual. The majority of your calls can be completed in 10 minutes or less if you’re direct and get right to the point…which by the way is what most students prefer. Your tone should be casual and empathetic, not robotic and intimidating.
- Lead the conversation. Because of their anxiety, most students need you to guide them during phone calls while being empathetic. The key is to ask a direct question to get information that then allows you to give additional information that feels personal and keeps a back and forth conversation going. 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 call.
- Be enthusiastic, authentic, and confident. We can all tell when someone is doing something because it’s their job or because they truly want to understand/help. Without authenticity and enthusiasm, getting the student (or parent) to engage becomes a lot harder. Same thing goes for your confidence. If you sound unsure of yourself or timid, your chances of having a successful call decrease significantly.
- 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. Again, it just needs to be authentic and helpful.
- 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, your message should be 20-30 seconds max. Tell them it’s you, explain why you’re calling, and tell them how they can get back in contact with you. Then, right after the voicemail, send a very short text message alerting them to it.
Follow the steps I’ve outlined and your call answer rate will improve, plus there’s a good chance that you will strengthen your recruiting relationship.
Students also continue to tell us that a phone call feels very personal, can be quite helpful, and is an efficient use of their time. I cannot reiterate those points enough!
If you’ve got questions about this article, just hit reply or connect with me here.
And if you found it helpful, forward it to someone else in your campus community who could also benefit from reading it.