by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
We all know that today’s prospective student has choices when it comes to higher education…thousands of them actually. So, if you know that students and families are your customers and they have a massive amount of colleges and universities to choose from, then you need to constantly be coming up with ways to get and keep their attention and ultimately exceed their expectations. If you don’t consistently do that, then you can’t consistently expect to increase enrollment. Translation: You need to deliver exceptional customer service.
Two weeks ago I was able to spend a couple of days with a good friend of mine. He and his brother entered the restaurant business about 18 months ago in a small town that my family used to live in. On the way to dinner I noticed that a popular, well-known national sports bar chain now resided in town. I had always maintained that if this particular restaurant came to that town, it would flourish. My friend proceeded to tell me that the exact opposite was happening. Despite the big name and national reputation, the customer service at that restaurant was very poor, and that was translating into a lot of hit and miss business.
So, I want you, the admissions counselor, to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself these questions: “Would I trust me?” “Would I come to me for help?” and ultimately, “Would I buy from me?” Those are tough questions that need to be asked and shouldn’t be answered without some serious thought.
If you’re in a management position (VP, Director, Assoc. Director) when was the last time you evaluated not only yourself and your enrollment team but also anyone else a typical student interacts with on your campus during the college search process. In this day and age where many complaints are aired on social media, all it takes is for one person in your campus community to come across as unpleasant, can’t be bothered, or heaven forbid down right rude and…well you know the rest.
Today I want to share with you 12 strategies that will help you and your team stand out and consistently meet the needs of all of your prospective students and their parents.
- Listen more than you talk, especially with younger students. We know counselors mean well when they try and talk about every ranking and positive statistic during that initial conversation with a prospective student. The problem is your recruits tell us it’s not helping. Instead, when you listen, your recruits and their parents will share all kinds of information about their wants and needs. You can then take that useful information and build a worthwhile relationship. Listening and giving your undivided attention are both chiefly important to your customer.
- Constantly look for ways to engage. Remember the teacher that read things word for word from the textbook? Boring, right? 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 young people to focus on something for more than a few seconds. How are you engaging them and creating that anticipation?
- Become the “go-to-person.” I use this phrase all the time during On-Campus Workshops. Whether you like it or not, a large part of your job is to be a problem solver. You must provide your recruits and their families with the information they want and need to make an informed decision. For example, right now many families are trying to navigate through financial aid. Do they understand how to complete the different kinds of financial aid paperwork? Do they understand that many schools prioritize who gets funding based on deadlines? 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.
- Provide your customers with a clear, concise message. Keep your recruits informed from start to finish and do so with simple messages that are easily and quickly understood.
- Always tell them what’s next. If you can, narrow it down to one thing. Make it straightforward. Your prospects and their parents both want and need to know how each part of the college search process works. By doing this, you will increase their comfort levels and minimize what can otherwise easily become a stressful time in their lives.
- Ask the parents of your recruit how they’re coping with the college search process. That type of question is one of the “15 Great Questions” we usually recommend to college coaches during our On-Campus Workshops. You need to understand how the process is affecting them and what obstacles it creates when it comes to considering your school.
- Make appointments. I’m still amazed by the number of schools whose counselors pick a bunch of names off their call sheet and then wonder why only one or two answer. Setting up a date and time to speak with your recruits takes the guesswork out of phone calls. It also helps you remain consistent. Be sure and have a system in place for tracking these calls because the worst thing you can do is either forget to call or mix up one recruit’s information with another (yes that still happens).
- Don’t just deliver, but over-deliver. How you ask? Start by being sincere when you communicate with them. Then, deliver more than what they’re expecting specifically during the campus visit. Focus more on why things matter to them during the tour and provide additional opportunities for personal interaction with your students. If you exceed their expectations in those areas, you’ll win almost every time.
- Gain agreement along the way. I often refer to these as “little yeses.” I want you to gain agreement that they like what they’re hearing about your institution and that they understand why it would be a “good fit” for them. Agreement along the way makes that next phone call and that next step much easier…especially when it comes time to “ask for the sale.” It will allow you to stay connected with your recruit during each part of your recruiting strategy. Plus, your recruit will actually appreciate your efforts to keep them in the loop along the way versus having to guess what’s going to happen next.
- Talk about deadlines far in advance. Reiterate when they need to submit specific paperwork, and explain to admitted students, for example, why sending in their deposits in a timely manner once they’ve been accepted is important. Deadlines help to keep everyone focused on the task at hand.
- Be where your customers are. Almost all of your prospects are using social media. If you’re not on it, they wonder why. Having an admissions page is great, but just like our customized recruiting com flow has the counselors’ names attached to each letter and email, I want you, if you’re a counselor, to have a personal page to use for engagement. Providing behind the scenes content via Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and other platforms is something your customers both want and appreciate.
- When a recruit 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 service will pay dividends when others around them inquire down the road about your institution and the overall experience that they received from you.
If you want a team of proven recruiting experts to help you improve your customer service, bring us to campus! Email me directly for more info: firstname.lastname@example.org