By Jeremy Tiers, Senior Director of Admissions Services
4 minute read
Love them or hate them, phone calls still need to be a part of your student recruitment communications strategy in 2022.
You might be wondering why, so let’s talk about it.
A lot of admissions counselors believe that phone calls are a waste of time, namely because oftentimes only one or two out of every ten students pick up the phone.
Good news, that problem is fixable, keep reading.
Let’s start with the data. Over the past two years Tudor Collegiate Strategies has executed dozens of surveys with large groups of high school seniors and new first-year college students. We’ve also partnered multiple times with Niche on national surveys, including our latest report that we released last week.
In all of those surveys we asked students about their communication preferences – how often they wanted colleges to contact them via email, letter, text, and phone call.
When we average out all the data, 32.1% of students were okay with a phone call once per month; another 28.3% were okay with a weekly call (crazy but true) and 39.7% did not want colleges to call them at any point during their search.
That means you can safely assume that just over 60% of the students you’re currently messaging are okay receiving a phone call from a college representative.
The easiest way to figure out who never wants a phone call is to ask them a direct question on your RFI (request for information) form, or via an email or text message once they demonstrate interest in your school. You could simply say, “<First of Preferred Name>, If I have something important I need to talk with you about, are you okay with us having a phone call?” Be sure and mark their preference accordingly in your CRM.
Students who are comfortable with phone calls continue to tell us in surveys that a call feels a lot more personal than any email or text message a college can send. Many believe a call takes more time and effort, which signals greater interest on the college’s part. Plus, students say that a friendly, helpful call can be an efficient use of their time instead of going back and forth via email or text.
Now, you might be saying, “Then why don’t most of them pick up the phone?” The answer is actually very clear cut. Just like you and me, 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 ID, when you “cold call”, students don’t know why you’re calling and that makes a lot of them very anxious.
When students receive unscheduled and unprompted phone calls from a college, they assume one of the following things will occur:
- You’re going to vomit information and “sell” how great your school is.
- You’re going to try and force them into visiting campus, filling out your application, or choosing their school.
- You’re just “checking in” and want to know if they have any questions, which puts them on the spot and is such an open-ended question that they don’t know how to respond.
- You’re going to give them bad news about their application or something else.
Bottom line – Phone calls are not for checking in and should only be used for important conversations, or to deliver some unexpected, positive news.
A good example would be setting up a call with newly admitted students and their parent(s) or family to talk about the financial aid process and their plan to pay for college.
Here are six additional tips that will improve your call answer rate, as well as the quality of your conversation during the call:
- Schedule your phone call ahead of time AND explain why you want to have a call. This can be done with a short email or a text message. The why is an important part, so make sure it’s crystal clear and the student or parent can easily see what’s in it for them.
- 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.
- Be prepared to lead (but not dominate) the conversation. Because of student’s anxiety, most will need you to guide them during phone calls. The key is to ask a direct question to get information back that then allows you to give additional relevant information that keeps a back and forth conversation going. It should always feel like you’re speaking with the other person, not at them.
- 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 us and/or help with something. 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.
- At the end, clearly explain and confirm the next step. Every conversation should end with a next step – one thing, not multiple things. Make sure you clearly define it, and it’s also good practice to have the other person verbally confirm back that they know what needs to happen next.
If you get their voicemail, your message should be 20 to 30 seconds max. Tell them who it is, explain why you’re calling, and tell them how they can get back in contact with you. Then, soon after the voicemail, send a very short text message alerting them to the missed call and your voicemail.
One final piece of information – If you utilize student callers throughout the year, everything I just outlined still applies. Prospective students tell us that random cold calls from current students who sound robotic and ask how they’re doing and what questions they can answer isn’t helpful or enjoyable.
Got a question about this article? Go ahead and reply back or email me here.
And if you found this article helpful, I encourage you to forward it to someone else on your campus who could also benefit from reading it.