by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
I get emails about it. It comes up during conversations with clients. And somebody, usually more than one person, asks me for my thoughts about it when I speak at a conference or lead one of our admissions training workshops.
The “it” I’m talking about is phone calls.
You and I both know that this generation of students loves to use text messaging and social media. It’s also no secret that just about every admissions counselor in the nation hates making phone calls to prospective students. Because of these two facts the assumption seems to be that the value of phone calls has drastically decreased, and the value of text messaging and using social media has vastly increased when it comes to admissions communicating with a prospect during their search (specifically in the early and middle stages).
Today, I’m going to tell you whether or not phone calls are still worthwhile including giving you some interesting quotes and survey numbers straight from students themselves.
Prior to each admissions workshop I lead, we have the college or university send out an in-depth focus group recruiting survey to their incoming or current freshmen. We research a number of different aspects of their recruiting experience including how they wanted to be communicated with and what they think about phone calls from admissions.
One of the survey questions we ask is, “In terms of communication, tell us how often during the 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 for each are once a day, once a week, 2-4 times per week, once per month, and never. The last option of “never” was newly added this spring.
Since adding “never” as an option we’ve conducted four surveys with four different colleges located in either the Midwest or East Coast. All happen to be private schools. Two of the surveys are complete, and two remain active and will be completed in the next few weeks.
Although it’s a small focus group size to this point, the results might surprise you. More incoming freshmen (Class of 2017) told us they “never” wanted to be contacted during the college search process by text and social media than did the number who “never” wanted to receive a phone call. The exact averages so far look like this:
- 43.27% never wanted colleges to contact them on social media
- 33.09% never wanted colleges to contact them by text
- 29.81% never wanted colleges to contact them by phone
Another survey questions is, “Were phone calls from admissions counselors helpful during your college search?”
Here are some direct quotes in response to that question from those same students:
“They were really helpful. Every time I called the admissions office always gave me the information I needed and additional information they thought would help me.”
“I liked receiving calls from admission Counselors because it felt like they really cared for my opinions on the school and it was nice talking to them if I had any questions.”
“When you talk on the phone the conversation can take 5-10 minutes and everything is clearly layed out. Texting everything gets confused and it takes forever to have an actual conversation.”
“They were helpful, because they showed me that (School name) actively wants to help make my transition into college easier.”
“It showed me that the admissions counselors actually cared about me and were not people behind a screen and that they truly wanted me to go to (School name). Though the phone calls did catch me off guard because I did not know a phone call from the admissions counselor was something I could expect.”
“The phone calls were great and enormously helpful in preparing me for the admissions process.”
I would also add that very few students have indicated in these surveys as well as previous ones we’ve conducted over the past year, that they didn’t want to receive phone calls, or that they wanted more texting and less phone calls.
Taking all of this into account, I would argue that phone calls to prospects and parents still need to be a core piece of your recruiting communications plan. When done correctly, they will strengthen your recruiting relationship.
So, assuming you’re in agreement with me, let’s talk for a minute about how you can get the most out of those phone calls:
- Keep your phone calls to 10 minutes or less. Once you hit that mark when talking to a prospect, you’ve crossed a line in terms of the effectiveness of connecting with him or her…unless the student or parent is the one controlling the conversation and asking questions. The source of that information is thousands of survey responses Dan (Tudor) and I have collected from students around the nation. Students have told us that in many cases they get bored with recruiting calls that go past that mark. They’ve even told us that they will put their phones on speaker so they can do other things while you’re talking. Their biggest complaints centered around long recruiting calls taking them away from studying, delaying their ability to respond to text messages from friends, and being too “sales” driven and pressuring.
- Make sure you’ve been following the flow. As I’ve explained before, the natural communication flow for your prospects begins with letters and emails. Both are easy to take in and low risk in the mind of your prospect. One student’s survey response summed things up perfectly. “Being called on the phone is good after having an email or letter because it gives the student time to do their own research on the school before talking to an admission counselor.” If you want the prospect to answer, work on establishing trust and value through those letters and emails first. Then, set up the phone call in an email or even by text. Giving them notification a few days prior allows them to have questions prepared, and this way you’re not calling at a time that’s inconvenient for your prospect.
- Make the phone call 100% about them and 0% about your school. Come up with a list of great questions that are original and all about them. For example, ask them about their approach to the process or what they want to see and hear from you as they learn more about your school.
- Go ahead and talk about your school IF…they ask you about it. If a prospect asks you about something specific, then talk about it and “sell” all you want.
I hope your biggest takeaway from our discussion today is that, when done correctly, phone calls still offer a ton of value and are a clear sign in the student’s mind that the school is serious about them.
How valuable do you think phone calls are? Send me an email and let me know.