In 2020, statistics showed that 86% of customers trust word-of-mouth reviews and recommendations (Review 42, 2020). In fact, these statistics go on to suggest that word of mouth promotion is the most trusted of all forms of marketing. This is not only true for various enterprises but for schools and educational institutions too. However, while ‘word of mouth’ promotion is broadly trusted, it does not necessarily translate directly to enrolments in a school unless this good report is backed up by a positive first impression.
So what are these first impression areas that let so many schools down and how do we ensure that they are consistent with the good reputation we have built?
It begins at the point where a prospective parent, having been influenced by great reports about the school, makes contact either in person, by phone or, most commonly in 2021, online. For each of these ‘front door’ experiences, there are some important considerations.
Let’s start with the old-fashioned in-person visit to the school.
That first impression gained from the person sitting behind the reception desk can be crucial. It may not get the enrolment but it sure can lose it.
A customer going into a business for the first time wants to feel welcomed and cared for. That first friendly ‘hello’ backed up with a welcoming smile can be gold in terms of gaining that future enrolment. In a similar way, the cheerful greeting on the phone can have the same effect.
A challenge for any school is to manage either of these scenarios during busy periods of the school day. If the school is concerned for its reputation and growth, then the prospective family or parent inquiring should be consciously made the priority over any internal matters, however urgent these may be (excluding emergency or safety situations of course). Now, it is easy for executive staff to think that this is an obvious concept and therefore it is automatically being outworked by support staff manning the front desk. This however is not the case. It is imperative to clearly communicate and filter leaderships’ desire to prioritise growth to every staff member who is responsible for these first impressions. This can be done through productive staff training, active communication about vision and the ideal customer experience, and empowering your first impressions team to achieve this goal alongside you.
The involvement of the Principal or other Executive team members can be powerful in creating a good first impression. Leadership should always be conscious of prospective enrolments, either in the front office or on a tour, and ‘accidentally on purpose’ ensure your paths cross. These encounters, prior to any formal interview, can be incredibly significant in gaining enrolments. It signals to the parents that even the school leadership was not only interested but had time for them. Alternatively, you can run tours yourself as a way to give a fantastic ‘first impression’ to prospective new parents.
Touring the Campus
Of course, the physical environment is also vitally important in creating those favourable first impressions. This doesn’t necessarily mean having a campus filled with highly innovative buildings, of course not all schools can afford that, but presenting an environment that is clean and cared for goes such a long way. For example, if an enrolment tour is scheduled for after recess, be wary that this time of the school day can see bins overflowing or playgrounds littered with rubbish. This will not be an accurate reflection of your campus, but it is all that prospective families will see during their tour. It can appear that if a school cannot care for its physical environment, then maybe it is unable to care for its social environment. It is amazing what a bit of paint and pressure cleaning can do to a school irrespective of its age.
These days an increasingly important front door for schools is its website. A site that isn’t user-friendly because it is confusing, complicated, visually unattractive and unclear will not create the sort of impression that we are seeking.
The online environment is one in which visitors, through a single click, should be granted access to information as quickly and intuitively as possible. Similarly, invitations or calls to action should be blatantly obvious to users.
There is no waiting in line or pressing a bell for service as you might at a reception desk and statistics indicate the average time spent on a website is just a few minutes. So use this time wisely!
An effective website reflects the uniqueness of the culture and environment of your school. You can do this through a quality short video, statements from the Principal or other leadership, as well as testimonials from parents and students. Each of these does a great job in putting a human face to the school’s online presence.
In a private school, all staff must have the mindset that although the school is an educational institution, it is also a not-for-profit business. Like any business first impressions are vital in determining whether customers make a commitment to an on-going relationship.
Finally, the power of first impressions isn’t limited to new families at the enrolment stage, in fact it should continue to be a consideration throughout the entire relationship. The first time they receive an invoice, or they attend their first parent-teacher interview, or their child progresses to Secondary, or wins an award, or is behaviour managed – there is a continuous opportunity to nail ‘first impressions’ at every touchpoint.
Remember, starting on the right foot allows you that extra ‘change’ in your pocket for any circumstances where issues do arise and nailing an impression can lead to exciting results of growth and retention.