The Importance of First Impressions for School Growth

I am sure that we have all heard of the statistic that the best marketing for a school is ‘word of mouth’ as opposed to other forms of advertising. Research certainly backs up this claim not just for schools but for other enterprises. The social media climate of today adds even a further dimension to this statistic. However good ‘word of mouth’ will not necessarily result in enrolments in a school unless this good report is backed up by a positive first impression from the school.

Well, where and when does this occur? Obviously, it begins at the point where this prospective parent, having being influenced by great reports about the school, makes contact either in person, by phone or increasingly online. For each of the ‘front door’ experiences, there are some important considerations.

 

In-Person

Let’s start with the old-fashioned in-person visit to the school.

That first impression gained from the person behind the 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 work in the same way.

A challenge for any school is to manage either of these scenarios at the busy periods which realistic occur daily and at any time in the school day. If the school is concerned for its reputation and growth then the outside person should be consciously made the priority over the internal matters, however urgent these may be, unless of course there is an emergency or safety situation evolving. The outsider may be duly impressed if this is handled well (as I experienced one day with a serious medical emergency occurring whilst a new family was visiting – not ideal, but when is life always ideal)!

Meeting Leadership

The involvement of the Principal or other executive team members can be powerful in creating that good first impression. As a Principal, I tried to be conscious of prospective enrolments either in the front office or on a tour and ‘accidentally on purpose’ made sure that our paths crossed. These encounters prior to any formal interview can be very significant in gaining enrolments. It signals to the parents that even the school head was interested in them. Alternatively, you can run tours yourself as a way to give a fantastic ‘first impression’ to prospective new parents.

Of course, the physical environment is also vitally important in creating those favourable first impressions. All schools cannot afford highly innovative buildings everywhere but they need to present to prospective parents an environment that is clean and cared for with attractive gardens etc. If an enrolment tour is imminent make sure there is not a lot of rubbish around especially if it is after recess. If a school can’t care for its physical environment then maybe it will not be able 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.

Online

These days an increasingly important front door for schools is its webpage. What impressions do your prospective parents gain from their first visit? A webpage 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 by a single click want information as quickly as possible and as intuitively as impossible.

There is no waiting like you might have to do at the front reception and statistics indicate the average time spent on a website is a few minutes. Use this time wisely!

Secondly, if there is an invitation or call-to-action, is this clear?

Does the website reflect the uniqueness of the culture and environment of the school? A good way for this to occur is to place short quality video content within easy clicking distance of the website visitor. Statements from the Principal and other school leaders as well as testimonies from parents and/or students put the human face of the school on the website.

I was reminded of this one day when I introduced myself to a new enrolling family from overseas. The response I got back was; “Yes we’ve met you on the website”, referring to a video clip posted.

First impressions had already been made and they were positive.

Finally, 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.

Hector Costello