What makes your K-12 school or district appealing to families? In this second installment of a five-part series on why and how families choose schools, you’ll learn why customer service is relevant in education and how it plays a role in whether a family will or won’t enroll with you.

In a world of greater choice and innovation across K-12 education, parents and guardians have more say in how and where their children are educated. Why and how do families choose schools? Click here to learn about Reason 1: School Brand and Reputation.

Customer service and K-12 education may seem as strange a pair as pickles and ice cream. Historically, schools haven’t thought of themselves as businesses. But consider how today’s competitive education landscape with families is similar to the commercial setting. Families are similar to consumers in a variety of ways:

  • They have many options but can make only one choice.
  • They evaluate their school options just as a consumer would evaluate a product.
  • If families receive rude interactions, inaccurate/untimely information, and inefficiencies, they may seek a school that offers friendly interactions, helpful staff, and efficient services.

A delightful customer service experience helps attract and retain families, students, faculty, and staff. When you prioritize personal interactions and frequent, timely communications, these interactions will cultivate your school’s image as a positive, happy place that welcomes families.

Female receptionist working at the front desk

How Customer Experience Helps Families Choose Schools

Just as important as your school’s brand and reputation is stepping into a family’s shoes so you can understand what the enrollment experience is like from their point of view. Consider this:

  • How easy is it for families to find information about your school?
  • How easy is it for them to get answers to their questions?
  • What interactions should prospective families expect from your front desk?
  • How soon do families receive information when they request it?

Families will factor in the quality of their interactions with a school in making education decisions, which has direct impacts on enrollment numbers and overall financial sustainability. For example, if a family requests information but never receives it, they may assume no one cares whether they enroll.

Understanding Customer Service in K-12

Unfortunately, understanding the customer experience isn’t always easy for educators. Administrators and enrollment officers love their schools, but they may have a blind spot as to how the admissions process feels to busy or concerned parents and guardians. You may believe you offer a welcoming, seamless experience when the reality is families find it confusing or frustrating.

To help you understand this process from a parent or guardian’s point of view, let’s go through it step-by-step and see how small changes to the customer experience can be the difference between welcoming a new family to your school or losing contact with them forever.

Customer Service: Positive and Negative Factors

Something important to note here is that customer service isn’t important only for prospective families — it’s also important for retaining your existing students and families. If you want to attract new families and retain your existing ones, you need to ensure good customer service at every level of your organization. From the front desk to the principal and teachers in the classroom, everyone can deliver a meaningful customer experience.

Positive Factors
  • Treating all families with respect and understanding cultural differences
  • Creating a “yes!” culture to serve families and students
  • Self-service systems that help families answer questions
  • Active, friendly, and timely communications
  • Treating families as valued members
  • Welcoming input and feedback to improve
Negative Factors
  • Negative interpersonal interactions
  • Poor, untimely, or no responses to requests
  • Confusing or contradictory policies and processes
  • Paper-based procedures
  • Difficult-to-use online systems
  • Lack of basic information online (or it is very hard to find)

While there are many things you can do to create a great customer experience for families, read below for five tips on where you can start.

Tip 1: Ensure Families Can Find You Online

Great customer service starts with getting those customers to you, and most families begin their search for a new school online. And if a family can’t find you online, don’t expect them to find you in real life. 

Your web presence is even more important if your school has a lower profile than other nearby, more established schools. Some schools have a reputation that might precede them. However, if your school is the “best kept secret in town,” it’ll remain that way unless people can find you easily online.

Cracking the first page of Google results can be a tall order, but it’s important you do whatever you can to be found. Start with Google My Business. This process is fast, easy, and free, and it will instantly improve your Google results and ensure the accuracy of the information Google shares about your school.

SchoolMint’s chief enrollment officer, Nick LeRoy, walks you through the process in this video:

Tip 2: Optimize Your Website for Prospective Families

Tailor everything — from your messaging to your layout and graphics — to catching the attention of prospective families by giving them the information they want and need. Don’t leave them searching in vain for the information that matters most to their enrollment decision.

What does this mean in practice? Your alumni may want to see pictures from last year’s reunion on the homepage, but if you want to attract tech-savvy parents, you’ll be better off with a picture of your new robotics lab.

Similarly, while an announcement about new pickup and drop-off procedures is important, this is probably best communicated through a text and an email to current families. On the other hand, if you have an upcoming festival that’s open to the public, where prospective families can come to your campus and meet you, make sure prospective families know it’s happening and know they’re welcome.

Tip 3: Ensure Families Know What to Do Next

If you want families checking you out online to enroll, you need to get them to take the next step. Your website has two important objectives: tell the story about your wonderful school, and get prospective families to proceed in the enrollment journey. Many schools do a good job on the first, but excelling in the second is how you get them to enroll.

How does this look in practice?

  • Make it easy to sign up for a newsletter. And make sure that newsletter contains helpful information for prospective families.
  • Place buttons/links on your website in easily visible, logical locations so that families can start the enrollment process in one or two clicks. They shouldn’t have to search to find where to enroll.
  • Make it easy for families to register for in-person events by providing them with a calendar of available dates and letting them RSVP without ever having to make a phone call.

SchoolMint’s strategic marketing solutions for K-12 charter schools and K-12 school districts can help you identify areas for improvement with your website.

Tip 4: Follow Up After Every Family Interaction

So a family has visited your website and expressed interest in proceeding. Now they want to meet you/your staff or see the campus for themselves. For example, say you offer school tours, shadow days, open-house events, enrollment fairs, or any other event that requires direct engagement with families.

Any time you interact with a prospective family or receive contact information, follow up as soon as possible. A timely follow-up with valuable, relevant information will leave a good impression and send a clear message: we value your family. And we want you to enroll with us.

If families are visiting your campus, ensure everything is easy. Put up clear signage for parking. Have school representatives available for help. Greet families with a smile as soon as they show up. And make sure you verify their contact information before they leave!

This friendly customer service extends even beyond your initial interaction. Now you have to keep the conversation going.

  • Send families a thank-you email. Or, even better, mail them a personalized, handwritten thank-you card.
  • Use what you learned about the family from prior interactions. Send them information they need and information they’ll enjoy based on their child’s interests.
  • Put them in touch with a school member who can answer their questions. This could be the coach of a sports team or a teacher from the science department.

SchoolMint Connect is a great platform that can help you manage family relationships throughout all stages of the student life cycle.

Tip 5: Implement Easy-to-Use Self-Service Platforms

Delighting families with a focus on customer service also extends to the digital realm. Providing families with easy-to-use, mobile-accessible software for enrollment fosters delight.

If you can help a family enroll earlier than other schools, where their child will be attending school is one less thing for that family to worry about. People often choose the person who gets back to them first, so if you and your competition have similar offerings, the speed at which you can enroll families can make all the difference.

An all-in-one digital platform like SchoolMint Enroll can help you increase enrollment and create a seamless experience for families. With mobile accessibility, multiple languages, and file upload capabilities for common enrollment documents, SchoolMint Enroll delivers an experience that everyone — from enrollment administrators to parents and guardians of all ages — will find exceptionally quick and pleasant.

K-12 Strategic Enrollment Management

Today, enrollment is more than just registering a student in a class. Enrollment is now a strategic process, one that includes several components, which we will continue to outline in the coming weeks. Last week, we talked about the brand and reputation component. And above, you learned about the customer service side. Click here for the third reason for how families choose K-12 schools!

Webinar: How Families Choose Schools and the 5 Decision Drivers

Families have one objective when it comes to their child’s education: find the best school. From social skills to extracurricular interests and life lessons children take into their adult lives, families know that school teaches more than academics. And because of this, parents and guardians use multiple criteria to determine which school is best for their child.

On December 9, 2021, SchoolMint’s Chief Academic Officer and lead researcher, Dr. Chris Balow, will host a webinar about the five “family decision drivers” of K-12 Strategic Enrollment Management. You’ll learn about:

  • How the five drivers guide each family to — or away from — your school
  • Which family decision driver is most important to parents and guardians
  • What research tells us about how families decide where and how their children will be educated
  • Negative and positive school factors that influence school choice decisions

Click the button below to register!

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