Five Assurance Messages to Help Secure Your Class

I’ve made fun of how many emails and spot ads begin with “in these unprecedented/uncertain/challenging times,” and I’m fairly tired of hearing that expression. It’s time to move on to what’s next. Assuring your customers at this critical moment will help everyone do so.

At this time of year, even when you’re not facing challenges such as a pandemic and an unwieldy economy, we are typically advising our clients to be focused on messages of assurance. Just to be clear, assurance is an act or statement that inspires confidence; reassurance is the feeling you get from being assured. We follow a model first applied to our own business by David Baker, a consultant to individuals and firms that deliver expertise, who suggested that we have three types of message recipients: Uninformed, Interested, Intent. Your task is to inform the Uninformed (such as investing in search to introduce your university to those who may not know about you); inspire the Interested (by telling great stories or giving campus tours to help a student imagine herself attending your college, or by sharing a great video with a potential donor to enthuse him about a particular opportunity); and assure the Intent (by helping students who have applied to be confident about their choice to send a deposit, or by overcoming “buyer’s remorse” for someone who’s just sent a check).

As it relates to enrollment management specifically, this last stage of the lifecycle—intent—can be demonstrated by the student (and/or her family) by submission of an application indicating she wants to move the transaction forward, sending a deposit declaring (to the extent you can count on that anymore) her having made a choice to attend, or by a campus visit that seems to be a high predictor of yield.

When these indicators reveal intent to attend, your job is to send messages that assure the student and her family that they are making the best decision. You send more personal notes to show how your team will care for her. You send information about the first-year experience to assure that you have a proven plan in place for her. You send information about your career services to assure her that her college experience will pay dividends. You advise her about a curricular path matched to her interests. You connect her with successful alumni who assure her that she can do this, just as they did.

Beyond all the assurances you provide in a normal year like those mentioned above, let us suggest you have several other messages that you need to be sending now. Don’t worry about over-communication. Simpson Scarborough’s recent study indicated that 40% of high school seniors wanted more communication. When you think what you are doing is way too much, it’s probably just about right for your intent audience.

Consider these five assurance messages that might not be part of a “normal” year:

  1. “You’re not alone in your questioning.” Let students and their families know that most if not all your students share concerns about enrolling next year Reports indicate that as many as 50% of students are reconsidering their options for fall; 10 – 20% are deciding not to enroll. Of course, this is early data and not every report we’re reading has our full confidence.
  2. “We understand why you may be concerned.” Assure families that you appreciate the difficulties of this climate for making such an important decision. Speak into specific concerns of safety, finances, logistics, and frustration about the unknowns. Simply acknowledging that you know it’s a scary time will assure students of your empathy.
  3. “Here’s what we’re planning.” Share your plans liberally even if they’re not firm. Give regular updates about your considerations; who’s in on the planning, what are the issues, what cues are you looking for to establish firmer plans? Be transparent to say you don’t know but tell how you are advancing toward more knowing.
  4. “Let us introduce your roommate.” If you haven’t already done so, assign roommates as soon as possible. Allowing students to connect with their roommates or suitemates assures them of some normalcy and provides someone they can confide in about both the things that excite them as well as the frustrations that bring them anxiety. Having a soulmate through this uneasy time will be reassuring.
  5. “Meet some of your future colleagues.” Other students bring a measure of authenticity that the admissions office cannot provide. Your voice must be the calming and soothing, but your voice is also authoritative, even when you are nice. Other students provide the color surrounding your play by play. Their voices lend credibility and assurance that all will be well. We also suggest you let faculty in on the reassurance effort. A brief Zoom conversation with a faculty member in the student’s area of interest will provide another important layer to your efforts.

In this year of madness when all your norms have been disrupted, this stage of assurance is more important than ever. Offer more assurance than usual to give yourself the reassurance you need.

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Rick Bailey

Rick is the Principal and founding partner at RHB.