Fight Summer Melt With Better Customer Experiences

If you are reading this in May, you have about ten weeks to ensure that every student who sent in a deposit enrolls this fall. No pressure, but as you know (probably too well), it’s not over until it’s over.

In the weeks that remain before school begins again in the fall, your work in sales hasn’t ended. Now is the time to step up your assurance messaging, helping families believe they’ve made the right choice. Buyers’ remorse isn’t limited to car and house purchases. You can count on plenty of second-guessing conversations around family meals. (Are family meals completely a thing of the past?)

We counsel our clients to think of the messaging platform for enrollment in three primary phases:

  1. Help the unaware. You invest in search strategies to help those students who seem well-suited for your school by providing information to aid their decision-making, for example.
  2. Inspire the interested. Once a student has inquired, you illustrate the opportunities awaiting them on (and off) your campus. You excite them with the possibilities. You help them picture themselves experiencing a great life at your school.
  3. Reassure the intent. Now that you have deposits in hand, your job is to reassure your incoming class that they have made the right choice and success is in their future.

The journey to fall enrollment for every deposited student is an entirely new phase of their experience with you. You’ve already established some patterns and expectations based on your care and treatment of these customers to date. Have they come to count on you for personalized service? Have you been diligent with quick answers to their questions? Do they expect special treatment based on your hospitality to date? If so, the touchpoints you create for deposited students over the next few weeks will need to reinforce the position to which you are committed. But what kind of touchpoints should you design?

Be authentic.

First, remember to be real. Don’t start a bait-and-switch strategy where you become something you haven’t been throughout the recruitment journey. Use your normal tone of voice. A sudden high-pitched enthusiasm in your communications that sounds more like camp than college probably will not be perceived as genuine. It’s great to be excited about the fall, but don’t exaggerate the happiness.

Be welcoming.

One of my favorite memories is an exercise we conducted at a large public university several years ago. We asked everyone on campus who communicated with admitted and deposited students to attend a workshop and to bring with them their portfolio of communications—emails, postcards, letters, brochures, forms: the gamut. As participants described their communication efforts we asked them to tack those communications on a huge wall calendar in sequence of their distribution to students and parents. As you might imagine, the wall calendar filled to overflowing quickly. We all stopped, looked at the wall and declared that this was no way to communicate with our best friends. Best friends call each other by name; they know enough about one another to stop asking the same questions over and over; they know to talk about topics of interest; they know how to pace themselves. The University in this example did a great job of refining their systems and communications to create what we called the BFF Strategy.

Deposited students are your best friends. By now you know a great deal about these students. Ensure that your transactions reflect this knowledge. That will require some strong collaboration and coordination across departments on campus. This is no time for silos (or solos). This is a group effort.

Nothing says unwelcome like not being called by name. Be certain your data is shared so everyone can roll out the welcome mat with ease.

Be confident.

Even at this stage, the storytelling should not end. Continue to tell your story, and be certain to tell of your greatness. There’s no need to be shy about your success, especially when it comes to sharing stories of your successful alumni, particularly recent graduates. What are they doing? Where did they go? How are they succeeding after their experience on your campus? Telling these stories helps students and families be assured that they too can succeed.

What marks of achievement can you boast? What third-party endorsements reflect your market position? Share these liberally and boldly with deposited students. They want to share in the pride of your success.

In these remaining weeks, regular newsletters or bulletins will keep incoming students abreast of up-to-date news about your university.

As you shape the touchpoints along this last lap of the recruitment journey, one of the best efforts you can engage in is empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of a new student and her parents. What does it mean to belong to your institution? What are the indicators that she’s one of you? What would symbolize that she’s “in”? Besides a t-shirt emblazoned with your mascot, what experience can you offer that would be truly reassuring? Answering those questions will help you design touchpoints that will see you all to the finish line.

We wrote a job description for a Yield Coordinator that you may find helpful. Even if you don’t yet have such a position on campus, the description might provide hints about activities you can engage in to make these remaining weeks of summer more productive and effective in securing your best class yet.

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Rick Bailey

Rick is the Principal and founding partner at RHB.