This is the second blog in a 5 part series on the types of marketing research that prove to be the most effective for Christian schools and how to think strategically about research. My goal is to provide a small toolbox of articles that can be used by Christian school leaders to assess their overall approach, and supplement, where possible, the things they are already doing well. Most leaders do some type of research whether they do it formally or informally. Some informality is normal, however some level of formality allows us to be sure of our findings, track results over time, and compare results to other situations.
In the area of satisfaction research, we can have a good sense of what satisfaction levels are by taking time to be connected and tuned in with different customer groups in different settings. After all, we can’t really compare or tell whether the level of satisfaction is good or changing without quantifying the research. On the other hand, quantitative research sometimes lacks the richness and depth that a more informal approach to hearing customer thoughts will often provide.
Sometime ago I wrote a blog on satisfaction vs. customer loyalty. That blog talks about both the limitations of satisfaction research and the importance of finding reliable ways to predict loyalty. Even though satisfaction is not a good predictor of customer loyalty, it doesn’t mean that satisfaction research isn’t important. Satisfaction research is a great tool that tells us what we are doing well and also where we can improve. Additionally, and this is what I’d like to look at briefly in this blog, satisfaction research is an important element in good customer service. Simply conducting satisfaction research communicates a lot to customers about their value and input.
Most research on satisfaction, that I have been involved with at many different schools, has had the immediate effect of creating a positive response by the subjects of the research. People like to be heard and they like it when their views are sought. It’s an easy win that any leadership team can get by implementing a regular strategy of reaching out to parents, donors or even students, to get their views on how well they are doing.
It is important to keep in mind that we serve a public that has grown more and more accustomed to having their views surveyed by nearly every commercial interaction that they have. Customers expect to be surveyed, but they also expect to be heard. Our failure to seek the opinions of our customers communicates an unintended message–lack of interest.
Satisfaction research can explore how well we are delivering our core offering–quality Christian schooling. We may think we know best what we want to offer, but the customer knows much better than us how well we do at delivering it. We might not want to ask parents if we should change what we are offering, but it is important to find out from them how they perceive our performance. Additionally, occasions of interaction with customers is a great opportunity to reach out to them and explore their level of satisfaction.
For example, thinking about the admissions process, no one knows better than prospects and recent visitors how well we have done with a visit or an open house experience. No matter what our thoughts are on how the event went, it is vital to put all of that in subservience to feedback with these target groups. Listening to feedback gives us the opportunity to tailor the experience to make it more positive and desirable. As the markets change and customer desires are more fluid than ever, our responsiveness will impact our ability to thrive in that market and offer a stronger product.
A few specifics to keep in mind….ask about both your product (programs, quality, offerings, etc.) as well as the experience (how was the visit experience?). This allows us to improve on what we are doing and how we do it. Explain why you are doing research and report some of the results back to your respondents. Be sure to make changes and don’t waste people’s time. Focus on both easy items as well as larger items, but show that you are improving things as a result of the research.
Paul T. Neal (paul.neal@cace.) is Sr. Vice President for Marketing and Enrollment at Cairn University and co-founder of Charter Oak Research where he serves as Principal and Chief Research Officer. Charter Oak Research is a marketing research and consulting firm focused on resourcing and supporting Christian schools and colleges, other Christian ministries and for profit organizations. Charter Oak brings marketing research to bear on the strategy and tactics of enrollment and advancement needs of clients to improve brand awareness, perception and sustainability. Paul has presented and been published on: the use of normative data in analysis, respondent motives, trends in education and online communities and respondent quality. Prior to founding Charter Oak Research, Paul was a Principal at Olson Research Group for 15 years as well as serving as the Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Federalism at Temple University responsible for qualitative research on political culture and U.S. Public Policy. Paul has served as an adjunct faculty member at several Philadelphia area universities. Paul is a graduate of Eastern (B.A.) and Villanova (M.A.) Universities and attended Temple University for further graduate study.