As a former driver’s education instructor, intersections were typically the most exciting part of the job. Riding alongside rookie drivers as they figured out who arrived at the four-way stop first, who was on the right, or how to navigate those unique intersections where cross-traffic did not stop, tended to provide some interesting interactions. Great decisions needed to be made at each intersection as every decision was an opportunity to have an interaction that could result in a positive or negative result. The decisions made during interactions in the intersection required practice and repetition (and fervent prayer by the instructor!).
Two of our CACE schools are working on creating positive interactions at different intersections, throughout the organization. In this post, I will share a few thoughts about that initial intersection, where your school gets to make that critical first impression. Subsequent posts will address the intersections between teachers and students, teachers and parents, and administrators and parents.
The first impression is the most important. I would encourage your school to take the time to go through the process of scripting out what happens when a potential customer makes that first inquiry to the school. This process could be a two-part exercise. Think of part one as a diary map of the process – what just happened with our most recent inquiry? Did they have a good experience? A great one? How do we know? Part two of the exercise would be to create the ideal map of the process – what would we want to happen with our next inquiry?
A few questions to consider in this process:
- Does your website attract new customers? How many clicks does it take for a new family to find the information they need to contact you, register for an open house, or request additional information? Are you using website analytics to capture demographic information from visitors?
- How does the front desk personnel receive every phone call (Hello, this is Tim. Thank you for calling Christian. What can I do to help you today?). People call your school because they need a problem solved – from finding a great Christian school to letting the cooks know they would like to come for lunch. Do the front desk staff see their primary role as the school’s initial, best, and most efficient problem solvers?
- How do you extend the invitation to come to school for a personal tour or an open house? Is this a personal call? An e-mail? A handwritten postcard? All of the above?
- What happens when a new family comes for a tour? Who gives the tour? Which classrooms do you stop and visit? What do you want this family to talk about when they get back into the car to head home (or on their way to the next prospective school tour)?
- How do you follow up? Phone call? E-mail? Thank you for visiting note? All of the above?
- Is our current process working? How do we know?
Did you make it through this first intersection? What is the first impression that your school is making? Lazlo Bock, Senior VP for People Operations at Google, quotes the Head and Shoulders ad campaign from the 1980s – “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” His advice for those candidates interviewing at Google is to make a great first impression. He emphasizes the critical importance of the first ten seconds of the intersection since the rest of the interview is affirming the impression made during those first ten seconds. While this might be an example of an unfortunate confirmation bias it certainly exists throughout our society. As a CACE Fellow, I have the opportunity to visit a number of Christian schools, a privilege that I certainly enjoy. I like to have some fun and make that first impression solely based on the first few moments that I am in that intial intersection. Is the school clean (“always check the bathrooms and corners” was the advice given to me from my favorite school custodian). How am I greeted when I walk into the office? By a problem solver who makes me feel like he/she is willing to drop what they are doing to help me? My daughter works at the local hospital where they train their employees on what they refer to as the 10-5 rule. When someone approaches you, be sure to smile within the first ten seconds of their approach and greet them within the next five seconds (by name when possible). This cultural liturgy or practice is one that they hope exemplifies the level of customer care they want to be consistent throughout the total hospital experience.
Great first impressions lead to that first great conversation about why Christian education matters. That conversation happens between teachers and students, teachers and parents, and administrators at parents. Stay tuned as we travel through those additional intersections…..
Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.