As consumers, we go through the process of constantly gathering data in order to make the best purchasing decisions. Parents do the same with school choices. Parents want proof for the claims we make which should not surprise us. We are conditioned to expect evidence to back up claims made by others for two reasons: experience tells us that people lie and evidence helps us differentiate one product from another.
If we are strategic, we can give parents what they want in an effective and usable format. Usable and memorable are key factors because parents then have what they need in order to compare school options. Parents want evidence delivered by people who are in command of the numbers—this is demonstrated by having confidence in their schools reliability and knowing how to talk about the data. Finally, they want them to tell a story—a story of their child or a child that they can identify with.
When it comes to academics it is critical that we report success stories so people don’t assume. So, be sure to show standardized test scores. Create the right comparison groups—this is especially important in areas where your competition is unique. If your main competition is other non-Christian private schools, then that needs to be a comparison group. However, don’t be forced into comparing on their terms. If you have a wider academic student profile then create reasonable segments of your student population to compare and make a point to highlight the value of having a more diverse student population. Likewise, when it comes to college choices, show where your students were accepted and highlight the schools to demonstrate that your students have a wide range of options.
When it comes to spiritual formation, we can demonstrate this is important to us by doing research. When prospective parents ask us about the spiritual life of our school it is important to have answers based on data. We need to show the impact we have on our students while they are at our school and demonstrate how this affects career choices. These are powerful things to demonstrate as it is not acceptable to simply say we hope we are having an impact.
We are often asked by potential clients questions specifically related to how our services will impact their bottom line. “How have you helped increase enrollment? What other schools in this area have you worked with? How many schools are you currently working with? What percentage increase in enrollment should we expect?” We can’t get to other elements such as partnership potential, mentoring employees, or customer service development at their school until we have addressed these types of numeric questions. The same is true for us as a school when we are talking with prospective parents.
It is important to be prepared to answer questions before they are asked because our credibility improves when we can successfully predict what questions a potential customer will ask. Once the question is asked by the parent we lose the opportunity to demonstrate to them the degree to which we understand their fears, concerns and areas of interest. If we can create messaging that successfully addresses potential questions before they are asked, the customer will view us as that much more of an expert and worthy of their consideration. This is a huge potential customer service win.
So, to the extent that we can gather elements of frequently asked questions and include these answers in our messaging we can better serve the prospective parent. Additionally, so long as an area of concern goes unaddressed, the prospect will potentially believe that we do not have an answer for their question. We never know if the question goes unasked because the parent didn’t think of it or because they chose not to ask it. Our assumption should be the latter so that we are proactive in addressing possible concerns.
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.