Private Schools – Handling Professional Enquiries: Are You Failing At The Follow Up?

Across the UK, a huge percentage of private schools are failing to retain the interest of potential clients for one simple and easily amendable reason: neglecting the ‘follow-up’. Failing to ‘follow-up’ on an enquiry or visit means that your school is bypassing a vital ‘conversion window’, during which clients are most amenable to negotiation, and therefore more likely to be converted from a potential client into the parent of one of your students. Ignoring the client in this window could be perceived as a lack of interest and more crucially, an indifference towards the individual needs of the client and his or her child. So, what is the ‘follow-up’ rule, and where are you going wrong?

insight6 partners a number of independent schools, sending a team of our Researchers to assess the standards of customer service. Looking at a sample of reviews from schools prior to working with insight6 there was a lack of aftercare for potential clients, which may well have contributed to their disinclination to pursue business with the school. Once an initial enquiry has been made, it is vital that the client be contacted shortly afterward to resolve any outstanding concerns, and to lay the first stepping-stones towards securing their business. If a client is left to pursue the school of their own accord, your school risks their interest waning, or shifting towards other establishments with better customer service structures in place; there will be plenty of competitors poised to take the initiative where you did not. A ‘follow-up’ conversation is paramount to retaining your potential client’s attention, and should be thought of as part of the natural flow between handling a preliminary enquiry and enrolling a new student.

To ensure a successful school-client ‘courtship’, the ‘follow-up’ should be implemented in two stages: after the client’s initial enquiry, and then after their visit to the school. According to our Customer Experience Reviews (CX Reviews), the treatment received during these stages was lacking in a variety of ways, but most significantly during the immediate aftermath of correspondence. Whilst school’s often put effort into strengthening their front of house department to ensure that preliminary enquiries are handled with professionalism, it is crucial to note that a high standard of customer service needs to extend beyond a cheerful greeting and a pleasant phone attitude, and into the ‘follow-up’ phase.

A primary interaction with a possible client does not stop once the web or phone enquiry has ended. The ‘follow-up’ should be thought of as an additional step to this interaction, and a vital part of it. By implementing a set waiting period of 3 – 5 days, after which a ‘follow-up’ will be made if the client has not gotten back in touch, your school will stand out amongst others, and increase your prospects of gaining the client’s trust.

According to the sample insight6 looked at, only 41% of potential clients received a ‘follow-up’ call after their initial phone conversation, prior to working with insight6, meaning that over half (59%) of those that make an enquiry are not pursued by the school, despite indications that they may want to book a visit or learn more about what the school has to offer. Without a clear indication that their custom is wanted, clients may feel that their child is not being given precedence, which can be a deterrent from further attempts to form a relationship with the school.

In the initial stages of forming a relationship with your client, it is of the utmost importance that they are made to feel as though their needs are being prioritised. A ‘follow-up’ phone call to provide updates, and to remind the client of the school’s assets, is a small but enormously effective tool in eliminating any doubts about their importance to you.

Whilst it may seem obvious, an often neglected but important step to remember when dealing with any new client is to ensure their contact information is collected. According to our sample, less than half of potential clients had their details taken at the first point of contact. Not only does this lack of foresight immediately cancel out any chance of a ‘follow-up’, the message sent to clients is one of unprofessionalism and disinterest. The significance of making a record of even a small enquiry cannot be overlooked, as the ‘follow-up’ that will stem from this record could be the key.

Another step is to set an appropriate time for the ‘follow-up’ call with the prospective client where possible. This way, he or she immediately knows that they are being taken seriously, and that their child’s potential enrolment is important enough to the school to be pursued at a later date.

Your school is in its most advantageous position to convince a client to enrol their child just after a tour of the school has been given. Tours of the establishment are proven to be an effective way of attracting business. This is why it is once again vital to ensure a ‘follow-up’ takes place in the small window of time between the visit ending and the client having the chance to explore alternatives. Your staff will have worked hard to create a vibrant impression of the offer on the tour but the longer the ‘follow-up’ is left, the duller the impression of the visit becomes.in your client’s mind. The advantages of your establishment, however strongly impressed, can be diluted by the indifference of the school afterwards; the hard work your team put in to gain a rapport with the client or child may well be undone. Establishing a clear time and date for a follow-up call with your client is a simple but extremely effective tool to use to prevent this from happening. Just by reaching out to remind the client of your interest in them, and to thank them for their visit, you could distinguish yourself as a more personalised, caring establishment than your competitors.

Finally, the ‘follow-up’ call in itself should be representative of the high standards set by your school; your staff should understand the goal of the conversation – whether this is to answer any previous queries, to provide further information, or to schedule a visit to the school.  Data from our sample shows that in only 33% of cases did the school follow up with the client within that ideal 3 – 5 day window prior to working with insight6. Moreover, none of our Researchers reported any enthusiasm whatsoever from the staff member they were speaking within the ‘follow-up’ call, and no indication that the school had been doing anything to resolve their concerns.

A school’s reputation for professionalism is at risk in these small errors – as for example in not knowing the client’s name or being unable to recall previous conversations – and in this period, when a client is still forming their opinion of the school, you cannot afford oversights. The client is the priority, and needs to be treated as such by all of your team, including those that handle the customer service department.

Following on from this, your staff should be aware that professional conduct extends to every possible outcome of a client enquiry, even if that is an eventual decision to abandon the pursuit if it is not right for them. Your customer service department is the voice of your school, and represents the way you handle all matters, including disappointment. Leaving a negative impression here is undoubtedly a reputational risk, which is easily avoided through appropriate staff training and guidance.

Here at insight6, we are dedicated to identifying the weaker areas in your customer service department, but also to provide the tools with which to improve. Our thorough training and development sessions are a simple and effective way to teach your staff the importance of the ‘follow-up’, along with other strategies that will guarantee a more successful rate of attracting and keeping business.

Our sessions are tailored to your school’s needs, and provide interesting, interactive, fun methods of helping your staff to reach their highest potential as customer experience providers. During these stringent economic times, it is not an option for your school to be anything less than airtight in all departments, so that clients showing interest cannot be left to slip through the cracks. Paying attention to the small but significant details, making your client feel cared for and important and offering a truly personalised service are sure-fire ways to distinguish yourself amongst the sea of indifference that our research suggests can flow from many establishments.

The ‘follow-up’ is an easily implemented, inexpensive and incredibly effective tool; try making it front and centre stage of your business strategy and see where that takes you!

 

Customer Engagement Strategies

Strategies you can implement to improve customer engagement

insight6 explores the importance of customer engagement, the impact it has on Customer Experience and the strategies you can apply to your business.

What does it mean?

Customer engagement is any direct contact between a brand and its customers. It is incredibly important that brands reach out to customers in the right way so that they positively enhance the Customer Experience. Interactions between a brand and its customer can be both offline or online, ranging from surveys and point of sale promotions to mentioning each other on Twitter.

How a brand interacts with their customers will vary depending on the business and who their customers are. Brands that are targeted towards the younger generations, for example, should be looking at social media and other forms of online engagement to truly grab their audience’s attention on a platform that suits the customer. The rise of social media has had a real positive influence on the ability of brands to engage with their customers as it provides a quick and accessible way to provide support, information, address issues and increase brand awareness.

What impact does this have on Customer Experience?

To put it simply, when a customer feels engaged and connected to a brand they are more likely to have a positive overall experience.

By engaging with its customers, a brand can positively enhance the emotional connection that is required for the best Customer Experience. The modern customer has become accustomed, and now expects, the opportunity to be an active part of a company. Customers don’t wish too simply make a purchase, they are interested in the journey, they want to actively participate and become a part of a brand.

With the benefits that engaging your customers can bring to Customer Experience in mind, here are our insight6 strategies you should be applying to your brand to improve customer engagement:

6 Customer engagement strategies you should apply to your business

1 ) Take advantage of social media

Without a doubt, social media has had a massive influence on the ability of brands to engage with their customers. Social media, if used properly, can be an extremely effective tool in breaking news to customers, posting engaging content for them to share, to address issues, and to promote your brand.

Do your research and find out which social media sites are popular with your customer base and focus your efforts there. Invite customers to leave reviews of your business online so that they can share their experiences with your brand.

2 ) Open up special communications for ‘V.I.P’ customers

If you want to encourage brand loyalty then creating a form of membership or V.I.P club for long standing customers is a great initiative. V.I.P customers should be those who have used the brand for a while, referred friends and family to it and are genuinely just fans of the brand.

These customers can be offered exclusive access to things such as a member’s login on your website, a special monthly members newsletter with unique discounts available. Whatever you choose to offer it is all about your brand becoming closer to its customers. This form of engagement works really well with any long standing customers, improving their experience and making them feel valued for the time and money they have spent on your brand.

Of course, you should engage with every customer but providing an extra level to that the most loyal customers will add that extra incentive to keep them coming back.

3 ) Closely follow the customer journey

Closely follow the developments and journey of your customers as they use your business – at what points are they most impressed? What issues do they bring up that need to be addressed?

By following their journey and development you will be able to gain a better understanding of the changes you can make at each stage of the process and where you can better engage with your customers in the future. In turn this will allow you to put your time into these ideas with confidence that they will work.

4 ) Personalise your customer communication

There are many ways to ensure that the communication that you have with your customers is personal and it is something that you should make a priority as it helps to make a customer feel closer connected to the brand.

With the advances in technology, it is now easier than ever to provide customers with personalised content, for example, you can send an email to customers on their birthday through an automatically generated system, offering them a discount or special offer to celebrate their day. You will have noticed this is something huge brands such as Netflix, Spotify and Amazon do regularly by having ‘recommended for you’ sections on their websites.

A simpler way to personalise your communication with a customer is to ensure that you take down their name and use it whenever you are communicating with them. Whichever way you achieve personalisation, the aim should always be to make the customer feel as welcome as possible.

5 ) Let the customers meet the team behind the brand

While it is possible for customers to connect with a brand, people naturally connect with each other. If it is possible, let the customers meet the team behind your brand, whether that is through social media, email or in person, communication doesn’t have to be signed off from the brand. If you are communicating with the customer via email or social media then let the team member dealing with the customer sign off with their own name and use their own individual personality to their advantage in building a relationship with the customer.

6 ) Host Q&A sessions and events

Not all engagement has to be online. One great way to engage with your customers is to host events or Q&A sessions where customers can come and find out more about the products or services that you offer. Think about what you offer and the kind of event your customer would like to attend – would they like an opportunity to come and ask questions about current products and products of the future? Could you hold a conference style event with seminar speakers? Or an awards evening? There are many possibilities – think back to your V.I.P customers, you could even host an exclusive event for them, think how special and looked after they will feel being given an invite.

Why is customer engagement important?

In terms of numbers, statistics from Gallup research shows that having fully engaged customers leads to 23% more revenue than average.

Having contact and engaging your customers is crucial in gaining a better understanding of what your customer wants from you. There are a huge number of benefits to engaging your customers in the right way including building customer loyalty, trust, building better relationships and gaining their valuable insights.

There is no one engagement strategy that would work for every business, so it is important to tailor yours to your brand and to your customers, but the focus should always be on building a connection with your customers.

Get in touch with your local CX Director today

Is Your CX Strategy Red?

Customer experience (CX) strategies are in. Outdated marketing plans based on figures and historic patterns are out.

Believe it or not there are still many business leaders out there who sit in their offices and ponder the best ways to launch a new product, develop a new marketing campaign or sign up new business without acknowledging the one most important factor in all of these plans; the customer. The metrics matter. But not as much as the colour of love.

The customer of today is more informed and more in control of the experience they receive. Customers don’t just expect polite, friendly service; they expect businesses to know their individual needs and preferences and often expect their experience to be customised for them. Today’s customer wants to feel valued, to be listened to and to feel that they matter to you. They want to feel loved.

Most business leaders now recognise that customer engagement is key to maximising profit and are already placing greater emphasis on driving customer value, loyalty and retention. Customer experience is destined to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator in the future, so if you are still not prioritising the customer journey, you need to re-evaluate.

If you treat your customers with that criteria in mind you will win a lifetime supporter whose value could be worth more than a new customer.

CX Strategy - RED

So instead of simply focusing on expanding your customer database, try our three simple steps to improve your profits immediately:

1.    Develop Strategies To Retain Your Existing Customer Database

A repeat customer spends 67% more than a new one (BIA/Kelsey).

What are you doing to retain your existing customers?

  • Are you updating them on new products or services?
  • Do you offer incentives to draw them back?
  • Do you invite them to stay in touch and perhaps share their experience with others?
  • Do you offer competitions or draws to make them feel valued?
  • Do you create opportunities to ask for their feedback and views?

If a customer already has a relationship with you and likes what you offer, they will return, unless you give them a reason NOT to.

2.    Improve Your Customer Engagement

Engaging with your customer is much more than a simple ‘hello’ as they enter your premises or site. Customers want to feel loved and appreciated. They need to feel that if there is a problem, it will be handled confidently.

  • How often do you engage with your customer? If it is only during the transaction you are not really engaging your customer.
  • Do you stay in their minds by keeping in contact with them?
  • Do you have a weekly or monthly newsletter?
  • Do you have seasonal events or occasions to invite them back?
  • Is every member of your team aware of the need to make your customer feel special? It’s a culture. Spread the intent throughout the whole team.

3.    Maximise Your Customer Lifetime Value

My father only ever owned a Vauxhall. He loved the cars and said he always received great service. His local dealer knew him, addressed him by name and always had his favorite paper in the waiting room when he took his car for a service. He was a lifetime customer and no amount of persuading would encourage him to defect.

  • Reward your longstanding customers.
  • Pay attention to the little things; that’s what makes your customer feel special.
  • Be honest and transparent at all times.
  • Effective customer engagement calls for a thorough understanding of the customer. Make sure you KNOW that your customer is a wheelchair user or works abroad.

Forward thinking businesses go to great lengths to identify their ‘typical’ customer and then attempt to create deeper parallels by matching social and ethical preferences. For example, businesses that advertise charitable work or sustainable or eco-friendly ethics publicise these values and attract like-minded customers.

Customer lifetime value is one of the most important metrics in your business toolbox.

In this age of the empowered customer, businesses must look forward to develop better customer engagement strategies. Being reactive does not work in the arena of customer relationships; it’s about being proactive, about noticing and predicting your customer intelligence and using big data to provide customer mapping. It’s about being sure your customer journey is great – in every regard and at all times.

The expectations of the 21st century customer are complex and multi-faceted. Competition is fierce and digital platforms flood your customer’s inbox or newsfeed with attractive offers every second. And yet the answer to a healthier bottom line is so simple. Love your customer. Your CX strategy should be front, back and middle of any business strategy if you are to grow and create solid foundations for future profits. And the mantra again…….LOVE YOUR CUSTOMER!