Parent experience. You’ve heard about it. You may have read about it or thought about it. You may even have devoted some time to improving it at your school. The inevitable question is whether there are practical benefits to working on the parent experience. And more specifically, can focusing on the parent experience meaningfully impact enrollment results? The answer is categorically, yes.
Before anything, let’s be clear about terminology. The parent experience (PX) is the combination of all a parent’s interactions and touchpoints throughout their association with your school. It is embedded in the journey from prospective to current to past parent. It includes every encounter—through the website or social media as well as every conversation, whether with the head of school, educational leaders, enrollment or advancement professionals, teachers, front office staff, facilities staff, and even trustees. The goal is to create an experience that is overwhelmingly positive, validating, and remarkable – as well as one that differentiates the school by distinctly reflecting brand, values, and vision.
Just reading that is exhausting. The prospect of tackling the parent experience can definitely be daunting. But the good news is that anything you do to enhance the parent experience will bear fruit. As further motivation, here are 11 ways that the quality of the parent experience drives enrollment results.
1. A Parent-first Approach
Focusing on the parent experience demands that you put yourself in the shoes of parents and consider what they are thinking and feeling at every step of their journey with your school. Too often, schools make decisions based on what’s best for the school —whether that’s setting the date for a parent event or determining the content of an e-newsletter, or even educational deliberations. However, using the empathy that stems from concentrating on the parent experience changes perspective and re-orients decision-making. It improves the nature and quality of communication. Most importantly, it sends a message to parents affirming that they are valued and respected. All of that will have a tremendous impact on the success of both recruitment and retention efforts.
2. Consistent Messaging
Making the most of the countless parent interactions and touchpoints requires all staff members to be aware of the potential impact they can have on the parent experience. That also means that each staff member needs to communicate the same message regarding the school’s values, priorities, and vision. Consistent messaging is a unifier, helping to create shared goals, a sense of community, and positively influencing retention. It also ensures that prospective parents have a clear, coherent understanding of the school, which minimally will help in their decision-making and will improve recruitment results.
3. Word of Mouth
Positive parent interactions and experiences that validate a parent’s decision to have their child at the school lead to more positive word of mouth (WOM). Word of mouth undeniably accounts for more inquiries than any other source and has an enormous impact on recruitment. In addition, positive comments by parents whether in parking lot banter, check-out line conversations, social media, online groups and forums, and review sites create a virtuous cycle of WOM that drives retention results. Simply put, good PX leads to good WOM which in turn leads to better enrollment results.
4. Financial Assistance/Tuition Models
Various studies have confirmed that financial assistance (FA) and the availability of alternate tuition models have a significant influence on parents’ decisions when choosing a school or choosing to stay at a school. A by-product of focusing on the parent experience is being better attuned to parents’ needs, interests, and concerns. There are two ways that impacts tuition programs. First, schools can build FA programs and tuition models that are laser-focused on parents’ needs. Second, communication regarding these highly sensitive matters can be crafted so that it speaks directly to parents’ interests.
5. Mission-appropriate Admissions
Many times, parents withdraw their children because a school isn’t what they thought it would be. A parent experience perspective will allow you to better understand what prospective parents are looking for when they are exploring the possibility of your school. It will also allow you to more personally convey the essence of your school. That combination of better listening and more effective communication will produce more mission-appropriate admissions.
6. The PX Bond
A key to continuously improving the parent experience in your school is a commitment to soliciting and acting upon parent feedback. When you are truly in touch with what your parents are thinking and feeling, you will also be better able to anticipate their needs. Proactively providing new services or options will cement relationships with current parents. Conversely, when new offerings are not met with success, the strong PXbond is the way to learn from mistakes and demonstrate you are listening and acting. The upside retention potential is unlimited.
Storytelling is the key to the success of any parent ambassador program and it is drawn from the depths of the parent experience. That’s why storytelling is so powerful and touches the hearts of prospective parents. If stories are chosen strategically, they will align with your school’s value proposition and messaging, making them among the most powerful marketing and recruitment tools in your arsenal.
8. Website Experience
This is where UX – user experience – meets PX. Greater ability to look at your school’s website from the perspective of a prospective parent will lead to better outcomes. The parent perspective will allow you to think about the words and images—and how they are presented—that will make it easy for parents to decide whether this is a school they want to consider. Then, if you assume a user experience viewpoint, you will be able to make the next steps you want parents to take clear and easy to find—whether that’s completing an inquiry form or downloading a lead magnet. The result is higher quality, and ideally, more inquiries, which can only help recruitment metrics.
9. Tours and Recruitment Events
What do parents need to know and, more importantly, what do they need to feel in order to convert tours and other recruitment events into applications? Parents need to believe that your school will allow their kids to learn, thrive, and acquire the values that are important to them. Oodles of facts and data won’t help them make that decision. If you consider open houses, information nights, and tours from a PX perspective, and deliver the right experience and communication, these recruitment tactics will lead to better recruitment results.
EMA’s most recent study of parents considering independent schools found that, on average, students are accepted at two schools and that 31% of parents changed their first choice after receiving acceptance letters. At the latest stages in the admissions process, your school is still competing and parents are still considering alternatives. How will you allay parents’ doubts? How will you make them feel a part of your community? That requires a PX perspective, which will lead to better results.
Parents who have finalized their commitment but are waiting for the first day of school have a unique perspective. They are equal parts excited and anxious. They think they made the right decision, but they’re not positive. Concentrating on the parent experience for this segment is critical. They need to be informed, reassured, and guided. The right communication tactics will put them at ease, have residual retention benefits, and generate very positive word of mouth—which in turn has the potential to fuel recruitment.
Ongoing focus on the parent experience will undoubtedly produce enrollment benefits beyond those detailed above – and that’s wonderful. The reality is that there is no downside to enhancing the parent experience in your school or assuming a parent experience perspective. And the upside is limitless.