How to personalize the parent experience

A recent Huffington Post article asks the question, “Is 2014 the year of personalization?” Examples of personalization in marketing abound from the sublime of Virgin America’s Chatter initiative that will use video screens to deliver a personalized travel experience to the ridiculous of Nordstrom’s personalized panties.

For any business or organization, personalization is an important, and maybe even essential way to differentiate and build strong customer relationships. So, how do independent schools jump on the bandwagon and begin to offer their customers a personalized experience?

Let’s start with the obvious. Parents expect that their children are going to receive individualized attention and that any interaction related to their child’s progress will be uniquely focused. But let’s face it – meeting the individual needs of diverse learners isn’t exactly groundbreaking in 2014. You are more likely be notable by the absence of differentiation, than by its presence.

Also, let’s be clear about who the customer is. Parents pay for the education their children receive. From a customer relations perspective, students are essentially a proxy. If you want to impress the customer, it’s the parent that must be the focus.

First, let’s deal with the prerequisites to personalization.

Data is the foundation of personalization. It starts with basics – contact info, names of other family members like siblings or grandparents. Beyond that good data could include birthdays and other milestone dates. However, the real crux of useful data is that the details of every meaningful interaction a parent has with the school must be recorded whether its a meeting with a principal or a negotiation with the tuition office. That leads to the next point.

Data discipline and consistency are vital to personalization. Every staff member must understand the importance of recording the details of interactions and effective data conventions must be in place. Something as simple as recording a date as 3/5/14 as opposed to 5/3/14 can yield disastrous results. This also means using the right tools. Schools need a database that provides necessary structured data fields as well as the ability to create specialized areas in which to record information that is particular to the school.

What can you do with all this data? Here are a few basic ideas that share one common theme. Parents want to know that you know who they are.

Personalize the personal meeting. Any time a head of school, a principal, an educational consultant or someone from the business office meets with a parent, it’s essential that they access to detailed information and ideally have familiarized themselves with it. It’s both impressive and comforting to a parent when the person with whom they are meeting can ask about other family members, knows about unique circumstances and the details of previous meetings or calls.

Acknowledge important events. This should include personal letters recognizing a birth or a death in a parent’s family. Personal birthday wishes for students are commonplace. Take that to the next level and send each parent a birthday greeting. What if you sent birthday cards to siblings not yet at the school? You can also recognize significant achievements in parents’ lives, whether those are in business or in communal efforts.

Personalize the business experience. Think about your last call to a local utility or financial services company. It makes a huge difference when the person with whom you are speaking can access notes about your individual circumstances and previous interactions. A parent’s communication with the school’s business is no different. When a parent calls, the person on the line should be able to call up a database record and speak knowledgably about that parent’s circumstances. In addition, every form that a parent is required to fill out, whether online or on paper, could have the name, address and contact info fields already completed.

Tailor the web. A school that I work with recently introduced a personalized parent dashboard that upon login, presents essential links for each child including teacher names and contact info, class lists and parent resources. Using cookies would make it possible for a parent visiting the website to be presented with the items he or she viewed most often.

While these may all sound like common sense, in a busy school environment, it takes forethought and discipline to make any of these happen on a routine basis. Think about all the ways a parent interacts with the school and be vigilant about finding ways to personalize the parent experience.

What do you think?
Is personalization a key to independent school success? How are you personalizing the parent experience in your school? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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