Not every moment in a parent’s experience with a school is equal. Some of them are more equal than others. Some of them are moments of truth.
Of the many interactions a parent has with a school, some have deeper and more lasting impact than others. They are the ones filled with emotion. Think about the first-grade assembly where students present all their newly learned skills to parents who are beaming with pride. Or, thinking about another kind of emotion, there is the meeting about a student’s less-than-stellar progress that a very concerned parent has been asked to attend.
Many years ago, I worked with a head of school who would regularly speak to educational leaders about the power of what he called “tuition-validating moments.” He was referring to the various contests, ceremonies and performances that put smiles on parents’ faces and more importantly make them say, “Now I know I made the right decision in sending my child to this school.” He encouraged leaders to reinforce those feelings in their remarks by talking about the values being instilled, the experience students are having, what students are accomplishing and what parents can expect in the future. What he realized is that emotion-laden moments have critical impact on decision-making about schools. By leveraging those emotions, leaders could reinforce parents’ convictions and validate their decision to have their kids at the school.
It turns out this very wise head of school demonstrated more than just intuitive wisdom. In fact, there is data clearly indicating that emotion-filled moments are critical to the decisions customers make regarding the companies they do business with. The consultants at McKinsey & Company documented this dynamic, creating the term, “Moments of Truth,” which they define as, “those few interactions when customers invest a high amount of emotional energy in the outcome.” These can be positive or negative experiences. Many times, they transform a negative incident into a positive experience. For example, a lost credit card or a cancelled flight produces a flood of doubt and anxiety that, through the appropriate intervention, can be transformed into a moment that strengthens loyalty and creates ambassadorship.
McKinsey’s study of consumers showed that of those who had a positive moment of truth experience with a particular bank, 58% increased the value of products they purchased and 29% purchased new products. In contrast, of those whose moment of truth experience was negative, 23% bought a product at another bank, 20% stopped buying products and 15% switched banks.
The notable takeaway is that “moment of truth” experiences can have negative consequences. That makes them even more impactful. Not only can positive experiences cement a parent’s commitment, but moments of truth with negative outcomes will potentially drive parents away.
However, if potentially negative situations are handled well, customers are left with feelings of gratitude and confidence, cementing their relationship with a company. McKinsey describes the potential impact of moments of truth as “the spark that helps transform wary or skeptical people into strong and committed brand followers.”
So, how can schools leverage parents’ moments of truth to nurture committed and enthusiastic parent ambassadors? How can they convert moments of truth into positive impacts on retention and recruitment?
Based on their analysis and data, McKinsey provides advice to organizations, that is very relevant to schools. “Given the clear link between moments of truth and share of wallet, every customer-facing business should identify the points of interaction relevant to its industry.” Beyond that, they advocate implementing a systemic approach to these moments so that everyone is aware of them, sensitive to them and has a game plan for how to react.
The beginning of the year is the perfect time to identify the emotionally charged moments of truth that are likely to occur at your school. In addition, you, and your colleagues, can think about what parents are likely to be feeling in those moments. You can then document what can be said or done so that, in the end, parents feel, heard, known, validated, and excited by what the school offers and resolute in their decision to have their children at the school.
Here are some possible moments of truth:
- Financial assistance meetings
- Meetings regarding student progress or behaviour
- Parent-teacher conferences
- Athletic events
- Presentations of learning
- Science fairs
- Public speaking contests
For sure, there are others that are unique to your school.
With planning and empathetic forethought, you can transform these moments of truth into events that impress, inform and delight parents. By doing that you will cement their commitment to the school and realize the enrollment gains that come from having long-time enthusiastic ambassadors.