Innovative thinking, practical tips and some crazy ideas

The Parent Experience Prescription

The Parent Experience (PX) at your school has the potential to be the greatest contributor to retention, ambassadorship and enrolment success. That’s why schools should be giving some serious thought what their PX prescription will be. 
An e-book that I collaborated on withBlackbaud K12 explains the Parent Experience concept and design process in detail. In the past couple of months I’ve been taking the PX from words on a page and slides in a webinar to real-life school environments. The insights from that could be helpful to anyone thinking about PX in their schools.
For some context, here’s a quick Parent Experience primer. Increasingly companies are finding that their most effective competitive advantage is not the products they sell but rather the experience that their customers have using them and even shopping for them.
Why is that? Because, as the people at Bain & Company say, “If people love doing business with you, they become promoters. They sing your praises to friends, colleagues, and complete strangers over social networks, in online reviews, through blogs, and in every conceivable channel.”
To me, that sounds like the description of current parent ambassadors that every school would love to have. And that’s why the Parent Experience is so critical to schools.
In fact, as independent schools find themselves competing with not only public schools but charter schools, online schools and for-profit schools, experience becomes a critical differentiator and competitive advantage.
The Parent Experience is the sum of all experiences at various touch points a parent has with a school over the duration of their relationship with that school. This includes their first online contact to watching their youngest child graduate and everything in between.
To be more than just positive, Parent Experience must be the product of a reverse engineering project. Schools need to understand what memories and feelings they want their parents to have at the end of their journey with them. Once they’ve determined that destination, they can work backward to design the experience that will produce the desired results.
In other words, to be truly effective and to completely differentiate a school, the Parent Experience must align with a school’s brand. Schools must answer the question, “What do we want the parent experience at our school to be?”
Now, with that background, here are some practical Parent Experience insights.
The Parent Experience exists whether you design it or not. Make no mistake. Parents are having an experience at your school. They are interacting with school staff, lay people and other parents all the time. The quality of that experience is up to you. You have the opportunity to not only make that experience positive but one that truly reflects what is unique about your school.
Parent Experience is more than just good customer service. The best illustration of this comes from a school at which I was leading a parent experience workshop. Support staff said they were always friendly and respectful with parents, often going above and beyond to help. That’s good customer service. However, one staff member said that she noticed that when the answer to a question was tailored to the cultural background of the parent, communication was more effective and the parent was more satisfied. In a school that truly celebrates diversity, the actions of that staff member are helping to build a positive parent experience that is unique to that school.
The Parent Experience brings your brand to life. Brand is a representation of the relationship that parents have with your school. If every interaction that parents have with your school is brand-aligned, PX is an opportunity for your parents to literally live the brand.
Developing the Parent Experience is an exercise in design thinking. It’s a painstaking process involving dozens of people and thousands of interactions. But with a clear goal in mind it’s an opportunity to incorporate all of the design thinking elements of empathizing, designing, ideating, prototyping and testing.
Heads of School are critical to the Parent Experience. There are three reasons for this. The head is the only person in a school with the authority and credibility to align disparate sectors – from faculty and educational leaders to the business office to the board of trustees. Given the symbiotic relationship between brand and PX, heads, as primary keepers of the brand, must be involved. Finally, PX is by definition future-focused. Its ten-year journey will be interwoven with your school’s vision – as articulated and driven by the head.
Faculty is essential to the Parent Experience PX – but be patient.  The strongest link in the school-parent relationship is teachers and therefore developing an effective Parent Experience requires their cooperation and active participation. Teachers are very focused on the classroom and see student achievement as their primary success metric. However, there is growing appreciation of parent engagement and communication as critical elements in the educational process – which, in turn, is all about the parent experience.
As independent schools face increasing competition in an economic environment that is, at minimum, circumspect, it is essential to differentiate and find competitive advantages. Focusing on the Parent Experience may be the perfect prescription for doing just that.

Download your copy of Tailoring the Parent Experience 

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