In a world where physical and virtual environments are rapidly converging, schools need to meet customer needs anytime, anywhere. Already, the consumer decision journey has been altered by the ubiquity of big data, the internet, and advances in web coding and design. Customers now have endless online and off-line options for researching and buying new products and services, all at their fingertips 24/7. Under this scenario, digital channels no longer represent “a cheaper way” to interact with customers; they are critical for executing promotions, stimulating enrolments, and increasing market share.
Companies and schools can be lulled into thinking they’re already doing everything right. Most know how to think through customer search needs or have ramped up their use of social media to communicate with their target audience. If they are not at this stage, they are being left behind by their competitors! Tools and standards are changing faster than schools can react.
How schools engage prospective parents, current parents and community stakeholders in these digital channels matters profoundly—not just because of the immediate opportunities to convert interest to enrolments but because two-thirds of the decisions customers make are informed by the quality of their experiences all along their journey, according to the most recent research.
To keep up with rapid technology cycles and improve their multiplatform marketing efforts, schools need to take a different approach to manage the consumer decision-making journey—one that embraces the speed that digitization brings and focuses on capabilities in three areas:
Data: Schools must apply advanced analytics to the large amounts of structured and unstructured data at their disposal to gain a 360-degree view of their customers. They should be utilising data from their websites, social channels, and enrolment funnel software.
Design: Consumers now have much more control over where they will focus their attention, so schools need to craft a compelling customer experience in which all interactions are expressly tailored to a customer’s stage in his or her decision journey.
Deliver: “Always on” marketing programs, in which schools engage with customers in precisely the right way at any contact point along the journey, requires agile teams of experts in analytics and information technologies, marketing, and experience design. These cross-functional teams need strong collaborative and communication skills and a relentless commitment to iterative testing, learning, and scaling—at a pace that many schools may find challenging if not impossible due to the lack of resources.
Let’s consider what an optimized cross-channel experience could look like when schools target improved capabilities in these three areas.
A new normal in today’s world for schools….
Imagine that a parent or caregiver has reached the stage, where they are considering schools for their child. Mary and Steve, start their journey by visiting several school websites. At one school site, they identify three critical areas of interest and click through to register for a prospectus. Because this is a significant decision, with complex factors to consider — they decide they need to visit the schools in their consideration set to get a feel for the school’s culture and see the facilities and students firsthand.
Under an optimized cross-channel experience, the couple could find and locate each they are interested in through the school website, enquire and book a tour, get directions using Google Maps, and drive to view the school. Even before they have walked through the doors, the receptionist has been informed that Mary and Steve will be arriving and to welcome them and seat them in reception. The school enrolment officer and Principal (if a principal tour was requested) greets them by name and is armed with personalized information around their inquiry and child’s information provided from data collected on the website booking form. Recommendations based on the data received from the inquiry form allows for a very personalised experience.
They are taken around the school/college; they ask questions around all aspects of the schools offer: academic, pastoral/ wellbeing programs, co-curricular activities, daily schedule, fee’s, travel options and innovative integrated technology. Because the school employs sophisticated prospect software technologies, information about couple’s interests and child has automatically been synced to the iPad tour checklist and relayed to the registrar to discuss on their tour.
Emails were automatically generated initially, to confirm their appointment and then thank them for coming. We can retarget them from their visit to the website and advertise to them in the coming weeks. They can scan reviews online, text their parents/family for advice, ask Facebook friends to weigh in on the options in consideration and compare the school’s prices against other competitors. Mary and Steve can also take advantage of a “virtual tour” function on the school’s website to show friends and family the campus, school facilities, room size, and decor; this allows them to get reassurance from those that help influence their decision.
All the input is favourable, so the couple decides to take advantage of the early enrolment process. Mary’s iPad is used to apply with the editable PDF, and a smartwatch is then used to authenticate payment of application fee. Within minutes they receive an automated personal thank you email and message from the Principal. They also have a follow-up conversation with the registrar within two days, who confirms and acknowledges their application. Three weeks after that, the couple gets an email from the school with information about upcoming events and news. This communication process of nurturing the prospect continues until they are informed about enrolment procedures, interviews, dates and times.
… new capabilities
Even in this era of big data and widespread digitization of customer information, some schools still lack a 360-degree view of their prospective target market. They typically measure the performance of direct marketing activities such as advertisements and encourage enrolments using “last-action attribution” analyses, which assess campaigns in isolation rather than in the context of the entire cross-channel consumer decision journey. Usually, this data will have been stored in disparate locations rather than in a central server. Complicating matters further is the range and quantity of unstructured data out there—information about consumers’ behaviours and preferences that is, for instance, captured in online reviews and social-media posts. In our experience, this type of data is usually the least understood and therefore the least utilised by schools.
School marketers can gather this data and begin to pinpoint opportunities to engage more effectively with families across the decision journey. This collection process requires input from people across multiple functions—a complex undertaking, to be sure, but the payoff can be significant.
For schools to ultimately succeed in omnichannel marketing and sales, they will need to engage in better prospect nurturing software, that is initiative and responsive. A focus on integrating customer experience effectively needs to be prioritised. Using big data and digital touchpoints to drive growth and reduce costs, while producing and managing a variety of content (a prospectus, web pages, mobile apps, and user-generated content) in real time across multiple platforms can create a breakthrough in customer experiences. It also requires a lot of investment and time. Make sure you understand what metrics are relevant and how they can drive better outcomes for the customer experience.
Finally, this means rethinking the analytics that informs segmentation strategies, considering the flow of the experiences you design, and the way they are set up in the internal operations for faster iteration and delivery of service.
Schools are lagging behind businesses in their adoption of integrated marketing, digitalisation, analytics and automated marketing. To stay engaged with prospective parents who are Generation Y you need to be meeting to their needs online and across all touchpoints. The personalisation of the customer journey is vital. Don’t keep doing what you have always done, or you will be left behind.