How to build connections and establish trust with your customers

There is no denying the power of human connection and trust when it comes to winning people over. Or in our case: converting a prospective parent into an enrolment.

In the article “Should Admissions Staff Sell“, we explored the need to establish rapport and build trust with your customers. In this article, we will be more explicit about how you can achieve these with any customer who makes an enquiry.

Seeing it from prospective parents’ perspective
Before going deeper, first we must remember two underlying principles:

a. Every parent wants the best school for their child(ren) that will nurture their potential and meet their individual needs

b. It is human behaviour to make associations. Prospective parents will associate the staff they meet with the type of school it is, so how we, as admissions staff, conduct ourselves and what we say reflect on the school.

Knowing these basic principles will help us become truly effective admissions (and marketing) professionals in how we engage with prospective families.

Building connections and establishing trust

1.Be responsive: one of the ways in which you can win bonus points with prospective parents, even before they’ve visited your school, is by being the first to respond to their initial enquiry. Everyone appreciates prompt responses, it makes them feel important, respected and wanted (- we’re back to one of our basic principles), particularly now, in the digital age, where people expect their enquiry to be dealt with instantaneously. Successful schools that we have come across have systems for instant feedback and responses. Some even go to the extent of providing an instant chat facility on their website in a bid to gain more customers through being ‘responsive’. Another important tip is to always use a positive tone, especially over emails. Words like ‘delighted’, ‘pleased’, ‘happy’, ‘thank you’ are always received with a smile so use them as often as you can.

2. Make them feel welcomed: There is nothing more intimidating to many parents than to walk in to a large establishment that is formal, unpredictable and unfamiliar. To make them feel positively about your school even before they have arrived is to let them know who they will be meeting and where. Do they go to the Reception to meet Mrs X, Head of Admissions, or do they go to a particular room to meet someone else? Make this absolutely clear so it’s all familiar to them when they arrive.

When they arrive at your school, let them be greeted by the security guard and receptionist by their full name. It doesn’t take much effort to drop an internal memo to the frontline staff about your expected guests but it makes a huge difference to how you can make your customers feel instantly at ease and welcomed.

3.Let them talk: All too often, admissions staff feel that it is their job to talk (and talk and talk…), to give an overview about the school and emphasise its USPs. When you allow them to talk about their needs, their concerns, their children, you’re actually saying them “they are the important” to you and the school. It’s quite simply the message they want to receive. Listening to all your prospective parents also helps you to better understand their needs and motivation, making it easier for you to present what your school has to offer.

4. Switch off and listen: when engaging with your customer, the worst thing you can do is get distracted by something that interrupts the flow of the conversation. (Remember they are making associations! How you are reflects on the school.) Ensure that you have a room that allows you to engage with your prospective parents without distractions and focus wholly on them during the course of the consultation. Don’t think about the workload that’s waiting for you in the back office, ignore any vibrations from your mobile, forget what happened at home and switch off completely from everything else. The only “deliberate distraction” that will have a positive impression is the one where you say “hello” to students that you meet – by their first name – as you take the parents on a school tour!

There’s no denying that this role requires a first class actor/ actress to perform a highly complex and critical customer service act!

5. Sharpen up on your body language: it’s not a cliche: body language absolutely plays a crucial role in how others perceive us. Let’s go over the necessary basics: ensure you have a warm smile and a firm handshake when greeting your prospective parents. Think to yourself ‘we are incredibly delighted to welcome you to our school’ and your body will emit positive signals that your customer will pick up instantly. Engage in eye contact and practise your ‘mona lisa smile’, whilst making sure you avoid any ambiguous facial expressions that can be misinterpreted. (We have seen some staff, even Heads, get carried away during parent meetings by pulling a face or rolling their eyes, which send negative signals and impressions to the parents. It was not surprising that the school never heard from the parents again, despite efforts to follow up!)

You are the ambassador of the school. How you treat your prospective customers gives them vital clues about the way in which the school will treat their child(ren). So be sure to respond, welcome, switch off, listen and smile.

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