James and the MTM team have carried out over 100 mystery shops this year, so many infact that this has become an inauguration task! Before starting, each ‘shopper’ is issued with a ‘persona’ (the character to play when calling the school), and some key statistics:

  • Each household with the affluence to consider independent schools has an average of 1.8 children (this is lower the 2.2 of the general population).
  • Parents prefer that if they have 2 or more children that they all go to schools in the same locality (if possible).
  • All parents love talking about their children.

So this is our rant: if a parent has decided to call your school, it is no trivial matter! They have created a spreadsheet, spent time on your website, worked out the potential drive time and transport options, spoken to their partner about their now shortlist, and finally, picked up the phone to ask for a prospectus. Their first interaction with your school which could cost them £350,000 (twice that amount 4 out of 5 times), and what happens? The result is often anticlimactic… They may receive a prospectus and often an invite for a visit. But they wanted so much more!

The interaction should lend itself to the reflection of whether the school fits the needs of my child and conversely, the school must show interest in the child’s fit to its own culture and community. The best admissions teams had the family and the entire life history down to everyone’s shirt sizes before it was done. Importantly, the customer oriented questioning was subtle enough that the inquisition went unnoticed until driving on to the competitor school!

MTM have 6 key suggestions for the admissions team:

  1. Engage with prospective parents actively and genuinely: Parents are busy, but they love their children! Ask individualized questions about their children.
  2. Treat follow up to prospective parent outreach as time sensitive and critical: Every contact, whether via the website, direct call or email, mean the parent has made the first step towards your school. This is the parent inviting you into their and their child’s lives! This is a big step! Call or a follow up with an email.
  3. Develop a highly-attuned customer service culture with prospective parents: We are all consumers, we all have electricity bills, or interactions with Amazon.com or even supermarkets; what makes you feel good/bad about the services that you use? Try to replicate the good and remove the bad in your own admissions process.
  4. Walk the journey of a prospective parent through your school: What is the experience of phoning your school? As a prospective parent? Which constituent is the phone system favouring? In the phone system of one school called, the first option was for ‘reporting a child’s absence’. Be intentional about providing superior service to your prospective and current parents.
  5. Allow time for relationship building between admissions staff and prospective families: Give the admissions team time to do their job. When you speak to admissions teams it often seems that speaking to parents, prospective and current, is something they must fit into their day. There should be nothing more important than speaking to prospective parents.
  6. Utilize data: MTM’s business is built on the premise that data is powerful and can have great impact on strategic development. We recommend using data to develop and improve upon existing organizational systems and processes. Visualising your admissions pipeline is essential.

In summary, by being genuinely inquisitive and proactively interacting with the parents of a child you can encourage parents into the independent school system, and into your school, while identifying the buying drivers and finding the 4 out of 5 parents who have a second child. This results in an increase of conversion and a more positive interaction for the school and the parents.