The Personal "Touch" on a Small School Budget

January 12, 2015 Molly Dorais
The Personal

In recent years, as the traditional inquiry has dwindled and been replaced by the anonymous internet rover, admission offices across the country have been exploring more and more ways to reach and connect with prospective students. Bigger offices with bigger budgets have invested in serious technology, like customized databases and sophisticated customer relationship management systems (CRM), to tailor their messaging in a way that is meaningful and personal to the individual student. This is something colleges and universities have been doing for years. It’s brilliant and it works. But it is also very expensive and requires quite a bit of work on the front end. What do you do if you are at a school without those kinds of resources? What if you are at a small, niche school that doesn’t see a ton of volume, but still wants to be strategic and personal in your messaging to prospects?

At my school, Colorado Rocky Mountain School, we fit into both of the last two categories. We are small, niche, and don’t have a lot of resources designated toward “marketing” efforts. We also have a very basic database. Despite those things, I have always felt it is important to take excellent care of the students and families that inquire with us. I also wanted to bring more data to the process. So, our office developed a Touchpoint Management System. The initial goal was to understand how many “touches” we were giving a student at various stages of the admission process. (By touch, I mean any type of contact we had with them from a personalized email after the inquiry to a parting gift after the visit and interview.) We then crossed that data with our yield data to see how we might tweak it to improve our overall outcomes. When we did our initial audit of touches, we found that we had approximately 25 touches per enrolled family. When we compared our touches to our yield data, there seemed to be a direct correlation. The more touches, the better the yield at that particular stage. Armed with that information, we examined the stages where we wanted to increase our yield and strategized how to incorporate more touches.

We are a small office, so we had to get creative with executing more touches. We utilize things like customized e-newsletters, student handwritten notes, calls from current parents, etc. to outsource some of our touches to families. Not only does this help our office manage the work flow, but I think it is valuable for prospective families to hear from other people at the school throughout the process.

We have also explored the idea of different tracks for different constituents. For example, international students get a different set of touches from say, domestic boarding students or legacy students. There are lots of ways to customize the process for your office’s particular needs.

None of our touches are groundbreaking in terms of what we are doing or saying, but having a way to track and manage our communication and outreach with families without sophisticated resources serves our operation well. The best part is that it is relatively cost effective, and the results are measurable. If nothing else, I encourage you to just map out your current touches to prospective students and cross-reference that with your funnel yield. Was there any correlation?

Happy file reading!

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