Oh, the holidays; the hustle and bustle, the lights, the music, and who could forget the shopping mania! As we think about that perfect gift, it’s a good time to remember that your prospective students are shoppers too … educational shoppers, that is.
Instead of shopping for sweaters or the latest must-have gift…they are shopping for educational opportunities and experiences. You know, like the ones you offer.
What is their shopping experience like? Here’s hoping it’s nothing like the madness at the mall with the slew of tired workers and excess of disorganized offers. Too often, we spend all of our time on getting out the new marketing campaign to entice students to contact us … but what actually happens when they do?
The only way to know for sure what your prospects experience is to step into the role of student and shop your institution for yourself. At DemandEngine, we do a lot of this for colleges and universities. The results are mostly … not good. At one university, we recently asked staff their opinion on how soon an email message should be responded to. The answers ranged from 15 minutes to 48 hours!
The educational shopping experience shouldn’t be a game of luck … maybe you email or call the right employee (who will respond) … or maybe you don’t.
How can you get a handle on your own shopping experience? Follow our five tips:
1. Search For Yourself
Prospective students use search engines to find answers. When a student is considering a signature degree or program you offer, how would they ask about it? Take a moment to think of the kinds of ‘keywords’ prospects to look online. Jot down your list and then conduct a search for those keywords on a search engine such as Google. Add the name of your state or city.
Did you show up on the first page? The second page? At all? If you are not showing for the most obvious keywords prospects would be using, it’s time to review your website.
Search Update: When conducting any search on Google for yourself be sure to clear your browser cache and cookies. In a recent press release, Google announced that it is now using “personalized search for everyone,” whether you are logged into Google or not. The search engine will place hidden cookies on your computer to help skew the results based on your past search and web history.
So before you get too excited that you are pulling at the top of the natural search returns every time, remember you must clear your cookies.
Next, inquire … to yourself. Set up a free email address and then inquire using the web forms or email addresses you offer on your college web site. Enlist a friend to take your research a step further. Have them call the phone number you offer on your site. Be sure to plan a ‘scenario’ ahead of time for your secret caller.
3. Track Communication Efforts
For each of the avenues you choose to secret shop, keep a record of the interactions.
· How long did it take to receive the offer from the web inquiry?
· Did you receive follow up emails or calls? When?
· What information did your staff asked for on the call? Did the interaction follow your office’s guidelines?
· How long did it take for your office to respond to your comments in the online forums?
4. Join the Conversation
If your admission or marketing office uses blogs or social networks in marketing efforts be sure to shop these as well. Again you may have to create a special profile or enlist the help of a friend. Make comments or ask questions. Watch what happens.
5. Don’t Rely on Just One Shopping Spree
Every season has a holiday. Secret shopping provides insight by routinely testing your people, process and technology systems. Continue to measure the responses and make adjustments to improve your efforts.
This holiday remember to treat your students how you, as a shopper, expect to be treated. Go shopping.
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