Are you making it easy to attend your school? I don’t mean “are your academics not challenging or difficult?”, but have you made it easy for a parent to be up to date on all the things that are happening at your school? I have conducted dozens of focus groups of parents across the country, and the number one complaint I hear from them is about the lack of communication from the school. Of course, when I say this to administrators, they sometimes have a hard time believing the data because they think they are over-communicating. “If parents would just read the communication, everything would be fine.”
We have a perception gap. As a marketer, the onus is always on you to make sure that your message is being heard, not on the customer to hear it. I hate to say this to school leaders because I know how challenging their job already is, but the parent is right. With today’s shorter attention spans and media coming at us from every direction, we have to adapt, and do more to communicate to our parents effectively.
Here is a list of things that I would challenge you to ask yourself if you are doing and if not, think about implementing some changes to try to make your school “an easy one to go to.”
Are you truly leveraging digital channels?
Is your website mobile-optimized?
The majority of internet traffic is from mobile devices. A mobile-optimized site is customized for the screen size of a tablet or phone. If a parent is trying to read a site on a phone that is not mobile- optimized, it is going to be a frustrating experience – negating any work that you have done to make your website useful.
Is your website up to date? I know it takes time to do this, but your website needs to be scrubbed at least yearly to ensure that it is up to date. Next time you do it, create a written site map so you know what to update each year.
Does your website contain answers to the most frequent parent’s questions? Millennials, your primary target customer, don’t want to call you. They would rather go to your website. Compile the list of all the questions that your admin team fields day in and day out and make sure that those questions are answered on your website in an easy-to-find fashion.
Can a parent fill out forms electronically on your website? Paper forms are a pain. They get lost, and someone in the office must input the information into the computer anyway. Brush up on your Google Forms and try to make things as electronic as possible. If I can sign bank forms or contracts electronically, is there a reason why I can’t do it for school forms?
Can a parent pay for his/her children’s fees electronically and at a low cost? Are there additional fees involved in paying electronically? My boys’ school just went to a new lunch program billing system. It is fine, but each time you put money into the account, there is a $2.95 service fee. That is fine for me, but for some people on a budget who may need to pay weekly, that may be an additional financial burden.
Are you using a custom school App for smart phones? This is a great new technology that a lot of schools are using. It is not very expensive ~$250 / month and it is a huge benefit for parents. This allows you to push content, set appointments and reminders and constantly make sure that updated information is in the hands of the parent.
Does your school calendar easily allow parents to import important events into my own calendar? This requires a little bit more technical tweaking, but most parents live or die by our electronic calendars. Having a single consolidated calendar that can be integrated into a smart phone, tablet or existing on-line family calendar program is a worthwhile investment.
Are you communicating about important events in multiple channels? Some of your parents will go to your website daily, others use Twitter and still others only check their Facebook page. It is critical that you are providing information in every channel that your parents use. I covered the benefits of multi-platform tools in this blog posting. But, if you don’t want to use those tools and just want one social media platform, you need to use the one that most Millennials and Generation X parents use: Facebook.
How is the communication between parents and teachers?
Do you guarantee a response time to your parents? Most teachers that I have met are good about this, but you need to make sure that all teachers know that parents generally will be expecting a turn-around time of within 24 hours. Make sure all of your teachers adhere to this and tell your parents that they will get a reply within a day.
Are all of your teachers using the same in classroom communication system for parents? Imagine this scenario: You are a parent of three kids. One teacher uses Class Dojo, one uses a Weebly website and another uses the app Remind. You are asking that parent to check three different places to know current homework assignments for the family. I know that each teacher probably has a preference, but if you are serious about making this easy for your parents, your school needs use just one platform.
Do you customize your communication based upon the individual students?
This is a little bit trickier, but some schools overload their parents with a lot of communication that doesn’t apply to their student. While it is important for all of the 8th graders to know about the upcoming DC trip, can you figure out a way to just send that to the parents of the 8th graders? The use of “all school” parent communication can lead to parents tuning stuff out because they don’t think it applies to their own specific child. Being able to create segments in your email communication will increase your open rates and make sure that the right people are reading your communications.
When I call the school, do I get a confusing phone tree or a real person that answers?
As I mentioned before, most millennials don’t want to call the school, but when they do, they want to talk to a real person immediately. Does your phone tree make them go through eight different options first before they get the selection to talk to a real person? This is a balancing act between having too many phone calls and not enough.
Your parents will love you if you undertake any initiative that improves communication. You should always have a goal of making it as easy as possible to attend your school and ensure that your parents are apprised of updates, information and school news. If you make it easy to attend, you will be surprised at how many more people DO attend!
Nick LeRoy is the president of Bright Minds Marketing and former Executive Director of the Indiana Charter School Board. Bright Minds Marketing provides marketing and recruitment consulting to private, Catholic and charter schools. For information about how Bright Minds Marketing can help your school improve your marketing, visit us at www.brightmindsmarketing.com, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 317-361-5255.