5 Actionable Tips for Following Up on Student Inquiries by Phone
Date posted: January 17, 2018
When it comes to student recruitment, follow-up to inquiries is an important, underleveraged area to which many schools ought to devote more attention. Timely and proper follow-up is one of the best ways to build relationships with valuable prospects and offer them the assistance and information they might need to take the next step and enrol at your institution.
Even with today’s wealth of options for communication, the telephone should always be one of the main channels for communicating with prospects. While they might not have the flash or additional functionality of online follow-up tools like instant messaging, phone calls have yet to be beaten when it comes to immediacy of information delivery and in providing an intimate setting for exchange.
Want to make telephone follow-up a bigger part of your recruitment efforts? Here are some actionable tips to follow to ensure your efforts achieve maximum effectiveness in driving conversion.
1: Use a Customer Relationship Management Platform
One of the most critical elements of effective telephone follow-up is to integrate it with a good customer relationship management software platform (CRM). When set up correctly, these services can become a hub for all the follow-up and relationship building activities engaged in by your recruitment team, including telephone follow-up. CRM platforms streamline the process, and contain and deliver valuable information in a way that is convenient and easy to understand.
One of the principle benefits of CRM is its ability to track where prospects come from, and how and when they interact with members of your recruitment team. For example, if a potential applicant entered your system by filling out an information request contact form on a page about student visas, those details would be included in their file within the system. All phone calls made by your team to that prospect could also be detailed, along with notes about whether or not there was a response, whether a message was left on their voicemail, and any commitments they made to take the next steps.
Example: Here is an example of a lead as they appear in the Mautic CRM. Personal and demographic information, information about where the lead was acquired, and the stage at which they are in the recruitment process are all easily read by users in the system.
The great benefit to this type of system is as a resource to reference prior to any engagement with leads. However, one minor obstacle is that ensuring that forms are correctly set up, that lead information is attributed correctly, and that all necessary members of your team are taught how to use the CRM can take time and money. Nonetheless, it is well worth the investment, as a good CRM can speed up all of your follow-up activities for years to come.
2: Call Potential Students Often & at the Right Times
The question of when to call and when not to call a prospective student can be difficult for recruitment teams, who may question whether they are pursuing leads too aggressively. However, while calling every hour, on the hour is certainly too much, calling a couple of times a day for a few days is a perfectly acceptable number of times to attempt to make first phone contact with a prospect. This research from an Inside Sales report titled The Best Practices for Lead Response Management shows the effectiveness of persistent follow-up:
As a general rule, you should call as many times as you can afford to until you make contact. For a larger institution with many prospects on their list, that may mean just a couple of times in a week before a prospect is set aside for the time being. For smaller schools that may not get as many applicants, though, making more phone calls might be both feasible and desirable.
The more important consideration when it comes to follow-up is to keep in mind any time zone differences between your callers and the individuals they are calling, as well as cultural considerations regarding time. In Brazil, for example, it is common for the last meal of the day to be served as late as 20:00, meaning calling at 18:00 local time will likely be perfectly acceptable and unintrusive. In a country like the Netherlands, though, a call at 18:00 local time could well interrupt the meal and upset the recipient of the call.
Finally, it’s important to set out on the right foot by calling leads as soon as possible. According to Inside Sales, the best possible time to respond to a query submitted to your team is within five minutes of receiving it.
While you can reduce this pressure by setting up an autoresponder email for new online leads, it is still important to pick up the phone as quickly as possible. The more time that passes before you follow up on student inquiries, the less likely a conversion will arise. This can be tough to balance when taking time zone and cultural differences into account, but the general point remains that you should try to get back to prospects sooner rather than later to have the best chance of gaining a new recruit.
3: Try to Follow Up in the Prospective Student’s Native Language
For all schools, but particularly those interested in courting international students, it’s important to be mindful of the benefits of conversing with them in their native language. Doing so can help make it easier for international prospects to absorb information, as well as make them more comfortable engaging with your recruitment team. It is also important to remember that many parents and relatives also inquire, and they might be less likely to speak another language. For these reasons, in a perfect situation, all of your follow-up activities should be completed in the language that they are strongest in.
This may not be an easy undertaking for all schools. Staff or contractors proficient in speaking and writing in a particular language will need to be brought on board and trained, and no school marketing team has an unlimited budget. This means hard choices may need to be made when putting together a follow-up plan. As an initial step, consider both the demographic makeup of your school and any particular regions you wish to target for growth, and ensure you have members of your recruitment team that can speak at least the main two or three languages.
For some regions, you may have the good fortune of more easily finding employees who can assist with follow-up in multiple languages. A former resident of Brazil, for example, could well be fluent in both Portuguese and Spanish, and be able to handle student inquiry follow-up for citizens from most of the Latin-speaking world. For others, you may have a more difficult time finding staff who are suitable to your particular task.
When necessary, you may still have luck attempting to follow up with prospects when you do not have any staff members capable of speaking their native tongue. Calling a prospective student in Copenhagen, Denmark, for example, you can be reasonably certain that they will have a fair command of English, and should be able to engage with them in that shared language. This expectation might not hold true for a prospect in Japan, though, where English-language instruction tends to be much less comprehensive. Judging how to approach these situations should be made on a case by case basis, dependent on your team, resources, and the cultural and educational setting of a given country.
Useful Graphic: To give you a better idea of the varied languages spoken in different regions, here are a couple of sections of an infographic detailing the second-most spoken language in each country. You can find the full image on Move Hub.
4: Be Informed & Direct With Students During Phone Follow-Up
Brevity is the soul of wit, and can be the secret to effective telephone follow-up, too. Get straight to the point and you can not only quickly provide prospects with the information that they need, but also save yourself valuable time. After a short introduction and quick hello, it’s best to get right to your reason for calling, and quickly provide whatever information or assistance the call recipient has requested.
If you are not employing a CRM system, this aspect of following up on student inquiries might require a little more time and effort. You might need to remind the student that they reached out with a request for information and that you would like to know what their question or concern is so that you can help them. This can involve multiple steps and might be complicated if the student’s conversational skills in your shared language are weaker, or if they have simply forgotten what it is that they had reached out for in the first place. Alternatively, you can avoid this by incorporating a message field in your contact forms where students can write a message about what information they are requesting. And, of course, for schools employing a good CRM, the needs or requests of a given prospect will be included within their profile in the program. This can, and should, make it easy for your team to be even quicker in getting to the point, so don’t be afraid to do so!
Example: Including a simple comment box in your contact forms, as language school the English Studies Institute do here, can help you get valuable information for your follow-up efforts.
Once the main topic of conversation has been addressed, it is of course valuable for recruitment agents to be willing and prepared to help students with any other questions they might have. This might not always be directly linked to whatever the initial question was, so it’s a good idea for your team to have potentially relevant information queued up and ready to share.
A prospect may initiate contact looking for visa information, for example, but realize on the phone that they are also interested in student employment opportunities, local residences, or on-campus clubs. Anticipating these concerns and having this information just a couple of clicks away during your phone call is a great way to be extra responsive and helpful. It’s also a good idea to tell the student you will email them all the information that you have discussed with them, so that they can peruse it at their leisure. You should have email templates for common queries ready to go and prepared in advance.
5: Make the Call All About the Prospective Student
The most successful higher education follow-up strategies are built around providing genuine value, pleasant service, and a great interactive experience. Approach follow-up in this way and you improve your odds of making your school not only the logically appealing choice, but the choice that is most emotionally resonant with your target audience.
Success in this area is all about the little things. Address the prospect by name all through your conversation, for instance, and you make it clear that they are your focus, and that you know you are speaking to a person and not just another in a lengthy list of entries in your contact sheet. Keeping a friendly tone and practicing active listening – paying close attention to what the other individual is saying, not planning your next words even while they speak – can likewise make the other party feel as though they are really being heard. It also helps ensure that you don’t accidentally answer the wrong question, lose track of what they are saying, or otherwise make you and your organization seem inattentive or disorganized.
It’s also important to use questions to drive the conversation forward. Some prospective students may have additional information they would like to know but are too shy to ask or have momentarily forgotten about. Even for those students who know what they want to know, having an individual take the time to engage them in conversation makes them feel as though the process is unhurried and on their terms. Just don’t forget to be respectful of the other person’s time. Monitor their language and tone to better avoid overstaying your welcome with an overly lengthy conversation.
Lastly, a student who has engaged with your team once should be considered a priority going forward, and granted the opportunity to have as frictionless an experience as possible. Whoever is on the phone with them should provide the prospect with their own direct phone number and email address so that any questions or concerns can be addressed right away. It’s something that adds value for your recruitment team, too – you don’t want someone close to enrolling to have to wait long before doing so.
Telephone follow-up is of the utmost importance in student recruitment, and though success in this arena is dependent on a number of factors, it’s well within reach of all institutions. Following a student-centric approach, making intelligent use of CRM, and ensuring your staff is well-informed, well-prepared, and able to converse with the prospects effectively can make an enormous difference in the results of this process.