Your marketing campaigns are generating hundreds of new inquiries for your online programs, but none of these inquiries are turning into enrollments. What gives?
This is a common issue that plagues many enrollment managers at higher education institutions all across the country. You spend time researching your market, understanding your prospective student and defining your institution’s value proposition. Your enrollment and marketing teams work together in developing an online marketing campaign that clearly demonstrates your value to the perfect student prospect. And guess what? It worked! Your hard work and planning paid off and prospective students are coming to your website and inquiring about your online programs. One problem: none of them are enrolling.
So what gives? Are the student prospects low quality? Have you mispriced your programs? Determined the wrong scheduling? Created the wrong formats? Or is it something else you aren’t even thinking of?
Well, as long as your higher education market research was done correctly and you developed programs, schedules, and formats that meet the needs of your prospective online student, it’s likely the inquiries you are receiving are from truly interested prospects. The real cause for your low inquiry-to-enrollment rate is due to an inadequate or non-existent follow-up strategy. The good news is that this can be easily corrected.
With the postsecondary enrollment growth rate in degree-granting institutions expected to slow from 37 percent between 1999-2013 to a projected 14 percent between 2013-2024, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the competition amongst institutions to meet enrollment quotas has become fierce. SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) “Fall Enrollment Survey” (IPEDS-EF:99); IPEDS Spring 2001 through Spring 2014, Enrollment component; and Enrollment in Degree-Granting Institutions Projection Model, 1980 through 2024. (This figure was prepared May 2015.) In addition, the proliferation and use of smartphones allows prospective students to easily request information from multiple institutions—on average three—according to the 2016 Online College Students Report. To ensure that your institution is turning these inquiries into enrollments, you must be unyielding in following up with inquiries as soon as they come in. And, no, this doesn’t mean sending an automated email thanking a prospective student for filling out your inquiry form. Or waiting until tomorrow, or after the weekend to pick up the phone and call the prospect. It means having one of your enrollment counselors call the prospect within 30 minutes of requesting additional information. Don’t think it’s important to follow up with an inquiry immediately? Listen to what your prospective students think. According to the 1,500 prospective online students surveyed for the 2016 Online College Students Report, almost half (49 percent) enrolled in the first institution to respond back to them after they inquired, nearly a 10 percent increase from 2015.
If that doesn’t make you rethink the importance of following up with prospects immediately, consider that the institutions that follow up with prospect inquiries the fastest usually do so in under two minutes, even at night and on the weekends. Why? Because they know that if they call first, they have a nearly 50 percent chance of enrolling that prospective online student. Okay, but how do you follow up with inquiries so quickly? Simple, create a process.
To follow up with student prospects within 30 minutes of inquiring, you need a process in place for your enrollment team to follow. While there’s no cookie-cutter approach for developing a follow-up process—especially one unique to your institution—there are a few general questions you can answer to help guide you in the right direction:
Who should follow-up with a prospective online student?
When will the follow-up calls be made?
What should we say to a prospective online student?
What tools do we need to be effective in our jobs?
How will we measure our success?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should help you get started in developing a follow-up process that is right for your institution. Also, it’s important to realize that there will be bumps in the road and in order to be successful, you must be willing to constantly review your process and tweak it. Take a page from the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, or “continuous improvement,” and empower your team to seek new and innovative ways to improve and reshape your follow-up process. By doing so, you’ll quickly move toward a follow-up process that turns more of your inquiries into enrolled online students. But what if you don’t have the resources to follow up with inquiries in real-time? Thankfully, there now exists many higher education contact centers to support your efforts or even act as the first point of contact on your behalf. These contact centers employ highly-skilled enrollment representatives who are trained on your programs and culture to accurately and effectively communicate your institution’s value propositions. In addition, they may offer you the flexibility to test and scale your operations by providing various tiers of service, from simple inquiry verification all the way through enrollment processing. Considering the importance of connecting with a prospective student as soon as they inquire about your institution, you can consider it as money well spent.