Webinar Transcription: Best Practices for Training Your Admissions & Advising Staff


By: Christopher Tashjian Oct 22, 2018

This is a transcription from the Q & A section of our webinar on Best Practices for Training Your Admissions & Advising Staff. You can download the full webinar and slides here.

What Goes into Training New Hires for your Admissions team? For specifically onboarding a new-hire training, in our experience, it’s about a four-to-six-week process to get a really thorough training program that’s going to graduate an employee that’s really ready to speak and engage with prospective students. The first three weeks of that program is really behind-the-scenes product knowledge information, procedure, process, and organizational structure, and then in the latter part of that three-week stretch do we really start exposing them to prospective students, doing some more one-on-one job shadowing and things of that sort.  

Great, and how important is role playing as part of training? Critical. We get asked this question a lot, I don’t know if it’s because people, you know, tend to think, “Oh it might be important but certainly I hate doing it.” And I understand that, but in our view and my view, definitely in our experience, role playing is such a critically important aspect of, not only new hire training, but the continual training process for the advisor position. Role playing that opportunity, especially for new hires to really expose them to the type of prospective students that they’re going to be working with, engaging with, what challenges they may bring to the conversation and what specific product knowledge points they may frequently bring up in conversation. Role playing is really the best opportunity to provide that information to a new advisor in a way that’s not an electronic website, it’s not a training document, it’s an actual conversation with someone. So, it’s very important.  

Great, yeah, so, to follow along with that, how closely do you want advisors to stick to the scripts, and is there leeway to make the call conversational? Sure, before I answer that question, I’ll take a step back just to throw it out there since folks may not be familiar with scripts, I know some institutions use them, some don’t. The process of scripting would be, you know, an advisor who is consistently speaking about a particular program – the script is really the conversation outline for highlighting features and benefits of that particular program as it relates to an individual student. So, scripting for us, big believer in that for the training process. It not only helps provide that product knowledge that’s so critical in an advising role to new employees, but it also allows for a more efficient training process on the backend for filling positions, too. You never know when advisors in the roles are going to promote to new positions, take other positions outside the organization… Having the product knowledge and program information in the form of a script is really important so that we don’t experience any downtime during that transition. In terms of adhering specifically to a script, you know, we really pride ourselves on hiring and finding, you know, as admissions leaders, really good, competent communication stars – people that are good at having a conversation and speaking with prospective students, and you can’t really do that by following a script to a T. So, you’ll hear different positions on that but mine is really use the script as a conversational guideline, most-importantly to make sure the advisors understand the specific programmatic features and benefits, you really want to make sure you’re articulately describing to prospective students. But when it comes to conversations the people that are in these roles should be in these roles because they’re good at getting to know people and really establishing a relationship and a good rapport with students and you can’t do that by following a script to a T.  

That actually ties into our first audience question: Do you value a sales background for mid-level staff? Yeah, I definitely value it, it’s helpful. But it all depends on the context of that, too. One of the things that comes up frequently, and I think we might actually have a question on it on one of the future slides, so I’ll just get to it, is how do you balance between what some could perceive as a more aggressive sales approach in a conversation to really being that product-knowledge expert, the answer to that is really how you train the admissions professionals that are speaking with your prospective students, so it’s certainly helpful to come to the job with a bit of a sales training background to understand metrics and the importance of a consultative conversation that highlights features and benefits, but in my experience you can also get someone who’s effective at that role who’s come from a strong customer service background, someone that’s just really used to and comfortable engaging in customer conversation.  

Thanks. Let’s go on a little bit. What are some examples of metrics to measure new advisor success on? That’s a great question and it comes up frequently as well. And my answer to that always is what are you evaluating your tenured advisors on, and those same metrics and key performance indicators should be benchmarks for your new advisors as well. And the key to that is, of course, that you’re evaluating and observing your newer advisors – those that are fresh out of training, in particular, on a curve. So, understand what your more tenured team is doing in terms of response time, application rate, things like that that we consistently talk about in the field of enrollment management, and set a high bar for new advisors and grade on a curve, with that understanding that they’re not going to be hitting those benchmarks right out of the gate. Sure. You kind of hit number two already, so let’s go on to three.  

How do you train your advisors to effectively overcome common objectives like cost, time, and learning outcomes? That’s a good question. We talked a little bit about the value that I place on role playing in not only the new hire training but in ongoing advisor performance management, role playing is a really critical aspect of this particular question, too, in particular with adult students, post-traditional students, students considering online graduate programs. The common questions that our advisors are fielding, every prospective student is unique, but there are a lot of themes such as time, cost, and learning outcomes of a particular program, so really being able to role play with advisors who are speaking to them is an important one. It helps them speak to them confidently, but it also helps them speak to them intelligently. So, if your particular institution has a unique value proposition in time to completion, are your advisors able to articulately communicate that with a wide range of prospective students? They should be, because that prospective student’s going to be asking the next institution they’re speaking to that as well. Cool, great. So, our next section is development of your existing advising team and also your strategy. Some of this is going to cross over with the earlier parts so we’ll move along.

What reporting and metrics are important to track in the success of a training program? I did touch on that a bit, but one of the other things that I’ll say that we utilize here at Education Dynamics, I know some of our institutional partners also utilized them is competency assessments for specific programs. You know, the admissions advisor role is so important because prospective students are coming to us, they’re learning a bit about the program and institution on the website, but they’re really diving deep into the weeds during that first conversation if they consider that. So, making sure they understand the programs that they’re speaking about, and the specific criteria for admissions consideration, etc., is really important. And if you hire advisors that are speaking to specific programs, being able to kind of take those and put them into a 10-question assessment that advisors should be able to master when they’re through the training program is just an important training tool that helps you understand, alright, during the classroom version of this, are we really covering the core product knowledge area of the program that we want covered?  

Sure, so, moving on, as objectively as possible, what are the components of a high-quality conversation that advisors can be having with prospective students? I think that’s really important, I touched on that the first slide, you know, the ability to have a great conversation and connect with people is a critical skillset for someone who’s going to be effective in the advisor role. So, for this, I would typically say that the most important features of those conversations are your ability to build rapport in a relatively quick manner that a lot of times is just happening over the phone. So, your typical advisor is speaking with, you know, dozens of prospective students and highlighting multiple featured programs to them on a daily basis. Those students are coming from different backgrounds, a different level of comfort with higher education as a system, being able to wear different hats and being able to communicate to those individuals is a critical aspect. The other component is product knowledge, we not only want to make prospective students, in particular adult and online students feel comfortable speaking to us but we want to demonstrate that we are providing a value in that conversation, articulating the specific benefits and features of the program that are relevant to that particular student. I’m a big proponent of understanding that and really training on that what’s relevant to you Chris is not necessarily what’s relevant or a point of concern for me as a prospective student.  

What is the best way to structure a team for high inquiry volume programs? I’ll qualify that as we’re talking about, in the hundreds of inquiries per week. Sure, so there’s two things that we would consider in structuring that, and encourage clients to do the same, is one, that you’re structuring your team for adequate coverage throughout the day. Chris, as you point out, the star, we can do such a fantastic job on training, we can have the most differentiating programs, but half the battle is just getting in front of the prospective student first, so structuring your team to have adequate bandwidth and respond to prospective student inquiries throughout the day and particular evening hours, weekend hours, if it’s adult and online students, then we’re missing half the game there. And the other feature for high inquiry programs is really a thorough cross-training effort. A lot of people ask is it important that I have differentiated advisors for certain specialized programs? And my response always to that is, if you have advisors that are repeatedly talking about the same programs over and over again, they’re going to develop a really strong product knowledge about that but it’s not the only way you can accomplish that, but for high-volume programs, you really get a lot of benefits from having your entire team being cross-trained and being able to speak to any program a prospective student inquiries about.  

We have another couple of questions that came in from the audience, but we’re going to go back to this organizational structure. What are your best practices for admissions or advising team structure? We’re talking about organizational structure here, as you’re hiring. In short, make sure that you’re basing the structure of your team, in particular the number of staff members on your team in alignment with the volume of the inquiries, and the expectation of service for those inquiries. So, understand how many inquiries are coming in and what’s realistic on a per advisor level and staff accordingly for that. When it comes to adding in admissions management and enrollment management, make sure that you’re structuring your team with the idea and the principle that an enrollment management leader is going to have the time and the bandwidth to be providing that ongoing consistent, continual training to each member of the team, because it’s, again, as we emphasize throughout, it’s not just about new hire training, it’s about consistent, continual professional development.  

Great. How frequent should contact be made with leads that are in the inquiry/applicant phase? On the inquiries side, a prospective student that’s submitting an inquiry to an institution, a critical component of that is a speed to response, and we want to provide that very, very quickly, as quickly as possible. As we saw a number of students base their decision based off the first institution that responds to their inquiry. So that’s important. Often times, we don’t get in touch with students at the first call, so we want to make sure we’re working a contact strategy on that front-end, pre-application, that makes sense for the institution and, most importantly, the profile of prospects, and that can be anywhere from 7-10 outbound calls over a period of time, a period of a number of weeks before we’re able to get in touch with them. Once they’re in the applicant phase, it really depends on the type of program that the advisors are working. If it’s a generally open admission undergraduate program that doesn’t require lots of professional documentation, the contact during the application phase may be less so. If it’s a more-involved, more selective graduate program that may require, for example, documentation in the form of letters of references, resumes, things like that, they’re may be a number of other touchpoints throughout that because the process is longer to complete the admissions packet.  

I think we hit a good topic, we had a handful of questions come in on the number of inquiries for advisors so I’m going to combine the questions here. Realistically, how many inquiries do you think one admissions rep could work successfully per week and how would you gauge that? Sure, the most important part of the answer to that question is there is no exact benchmark on that because there’s such a number of variant factors with that and what that really depends on is what type of program is an advisor speaking about and what is the associated admissions process that’s affiliated with those programs. So, the types of programs that really make that vary, from a small number to a much larger – ability to handle a larger volume of inquiries is a program that’s generally open admission, generally low document collection, more frequent start dates throughout the year. On the other hand, is it a program that has a quite-involved document collection, may have things such as admissions interviews, and may have document collection such as professional recommendation, certification, letters of references, things like that. If your teams are working programs that are aligned with the latter, it’s going to impact the number of leads that are handled on a weekly basis because we don’t want to impact quality, and if they’re really focused on the former, obviously, you’re able to work as many that can be done, while still maintaining quality for that. So, I know that’s a broad response but I’m hesitant to throw out a certain number because there just are so many variant points.  

How do you determine a contact rate for those inquiries? Sure, I think that’s a really important part of working closely with the marketing team whether you’re marketing in house or you’re working with a marketing agency for lead generation, you should understand the sources that your leads are coming from, and what the industry benchmark for contact rate for those sources are. Whatever those benchmarks are really should serve as your internal benchmark, so step one is understanding what sources are they and what are the marketing benchmarks associated with those, and step two is how are we performing against those? If you’re out-performing them, that’s fantastic, you can always keep going higher, and obviously, if teams are coming in under that, then your new goal becomes that benchmark, until you’ve hit that benchmark and then exceed that.  

How do you balance a more aggressive approach vs. just providing information and letting the student take the initiative? That is part of enrollment management that is art vs. science. You have to make sure that you’re hiring the right people that are really passionate about the work they’re doing and the impact that can have on an individual. Those kinds of people, if identified during the hiring process, they can have a super passionate, super motivating conversation with a prospective student that does not come across salesy, and then the other component of that is making sure that you’re consistently playing calls, giving feedback on prospective student interacts to that advisor, because in reality, you know, being aggressive, being salesy with that approach, is not what really wins students over with the institution, and in fact, you have to be doing a really thorough job in training to make sure that your advisors are motivated, that they are consultative sales professionals, but they’re not stepping over that line, because it comes across as prospective students and we all know as informed consumers, which is now the prospective students that we’re working with, you know, the last thing we want is someone sounding a little bit too aggressive, a little bit more into this than I am, you know, that doesn’t work. We really want to be able to provide that training, and use role play as necessary, too.  

Great. What are the best ways to conduct a mystery shopping campaign? I think it’s important during the new hire training and as needed when advisors are working on particular programs, it’s important for them to know what are the other institutions that prospective students are considering, and the features and benefits associated with those programs. We can get a lot of that off the .edu sites out there, but one step better is to have advisors go through that experience. Have those conversations, do mystery shopping because not only is it going to make you better informed on the professional field on the program that you’re speaking about, but it’s going to help you as an advisor, as an admissions manager completely understand where your prospective student is coming from, too, in their consumer journey. We do this as part of any new business, we’re running a bit hot on time so I’m not going to go through this, but we’ll send out the slides after, and you’ll be able to see some responses. We’ve got about 10 different schools of different types and you’ll be able to see how it differs and where gaps are in between, and some actual conversations that were had here.  

Technology. We get a lot of questions on this, but we wanted to handle the most popular ones. How important is it to record all of your calls? Very. It’s a huge resource in training, being able to play calls in a one-on-one setting, it’s also important in a group setting. Really, really important.  

Is it important to have automated dialing technology? Absolutely. Automated dialing technology really takes the human error out of the speed to respond equation. We know speed to respond is critically important as evidenced by one of the first slides that you put up, that emphasizes more and more how prospective students are making the decision on the first institution that they speak with once they take the step to submit that request for information.  

What tools or processes do you use to optimize advisor efficiency during and between calls? One really important component of this is scheduling time for advisors. So, outreach and response time is a critically important feature, that’s basically on every slide, but you want to make sure you’re scheduling into the day, because there are other critically important elements of the enrollment management life cycle such as student follow-up, admission interviews, and document collection. So, number one is helping your advising team be scheduled, understand where in their day they’re going to be doing these activities and then number two is simplifying it for them as much as possible. So, document collection, are you working with programs that require two, three, four, 10 separate documents outside of the online application. If so, consider what opportunities there are to incorporate those into the online application and where if not, just again, simplifying as much as possible so that your advisors aren’t going 10 different places to find documents and manage that process.  

What are your thoughts on lead scoring models and tools? I suppose this is probably data visualization tools as well. I think they’re critically helpful. And if you have the opportunity to do that, there’s really no scenario in which they’re not going to be useful for you. Where it’s particularly helpful for some of our clients or prospective clients or attendees on the line might be interested in, I understand all of this but I might not have the bandwidth on my advising team to do all of these best practices, how do I prioritize the leads I’m most likely to convert? And that’s what I think, you know, lead scoring models and tools like that are really useful in helping teams get to them. Thanks. Yeah, and again, from someone on the marketing side, this is really in cooperation with your marketing team to put together and report back on that specific topic is really the direction you need to go in.  

You harp on speed to inquiry, why is it so important and how can we improve ours? I don’t know if you want to speak on this again, but the data speaks to it. Yep, agree. I think we’ve covered that.  

How are we tying all together what are some best practices working with other teams within the institution, we’ve started to talk about this, and really how do you get someone to show up to the first day of class? What is an example of your ideal feedback loop for marketing and admissions? Short and sweet, my ideal feedback loop is a consistent one. Whether you’re working with the internal marketing team at your institution or you’re working with an external marketing agency, making sure that enrollment management and marketing are having regular and consistent conversations about lead sources and the outcomes associated with that, whatever venue that takes place in that works best for you all and that ensures that you’re having that regularly, weekly, bi-weekly is endorsed by me.  

Are there tools or tips you can give for speeding up the document collection process? Just making sure that document collection is easy, not only for advisors but for the prospective students that are providing these documents. If it can be integrated in your online application, that’s absolutely a best practice. Allowing online students to just attach the files as they solicit them and provide them to the institution is great. In areas where that’s not possible, making sure provide that they can provide that in a number of options, an example of that would be allowing them to email them directly to the advisors is great, as opposed to requiring that they send it to a designated inbox or even fax it to a number.  

How can our advisors help keep enrolled students engaged so they actually start class? Obviously, we put a lot of work in getting students all the way up to completing the application, and in some ways, the work really is starting there because we want to keep them engaged until the class starts and until they graduate, really. If you’ve got the right people in the right roles on the advising side, they establish a bond and a good rapport with prospective students as they take to the application. Putting in a contact strategy that’s from application completion and admission up to course start, that may be a weekly check-in call a couple of times between the completed app prior to the course start can really have a big impact. It gives the prospective student someone to vent to, ask questions to, panic to if necessary, and it allows us to stay ahead of any issues that come in. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate, involved process, but just making sure that someone in the advising team is making those calls beyond the point of just the completed app. Yeah, I’d like to add something we’ve had success with, getting your faculty involved, start to feel like they’re a part of the university.

Would you schedule a weekly check-in call with advisors or have it be impromptu? Adult students are busy just like we are, so I’m a big fan of scheduling it and especially if it can be a recurring event, it just increases the likelihood that they’re going to answer and that your advisors are going to be able to have a conversation with them.  

Great, and, is it important to have advisors making calls in early-evenings and/or weekends? It becomes more important dependent on the program mix and the profile of prospective students, so, graduate programs and online programs geared toward post-traditional students in general, you’ll probably see higher contact rates in the evening hours and be able to engage in more conversations with them.  

What is the minimum amount of calls that should occur when contacting a new inquiry? And over what period of time? So, that’s a loaded question, and it depends on what type of marketing source your inquiries are coming in from. If I was giving a broad range, you want to provide that really quick response, often, it still doesn’t result in a direct voice-to-voice conversation right at their point of submission, in most contact strategies are going to range anywhere from attempting a prospective student at a minimum of five times over a certain period of time, before you stop following up with them via outbound phone calls. We still want to follow-up with them whether it be a drip campaign or another way to keep your institution in front of them, and then if you have the bandwidth and you have the ability to reach your contact strategy even further, we definitely recommend that you do that. Of course, there is that point of diminishing returns that you want to be aware of, where you’re not really getting the return by putting resources on calling a prospective student who hasn’t answered the last 12 times, and you also want to be cognizant and quick, but you also don’t want to cross the line of annoying and overly following up with prospective students. A lot of points to consider.  

Do you feel cold-calling is effective? I guess I would say no, I don’t feel cold-calling is effective. The disclaimer that I would give is all of the prospective student inquiries that are coming into your system, certainly coming into our system on behalf of our clients, are not cold calls. Those are prospective students that, at some point, in the recent past, requested information for a particular institution, and in most cases, a particular program at that institution, so I don’t consider responding to that inquiry as a cold call and I also don’t consider working a contact strategy over days or time as a cold-call. I would define cold-call as working a list of leads that may never have expressed interest in a particular institution. If that’s what I was reply to, I’d say there’s very, very little return on that, and there’s also several compliance components associated with that, getting consent from students to call them, I wouldn’t advise it.  

Another good question: Nowadays, adult applicants are more and more reluctant to have phone conversations. What other forms of immediate communication would you recommend? Yeah, that’s definitely true, especially for our graduate programs, post-traditional students. So, be able to communicate with a prospective student in a range of modalities. Some methods that are commonly utilized are a text response, an email response, and the trusted phone response. We find a lot that students may initially engage through other venues, but when it comes to actually facilitating the admissions interview and certainly when it gets to application and document collection and admissions criteria discussion, you want to be able to drive them to a voice-to-voice conversation, it’s just the most effective use of their time and the most efficient use of your time, too. Making sure they’re fully informed before they do that, you can do that via email, you can do that via text, but it ends up taking a lot more time, so we’ll use those other venues to drive them to a phone conversation at their convenience, that’s where it comes into their favor, offer those evening hours and really eliminate any schedule difficulties on behalf of the prospective student.  

If a prospective student stops answering calls, what communications strategy have you found most effective to win them back? So, if a prospect stopped answering your calls and then started an application, obviously they’re not super responsive to a phone call, so close that one out, so try shooting them an email message, making it personalized, short, sweet, and acknowledging their modality preference. Example, hey, saw that you started the application but it looks like we haven’t been able to communicate via phone, I wanted to let you know I’m available to help you through this process and if there’s a good way to do that, don’t hesitate to reply to this email and let me know. I think it’s important to be consistent and quick with the follow up but we also want to respect the fact that the prospects that we’re working with are adult students and if they want to engage they’re going to engage, and those that don’t, it’s not to say they can’t navigate the process to an extent without an advisor walking them through it.

We have one more, what goes into the competency-based assessments that you mentioned earlier as far as the advisor training goes? Sure, most of the things that are in that are behavioral-based. An example would be in this scenario, and the go on to describe a commonly recurring question or feature about a particular program and ask the advisor on that assessment, how would you respond to this prospective student? What information would you provide to this prospective student? And then the other component of that is just mastering competencies of particular programs, so, if you have learning outcomes, certain admissions criteria, certain features and benefits that are really interesting and highly competitive for a particular program, in other words, something that makes it stand apart, are you advisors really applying that to their behavior in those conversations. Those are the two categories you would want to apply there.  

Thanks, we’ve got one more in. Do you have a recommendation for engaging abandoned applications? Yeah, I have a lot of recommendations for that because that’s an important source, you’ve got a prospective student who made it all the way up to the point of starting the application, or in certain situations, they complete the application, and then they kind of go cold, it happens all the time, so you want to have a strategy for reaching back out to them,  and how you do that is going to depend on the marketing source, the program and the profile. Some examples would be what we refer to as a rewarming campaign, so I reference that it’s really important to follow up with them quickly and then provide enough phone calls to the point of inquiry so you can say we gave it our all, we tried to get in touch with them, it didn’t happen, at a certain point you’re going to stop making those phone calls. If it’s an application that was stopped, you may want to have a rewarming campaign, these are students who started that application, and it may be a certain period in the past, and we’re not going to take them through a full contact strategy because we’ve been there done that with this prospective student and they weren’t responsive to that, but we do want to let them know they’re still important to us, and that we still are here to service them, when the time is right, so you may just give them two phone calls over a certain period of time, just trying to do that temperature check-in, that touch-in hey has anything changed, saw that you started that application, wanted to let you know we’re here to answer your questions, and let them know you’re shoot them over an email or a text if that’s their preferred way to communicate.  

How do we find more information about industry standards considering sources and specific programs and degree levels? So that’s a good question and there’s a couple things that I would recommend for that. If you’re working with a marketing agency, they should be able to provide you benchmarks on programs and lead sources definitely. If you’re not, there’s a lot of literature out there, I know you can find some on our website, that will specifically highlight some of those things as related to the adult student and the post-student. We’re always happy to have conversations if you’re not already a client what that looks like for you.      ]]>