Algorithm. Automation. Omni-channel. Geofencing. Hyperlocal. There’s no shortage of digital marketing buzzwords out there, and we’d like to throw one more on the pile: customer journey. If you’re researching tactics to boost your inbound marketing strategy, it’s likely you can’t escape it — the term ‘customer journey’ is everywhere. And for good reason!

In most cases, people don’t purchase a product the first time they hear about it. It’s much more complicated than that and involves multiple touchpoints across various channels over a long period of time. This process is what’s known as (you guessed it!) the customer journey, and it’s incredibly important for businesses, including your school, to understand. 

In 2021, schools are competing for every last enrollment, and fighting to provide the best experience for prospective families. Understanding their journey is the key to ensuring that your school comes out on top.

Start with awareness

The first stage in any customer journey (including prospective families) is awareness. This is the point in the process where the family realizes they have a problem and start searching for answers. In some cases, they can clearly state what their problem is. This problem might be as simple as, “my child is turning 5 next year, and he will need to go to school”.

In other cases, the problem parents are facing might not be so straightforward. Common examples are when a child’s grades are falling, or they are experiencing bullying and they are trying to figure out what to do. In some cases, families will be considering switching their child to another school.

The awareness stage sees prospective families turn to search engines, social media, forums, and their personal network to find out what they need to do in order to solve their problems. This might be searching for a list of schools in their area, or having a quick chat with a friend who has school-aged kids. The important thing for your school to be doing in the awareness stage is to help these families clearly articulate their problem by providing them with content that addresses their experiences — this might be on your school blog, on your social media, or through video resources. The aim of this is to attract prospective students through the creation of engaging and educational content — also known as inbound marketing. 

It’s also important to understand (and quickly address) any misconceptions that families might have when they are in the awareness stage. For example, they might think that switching schools will be damaging to their child in the long run. Your educational and empathetic information has the ability to quickly knock any misconceptions or misinformation on its head.

Move to consideration

The next phase in the customer journey is consideration. Here is where your prospective families have defined what they are looking for in a school and commit to finding the type of school that will be the best fit. They aren’t ready to enroll yet, but they are looking to get as much information as possible in order to narrow down their list. In this stage, families are likely performing more targeted searches, such as “Lutheran schools near me” or "schools with dance program Sydney".

The important thing to do at this stage is to provide content that highlights the best (and different!) things about your school in order to nudge them in your direction. Families in this consideration stage need to be carefully nurtured in order to keep them thinking about your school. You can retarget them with paid advertising, social media ads or direct email communication.

You'll also want to have a think about the information families are looking for that will help them to properly evaluate your school, and whether they can find this information quickly and easily. Is there an overview of your school and its offerings on public school directories? Does your school feature in relevant publications? You'll also want to ensure you've taken the time to get your website copy up to scratch to make the best possible first impression on them!

The decision-making process

The final stage of the customer journey is the decision stage. At this stage, they will have decided on a few schools that they would like to attend and will have most likely completed their enrollment applications. Individuals at this stage should be handled with care, as every interaction with the family matters.

This is the stage where your school needs to provide families with information that persuades them to take the plunge and enroll their child in your school. Think about the criteria that prospective families will be used to evaluate your school. What do they like about your school compared to other schools within your category? What concerns might they have about what you are offering?

A good thing to remember is, it’s not just the child's parents that are involved in the enrollment decision. Step-parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends can all play a major part in helping families to make their choice. The child themselves may also have a say in what school the family chooses.

Identify the pain points

Now that you’ve mapped out every stage of your school’s customer journey, it’s important to understand where prospective parents are not enjoying their experience. This is known as a consumer pain point.

Uber, the peer-to-peer ridesharing company, capitalized on a poor customer journey back in 2009 to get 3.8 million customers to stop hailing cabs and start getting in a car with strangers. After they mapped out each step that a customer would have to take in order to hail a taxi, they identified the not-so-pleasant aspects: not being able to find one when you need it, rude drivers, safety issues, and expensive fares. They then worked through these pain points and found solutions to create a simple, clean experience that completely disrupted the taxi industry.

In your school’s case, a pain point may be a particular manual process that is stopping parents from completing their child’s enrollment form. Improving upon this pain point may be something small, such as allowing them to save their progress on the form and come back to it at a later time. Or, it might be allowing parents to photograph and upload crucial documents from their phone, rather than requiring them to bring them into the school office.

Improve the enrollment experience

Once you've mapped out the whole journey and all of the pain points along the way, it's time to make improvements to the overall experience. Doing this can be incredibly beneficial to your enrollment rates. Reducing the steps, making them simpler, and reducing the amount of time the user spends during their journey are all important when considering improvements.

Published October 6 2021