Your call is important to us; making the most of ‘hold time’

It’s all about first impressions and lasting impressions. When parents call your school how are they greeted? Are they happy to stay on the line? Mark Williamson, sales and marketing director at PHMG, considers how independent schools can create a positive caller experience

PHMG Sales and Marketing Director Mark Williamson press shotFirst impressions count and customers will often develop lasting perceptions about a business based on how well they are treated at the first point of contact. Human buying behaviour is easily influenced by an organisation’s visual identity and if it isn’t up to scratch, it could be off-putting.

For independent schools this means taking into consideration what prospective parents see when they are looking at potential institutions for their children. For example, many schools will spend a large chunk of their marketing budgets ensuring collateral, such as websites and prospectuses, convey the desired brand image and values but the way a school sounds, especially over the telephone, is just as important.

While the world is shifting into a digital age, with information readily available online, it is important not to forget about the telephone as a key communication method. In fact, a study of 1,000 British consumers by PHMG discovered that 42% of respondents would still rather have their query answered over the ‘phone than look online. This could represent a serious problem if budgets are not being assigned to what potential parents hear when they call, creating a poor caller experience.

Answering the ‘phone in an unprofessional manner, or using an impolite tone, won’t do you any favours. Given the telephone is still a key source of inbound leads it pays to create a set of guidelines for employees to follow to prevent parents forging a lasting negative perception of the school. Yet a best-practice approach requires even greater thought about how to keep callers engaged and entertained while on the line.

Making the right call

When people pick up the ‘phone to an education facility their ears are their only tool for formulating an initial judgement – so it is important that all sounds heard reflect the desired brand image. This includes what is played when callers are put on hold. Research by PHMG of 3,630 UK businesses has discovered schools put callers on hold for an average of 28.93 seconds per call before they reach their intended destination.

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Understandably, no one wants to sit listening to automated beeps or even silence for a long period of time; however, there may be times when callers have to be put on hold. For example, a prospective parent may be enquiring about a certain subject and has to be transferred to the relevant department, or perhaps they may need information about previous exam successes which isn’t to hand.

In such cases, on-hold marketing – bespoke voice and music messaging – can be used.

Turning hold time into a positive

On-hold marketing utilises the ‘dead air’ created by putting callers on hold, transforming it into brand-congruent messaging. For independent schools, it helps to reinforce and strengthen the existing image and values already in place from the visual branding. This not only assists in boosting the professionalism of the institution but, by improving the brand, it becomes more appealing to prospective customers and thus helps to increase revenue.

It can also enhance client satisfaction levels in the process by decreasing the perceived waiting time and reducing caller hang-ups by 79%, making the whole on-hold process more customer-friendly.

When schools are putting parents on hold for almost 30 seconds this provides an ideal space to communicate key messages to an attentive audience. For example, a prospective parent may call to enquire about extracurricular activities only to be told, via the messages, about alumni achievements, which could positively influence the listener’s decision to enrol their child.

The messages can also help to reassure current parents and, by promoting the school’s facilities and track record, it further convinces them that their child is receiving the best possible education at a top-class school.

The benefits

Poor call handling not only affects the reputation of your school but can also be the difference in attracting new business or putting a parent off permanently. By using sound as an everyday marketing tool schools can stand out as a professional, well-run organisation that parents would be more than happy to send their children to.

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