Retention Marketing:  Keeping Families Coming Back for More to Your Private School

NOTEIf you missed any of the posts in this 3-part series, click here.

In the 2nd of this 3-part series, I begin focusing on how your school can transform your retention efforts!  In addition, we will explore in this 3rd post of this series how your referral strategy works together with your retention strategy to cultivate “LOYAL AMBASSADORS.”

The first word of that phrase reminds us all that loyalty helps ensure retention!  This is a common consideration in small businesses, but something often overlooked in private schools.  As one school administrator told me once, “when we retain even one family, it is our best fund raiser.”  So if your school’s financial solvency rests on the keeping your ideal families coming back year-after-year, then what are you doing to intentional cultivate loyalty?

First of all, in the first part of this series, we focused on recruiting the idea family (unless you know what makes someone an ideal family, you’ll be fighting your own efforts at retention).   Cultivating loyalty is made much easier when your ideal family is matched with your school’s excellent performance.  When an ideal family finds a suitable solution to the academic, spiritual or moral challenges facing them, they are more likely to stay year after year.   If at any time, this family feels taken advantage of, or taken for granted, their eyes may be lured elsewhere.

Here are 7 tips on ensuring your ideal families sign on year after year for your private school:

  1. CUSTOMER SERVICE – yes, they are customers.  Treat them as such – much like you would like to be treated when you shop for shoes online, or for a new car at a dealership.  Make them feel appreciated not just at the signing ceremony when they first enroll, but at every moment you can think of.  When their daughter wins an award, write a hand-written congratulatory note to them.  When they bring in their monthly tuition check, seize the moment to inquire about their satisfaction (if too many months go by and they begrudgingly pay for poor service, their loyalty dies off).  Send families appreciation gifts/notes periodically from the Board, Administration, Admissions and teachers, too.
  2. REMIND THEM OF WHAT SETS YOUR APART – this may have been evident in the search process, but as they experience the ups and downs of your school, those stark differences may wane over time while their eyes are lured to those other options they previously left on the table.  Don’t just send newsletters with stats, pictures and event information.  Use such communication to reinforce what makes your private school different than your competition.
  3. MAKE THEM FEEL NEEDED – from the moment they enroll, get them plugged in somewhere.  Ask every parent to participate – whether on the PTO, at the concession stand at basketball games, or as part of administration’s advisory council.  Do an inventory on their knowledge, skills and abilities and plug them in.  If they feel needed, they are less likely to walk away.  Involvement = investment = commitment = loyalty.
  4. INCLUDE THEM IN YOUR MARKETING TEAM – related to #3 above, get each family involved in marketing your school.  When they first enroll, don’t just take a picture of them and post it on Facebook.  Capture a video testimonial and share it all over the place (your website, Facebook, Twitter).  Then ask them to write notes of encouragement to other families.  Ask them to refer new families and reward them for doing so.  Raise the bar of expectation – make sure they know they are part of your marketing department!
  5. SHOWCASE THEIR BABIES – there’s something important to every family to see their child on stage.  Recognize them for acheievements, even the small ones.  Post their successes on Facebook.  Include all kinds of students in your recruiting video (don’t just include the “pretty people” – you know what I mean).  This takes effort on your part to include every kid somewhere – not an easy task if your school is 500+ students!  However, it is essential.  Your school should be each enrolled family’s biggest fan!
  6. WHILE YOU CAN BE PERFECT, AT LEAST BE AUTHENTIC – when a teacher or adminstrator makes a mistake, own up to it, and apologize.  Admit where you fall short and ask for grace.  This goes a long way to retaining families.  Nothing drives people away more than hypocrites or people who refuse to admit they are wrong.  Remember that ol’ business adage, “the customer is always right.”  A difficult pill to swallow in some instances at your school, but a great guide for those times when you are tempted to try and be right yourself.
  7. BE SENSITIVE – and by this, I mean appeal to the 5 senses!  Don’t be out-of-sight, out-of-mind (give them a taste of your school’s uniqueness by not just inviting stay-at-home parents to daytime assemblies, but including live-stream events or late-night video webinars for those working parents.)  Invite them to smell the roses – allow them to sniff the aroma up close and personal by inviting them to be involved in ways they could never have done at the public school or private school around the corner.   Create touch-points that inform, educate and inspire (making newsletters actually worth the time to read; transforming open house events into something current families ask to be a part of, etc.)  Let them hear from you – via thank-you notes, appreciation events, and invitations to share ideas on making your school better.  When you engage the senses of families in as many experiences as you can, it only makes “sense” for them to continue choosing you as the best educational option for their child.

NOTEIf you missed any of the posts in this 3-part series, click here.

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