November 18, 2021

What I learned at #NACAC19


Chris Langone

A couple of months ago, our team traveled out to Louisville, KY for NACAC 2019, the massive annual college admissions conference. Walking into the Exhibit Hall is a bit overwhelming — hundreds of companies trying to sell products, services, and ideas, while also trying to differentiate themselves and their (prospective) clients.

I spent a lot of time talking with current clients, meeting prospects, connecting with other exhibitors, and taking in the entire scene for another year. This year, however, was different. There was a noticeable shift in the attitudes of the attendees, vendors, and in the market overall. Maybe it was the Varsity Blues scandal or recent news that 25% of colleges will fail in the next two decades, or maybe it’s declining student numbers. The changes in mood are easy to understand and these issues are clearly weighing on the minds of enrollment managers.The traditional ways of recruiting students and thinking about student engagement are no longer working, and this is causing some obvious stress.

What struck me at NACAC was that the industry, as a whole, is missing out on the opportunities of taking best practices of customer service and applying them to recruiting students.

I was recently speaking to someone enrolling in their first year at college. As a marketer, I was curious what drove her to apply to that institution. She told me her decision came down to two things:

  1. Almost every time she opened her social media accounts, she saw ads for that institution that felt personal and uniquely made for her
  2. When she went to visit campus it felt like they rolled out the red carpet just for her.

These two ideas are critical in today’s hyper-competitive market. This generation of students live on their smart devices. First, the colleges and universities that are going to succeed, embrace this change and create campaigns to be in front of prospective student’s faces all day. From Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat to any game being played on a smart device, having ads for your institution in front of these students is so important to stay ahead of your competitors and stand out in the market. Second, the campus visit needs to be about creating amazing customer service experiences.

With colleges and universities looking to distinguish themselves with grand cafeteria offerings, world class gyms, and state of the art dorms, what seems to be missing is far simpler. What’s missing throughout the recruitment process is an amazing customer service experience. Think about the best customer service experience you’ve ever had? Was it the seamless process of buying a product at Apple? Maybe it was the flight attendant who went the extra mile on a Delta flight? What these companies have in common is that they train their staff to always think about the customer first. They train them to go the extra mile as a regular concept and to provide individual experiences based on the particular needs of a customer.

These ideas are not abstract in our lives, and they should not be abstract in recruiting college students. Customer service needs to be at the core of college admissions moving forward. It needs to be easy for prospective students and families to schedule a tour and check-in for one (please say goodbye to the long lines and clipboards).

Prospective students demand customized events. If your institution has an amazing communication studies program, get some alumni together for a particular event where you know there will be possible liberal arts/communication majors, and have the alumni talk to them about their experiences at your institution and in their career with students and families. After your tour is over, survey your visitors. Once you have their survey results, have some very personal follow-ups — text messaging works best! Send them a text to touch base with them, see how their experiences were, and offer next steps to apply or deposit. Then, keep in touch with them throughout the process!

These are just a few examples of how to create truly personalized customer service experiences in college admissions. It’s time to rethink how we interact with students and families and put ourselves in their shoes to think about how to create better experiences.

If you like what you’ve read or maybe not so much, I’d love to chat with you!