Admissions, Marketing & Communications in Independent Schools

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As empowered customers continue to disrupt nearly every industry, we look at what the ‘Age of the Customer’ means for schools and colleges operating in a competitive climate.

In 2013, Forrester Research published two studies  in what it called, ‘The Age of the Customer.’ A transition from the 2010’s and the ‘Age of Information’

We live in a world where brands can crumble almost instantly after a rogue tweet or PR scandal, a world where a poor customer experience can snowball into viral negative publicity.

How did this happen?

Our customers are more connected than ever before. Bad experiences are shared on social media with the potential to go viral, we are also encouraged to share reviews online to an audience of billions. Nearly 93% of all purchase decisions are now influenced by online reviews!

Businesses previously controlled the narrative and chose what customers heard about their brand, but these days consumers have much more control with the ability to reach out in real time.

Here’s how Forrester Research demonstrated this transition over the years:




So, what does this mean for education?

In a connected world, consumers everywhere can talk about their experiences with brands and education is no exception. In education, word of mouth has always been impactful but had a relatively small reach compared to the impact of the publicity and reach seen today.

It means that your customers (students and their parents) have more influence than ever before. If your brand has a social media account, customers won’t be shy about sharing their opinions or concerns.

Schools and colleges need to embrace two-way communication. Your customers can openly communicate with you in real-time and they can do it in groups too.

It’s never been easier for students to share their experience with your organisation online, and there are plenty of review sites where they can write as much as they want – even anonymously if they choose. And with a mobile phone in every student’s pocket, there’s the added impact of photos and videos that can be shared with a mass audience at a moment’s notice – these can be very impactful and persuasive.

What can schools and colleges do?


To maintain a positive image, schools and colleges must be willing to respond to customer complaints and comments online – even if they are not directly reported to your teams. It gives you an opportunity to open up the conversation and maybe even turn negative reviews into positive ones.

Put student and parent needs first

In the age of the customer, your audience wants to trust that your business has changed by addressing and learning from past mistakes.

Earning back trust comes from consistently providing exceptional customer service, at every single touch point. It means putting your student and parent needs first, even sometimes at the expense of your business. It is easy to be nice to your customers when they are happy with your school or college, the challenge is is when they need something outside of what you are offering.

But remember, loyal customers stick with organisations they trust, they will recommend you to other students or parents and this trust is what builds your reputation.

Remember – your students or parents are NOT the decision makers

Of course, the age of the customer does not mean that your students are the decision makers, think of them more as advisors. There will be huge elements of what your organisation does that they will never understand!

With this in mind, be conscious not to overreact with every piece of negative feedback you receive. Review, record, analyse and, where necessary, consider a change.

Consider Customer service as a competitive advantage

Good news: if you provide exceptional support to your students and parents, it can be a huge competitive advantage! Think of brands across sectors that have thrived in recent years… AirBnb, Spotify, Uber… they all changed the way they worked to put convenience and trust for the customer first. Make your school or college the one that stands out from the crowd!

Great customer experience elevates your business. Think about your current processes and look for areas that you can improve:

  • How do you gather and review feedback? How frequently do you do this?
  • How prepared are you to react to negative posts online? Are your staff trained?
  • What is your admissions process like? Are there outdated, clunky processes that frustrate your students?
  • How easy is it for your students or parents to speak in real-time to someone at your school or college?

Written by Gemma Price, Founder and Education Growth Consultant, HubGem Marketing

+44 (0)333 444 0752

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