Consumers today have become experience connoisseurs. They know when a brand delivers a positive experience — like the streamlined UI of their favorite app or a convenient retail return process. And they’re quick to point out when an experience is underwhelming — like when a customer service rep places them on a lengthy hold or spams their inbox. Companies that pass muster are rewarded with customer loyalty, while brands that don’t are quickly rejected.

But what does this have to do with your school?

As we move forward into an increasingly digital world, consumer expectations are no longer confined to sectors like retail, travel, and hospitality. Today, families measure your enrollment experience (EX) with the same yardstick they use for consumer experiences. Accenture Interactive and Fjord refer to this concept as liquid expectations.

Today, we’re delving into what it means to have liquid expectations and how can you make sure you’re delivering an experience that helps you meet your enrollment goals.

What are Liquid Expectations (and How Does This Apply to Schools)?

The term liquid expectations refers to the idea that customer experiences are fluid across industries and that every time you engage with a product or service, you’ll enjoy a positive and seamless experience. If a digital experience is complicated, time-consuming, confusing, or not aesthetically pleasing, consumers feel turned off. And they’ll continue to associate that visceral reaction with the brand — possibly forever.

In other words, whether someone is engaging with Airbnb, Uber, Amazon, or your school’s digital experience, they have the same expectations: that it will be straightforward and convenient.

As an admissions and enrollment leader, you’re likely accustomed to comparing your school’s experience to other schools — and ensuring you’re consistently differentiating your school and outperforming your competitors. But with liquid expectations, your enrollment experience (EX) doesn’t just need to surpass other schools’ experiences. It also needs to match what consumers are accustomed to seeing when engaging with other industries.

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To meet (and exceed) families’ expectations, your enrollment experience (EX) must be…

1. Fully digital

Prospective students’ families should be able to complete registration forms, upload documents, sign enrollment forms, and pay tuition all via an online portal. They shouldn’t have to step foot on your campus for any purpose other than to tour the facilities.

2. Accessible

The platform you use should be available anywhere at any time and should be accessible via mobile devices. Remember: like you, the parents you serve are busy and often multi-tasking. They may not always have time to sit down in front of a desktop computer to complete the enrollment process and will likely handle paperwork in phases.

3. Easy to navigate

Families don’t just want a digital experience — they want a convenient digital experience that’s simple and straightforward. A cluttered or complicated interface not only appears unprofessional, but it can also hold up the enrollment process.

4. Aesthetically pleasing

A clean and professional-looking digital experience helps earn families’ trust. The design should be modern, sleek, and branded with your school’s logo and colors.

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How to Make Sure Your User Experience is Up to Par

It’s essential you take time to ensure your experience meets prospects’ liquid expectations — especially when it’s becoming more challenging to grow and sustain high enrollment numbers.

Here are a few things you can do to improve your enrollment experience:

1. Survey families

Reach out to families who enrolled and those who didn’t, and ask them about their experience. Why did they decide to enroll or not enroll? Did their decision have anything to do with the ease of the application or the online enrollment process? What, if anything, would they like to see you improve?

The more insight you have into how families navigate the process and what they like and dislike, the better you can identify areas of improvement. This valuable feedback can help you optimize your enrollment experience for future prospects.

2. Increase personalization

Today, consumers are accustomed to advanced personalization — like, for example, a retail brand recommending products based on their on-site behavior and past purchases. Sending the same message to an entire audience is no longer an effective method of driving engagement. 

Best of all, achieving this is easier than it sounds. Instead of personalizing messages manually (which would require more time and energy than your team has available), embrace prospects’ desire for a more bespoke experience by leveraging automated communication plans. This way, you can send emails explicitly tailored to applicants’ interests.

3. Eliminate points of friction

When was the last time you walked through your enrollment process from a prospect’s perspective? Whether you realize it or not, there may be a few hang-ups keeping potential families from completing their enrollment journey.

Take some time to navigate through the entire enrollment experience. That includes your website, contact forms, event scheduling portal, and application. Make a note of any sticky points. This might include confusing content, technical issues, or a complicated flow.

Better yet, consider running a user test with those outside your organization who are unfamiliar with your school and thus unbiased.

4. Respond quickly

We’re living in an era of near-instant gratification. People not only want a rapid response — they expect it. In fact, more than 80% of customers expect a response within 24 hours of sending an email, and nearly all (96%) expect a response within 48 hours, according to data from Arise. And, according to the data from our survey of 350+ school leaders, 69% of schools respond to inquiries in 24 hours or less. 

By prioritizing quick responses, you’ll not only increase your chance of getting back in touch before competing schools, but this also demonstrates your commitment to prospective students and their families.

In other words, getting back in touch in 48 hours or less will leave prospects with a positive impression.

5. Re-evaluate your existing tech stack

When it comes to perfecting your digital experience, it’s crucial you examine your tech stack. While the right technology can help boost your success, the wrong technology can hinder it.

Evaluate your current enrollment and billing software. Is it performing as expected, and is it easy for you and your team to manage? More importantly, what does it look like on the prospects’ side? Is it accessible, easy to navigate, and aesthetically pleasing? If not, it’s time to look into upgrading to a better solution. 

The truth is, in our ever-evolving digital landscape, addressing liquid expectations can be challenging. And, often, it all comes down to two things: technology and the culture around it. By investing in a student enrollment management system that fosters a better experience, and by ensuring your team is well-poised to make the most of that investment, you’ll be ready for whatever new trends lay ahead.

Download our latest ebook, Widening the Aperture: Redefining the Enrollment Experience for Private Schools, to learn more about reimagining the enrollment experience (EX) at your school.