The importance of customer engagement
One of the first insights to become apparent from our work last year with providers came in the context of reviewing how they communicate and actively engage with customers, particularly new customers when attempting to increase place take up through their marketing efforts.
As you would expect there are established patterns of behavior and approaches in the sector in respect of customer communication with varying levels of intensity and success. Common activities ranged from use of online media, (websites and social media platforms), to posting flyers and a passive reliance of “word of mouth” as means to connect with new parents entering the early years and childcare environment for the first time.
Whilst some providers were generating new enquiries, they were not fully sure where their new customers were finding information about them and whether their strategies to attract interest were working, or if enquiries were more random.
What’s the aim?
As the aim of marketing and communicating the benefits of your setting to potential new parents is to secure your ongoing sustainability through strong levels of place take up, so it makes sense to reason that it’s important for childcare providers to understand fully what works best and continually measure their efforts to ensure they are engaging enough customers to achieve this.
It is also reasonable to review the level of customer engagement activity and look for ways to increase it. It is safe to assume that if your places are not constantly full to the level you desire, then there would be merit in increasing customer engagement activity and trying new communication channels to boost enquiry levels.
Improving Customer engagement
The benefits of good customer engagement strategies will be easy to see in measures like the following:
The number of enquiries you get each month.
o The more opportunity you provide for new customers to touch base with you will directly affect the number of new enquiries you receive.
o In turn this provides the opportunity to sell your setting and ultimately increase chances of more place take up.
The range of contact points with new customers.
o Providing a variety of ways for parents to actually engage with you means you will meet more customer communication preferences that again increase enquiries and place take up opportunities.
Where you have a voice
o Communicating and encouraging engagement in different ways will extend your opportunities into different pockets of the demographics of local parents. Many factors influence how parents search for and choose childcare therefore, if you do not have a voice in the communication arenas where they prefer to research childcare settings, you are not likely to be their first choice.
When you choose to engage with new customers
o Communicating regularly and well in advance provides an opportunity to develop a relationship and trust with new parents that increases the likelihood they will choose your setting.
o Early customer engagement also means you can get ahead and fill places much further into the future. Don’t just assume all parents start looking for childcare the term before their child is due to start, many people plan well ahead.
Practical things to help increase customer engagement
1. Be proactive.
It’s not enough to wait for customers to find you and hope that you will fill places. The more you can make this a proactive part of your marketing strategy the greater the chance of opportunities to talk to potential new customers. Your decisions are clear…
“Who will be responsible for this?”
“When will they do the work?”
“How are you going to measure success and use feedback to improve?”
2. Review opportunities to engage.
To get started try the following:
a) Review what you do now. Is it enough?
b) Make a list of all the customer engagement opportunities open to you.
c) Discuss with colleagues and choose a few alternative approaches to customer communication and measure responses.
d) Trail your choices and see what works best, repeat the exercise until you see enquiries increasing and stick with the strategies that are bringing in most enquiries.
e) Periodically review your engagement strategies to include new opportunities.
3. Search out opportunities for customer engagement.
Here are just a few of the endless opportunities for engaging with your customers.
Use social media platforms – They are powerful, quick and easy to use.
Use Newsletters or Blogs on your website - A great way to continually create messages about your services to customers and it creates a place for them to go for help, information and advice.
Create email campaigns – Interested potential customers may sign up to receive regular emails where they can find information, support and news about a sector they will soon be invested in. It’s a great way to get to know people who may be early in their process for finding a childcare place.
Link your social media accounts and website to maximize messages across various channels.
Host events - Hold open days / Run online information webinars / Run stay and play sessions.
Involve customers in social causes – get their engagement through mutual areas of interest.
4. Analyze your strategies to measure effectiveness of your communication efforts.
Managing any organization is made easier by the information available to analyze and support decision-making. In terms of assessing the effectiveness of your engagement strategies keep a close track on the following...
Effort and reward – Everything takes effort but make sure your communication choices are being rewarded, its pointless putting in many hours of work if there are no signs that your strategy is increasing place take up. So for each communication and engagement strategy you try check that it actually increases enquiries, run with those that do and drop those that don’t. (Be sure to give enough time to assess performance).
Analyze each stage of the customer journey - How are your efforts supporting customers to take the next step to taking up a place? This could be as simple as tracking how many people who received your email then went on to contact you or book a show round, or perhaps how many people who liked your Facebook post on available places then went onto either share the post or contact you for information. But it might also show how clear links between each engagement where customers engage with you in one way that then leads to another, getting closer to place take up with each step.
Look for customer feedback too! – As your tracking engagement, you will get the opportunity to hear customer feedback, good and bad, so take it seriously to support your continuous improvement strategies.
There is no doubt that customer engagement strategies can be improved and result in increased enquiries and place take up, so certainly worth management time to delve into this area of marketing to gain some advantage. It’s clear too that many childcare providers have “passive” approaches to customer communications.
So if you need to increase you place take up and your current communication strategies are not working well enough try the following:
A. Search out new ways to communicate with potential customers.
B. Give them a try.
C. Analyze the outcomes and benefits, and repeat!
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