You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Within the first 60 seconds on the telephone and five minutes on a center tour, child care prospects form an impression of you that is often a lasting one. The image you project communicates messages to your prospects, customers, and the community around your center. The needs-satisfying information they find in those messages determines to a great extent whether or not your prospects enroll, your customers stay, and the opinion influencers in the community refer you and your child care services.
Let’s consider the prospect who is seeking child care for the first time. Despite the recommendations in many publications, most working parents do not spend a great deal of time selecting a child care center. They gather available information from referrals and other resources, make inquiry calls, visit an average number of centers or homes, and make a decision. Because that decision is so emotionally based, the centers that present the best image leave a positive, decisive impression on the prospect. It causes what we call in marketing terms positioning. And only the better players are going to survive say Al Ries and Jack Trout, authors ofPositioning: The Battle For Your Mind (New York: Warner Books, 1981).
Positioning is the impression left by the image of a brand of product or service. When you think of McDonald’s, what image comes to Mind? Golden arches, juicy hamburgers, Ronald McDonald, a quick dinner, change in your pocket, convenience, that you deserve a break today? Your prospects’ perceptions of you are based upon their image of you, and that becomes their reality. In their minds, this impression positions you amongst your competition according to the benefits they seek in selection child care. In our industry, the differences that distinguish one child care provider from another- in the prospect’s mind – can be very small. For example, a parent who experiences a center director bending down to warmly greet a visiting child may form the impression of that center as a loving, caring place for her child to be. If caring attention to her child is a primary benefit she seeks in her child care selection, that center will be well positioned to secure this enrollment. It is this positioning that creates a pattern of attitudes that affects a parent’s ultimate choice of child care providers.
Marketing Your Image Throughout Your Center
You can create your center’s market positioning by managing just how you present your center, the materials you distribute, your staff, your program, and yourself. Imagine yourself in your prospect’s position, remember that they base enrollment decisions on feelings, and think about the following:
- Telephone personality
Most prospects’ firs interaction with you is on the telephone. Within literally seconds, they will form an initial impression of you, based upon how you handle their calls. If you can offer empathetic assistance while you assess major needs, gather necessary factual information, and ask each prospect to book an appointment to visit your center, you will lead the conversation and create a good first impression. Remember, most prospects call because they need not only your services but your help in making the child care buying decision. They need a friendly expert. What they do not need is a voice on the other end of the line reeling off questions as if it were a recorded message.
Think about what you say when you answer the telephone. How do you sound? Since your prospect does not yet have the benefit of face-to-face contact with you, your voice becomes who you are. What distracting noises around you might be commonplace to you but disturbing to a first-time caller? Are you smiling? Put a small mirror on the counter behind your telephone and look into it and smile as you speak. One center director I know says, “You can hear a smile on the telephone.” A voice with a smile says all the right things about you. How does yours sound?
Since people tend to remember what they hear first and last, a pleasant conclusion is important in your telephone conversation with prospects. Repeat the commitment you have secured and conclude with an inviting statement, such as, “miss Terry, the teacher in the three’s room, and will look forward to having you and Sara visit us this Thursday at 10:00. Thank you for calling Apple Day Care.”
Good Telephone Personality Traits
- Friendly, informative greeting dialogue
- Pleasant voice tone, volume, and rate of speaking
- Minimal surrounding noise
- Empathetic, helpful, focused conversation
- Readily available inquiry card, tuition schedule, etc.
- Appointment booking skill
- A big smile
- Pleasant concluding dialogue
- Center appearance
When prospects visit your center, they form a first impression within about four minutes. Consider their first view-the exterior of your building. Does it look inviting? Is it in good repair? Is your sign bright and visible? Is your van clean and parked in a noticeable spot? How does your parking area look? Are weeds under control? Think about the sights that may have become commonplace to you but not to first-time visitors. I once visited a center that had a very attractive appearance except for a dead plant hanging just outside the door! Little things count.
Once inside your center, prospects will immediately respond to the environment around the reception area. Is it clean, warm and inviting? Is there a parent board? Do you prominently display special program offerings, your sign out system, notice of upcoming parent events, your center’s newsletter? A nice welcoming touch is to have coffee and a center scrapbook available to occupy waiting parents and make them feel comfortable.
Beyond the image of the reception area, the atmosphere of the halls and classrooms will impress your prospects. Are bulletin boards current and accurate? Are there neat, thorough parent communications posted, such as activity calendars and menus? Are safe, sanitary conditions obviously maintained? Does it smell good? Is each classroom a child oriented, happy place? Are equipment and materials visible and organized? Are learning centers identified? What is the level of sound from the children’s activities?
Remember, if your prospects are subconsciously reacting to an image of your center’s appearance they perceive as negative, it will be difficult for them to really listen or be positive about what you are telling them as you conduct their tours.
- Center director
You, as the center director, are the hub of the wheel that keeps the center rolling. You and the staff you hire have a direct influence on the personality of your center. Parents know that and will be affected by your appearance and demeanor. Before you ever have a chance to smile and say hello, your prospects will notice your appearance. Do you look professional and well groomed? Do you greet each prospect and child by name? A firm handshake with the parent and gentle touch and greeting at eye level with the child will give you instant good rapport. As you lead your prospects through their center tours, practice good enrollment building sales techniques, particularly communication the benefits of your child care service that meet their needs and asking for the enrollment.
Prospects view teachers as the people with whom their children will actually spend each day.
Therefore, staff acknowledgement of visiting prospects is crucial. Train your staff to smile, offer a welcoming comment, involve the child, or briefly visit with the prospect as the situation allows. Some center directors temporarily sit in for the teacher so visiting parents can have a few minutes to become personally acquainted with their child’s prospective caregiver. Discussions of staff appearance guidelines are also important. If your staff members treat the children in a warm, sensitive manner that maintains control and enthusiasm, your parents will be more likely to feel good about enrolling their children in your center.
Signs of a good, high quality program are obvious to you, but are they to your prospects? They will be impressed with an up-to=date information board in each room, including lesson plans. A display of recent art projects is always a good sign, as are clearly defined learning centers. Notice of daily activities and photos of children involved in past programs help project the image you desire and enhance your market position in your prospects’ mind. An abundance of clean, well organized equipment also sends a good message about your program delivery.
Your enrollees are your customers’ customers. Seeing a center filled with happy, involved children immediately helps appease a prospect’s sense of guilt or anxiety. Are the children in your center kept clean and active? Do tears and disruptions receive appropriate attention? Is discipline handled in a manner that is fair, controlled, and individual? Is there obvious, caring response to the children’s needs and feelings? Many times I am told that prospect reaction to the children is a decisive factor in choosing a center.
As you strive to provide, deliver, and maintain n high quality child care services in your market place, ask yourself the questions above. In the minds of your prospects, what is the position of your center compared to others they might be investigating? Remember that your prospects’ perception is their reality until you change it. If that perception is truly the image you desire, you are well positioned to secure and maintain a high level of enrollment in your center.
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