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By Angel Lozano, Director of Institutional Advancement, TASIS The American School in England

One of the most rewarding aspects of my job in an international school is the opportunity to meet families from different countries and cultures. In Mexico DF, I met Paola and Joaquin, who were excited about sending their 16 year-old son Diego to our boarding school in the London area for one school year. It is not an easy decision to send your child to a different country on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for a whole year, but they know Diego will have an amazing experience – an experience he will never forget.

There are around 500 boarding schools in the UK that host 23,000 boarding students. My school – TASIS The American School in England – is one of them. Our diverse student community represents more than 50 nationalities, and 188 of our 660 students are boarders. Like many other schools in the UK, we try to attract students from all over the world. How do we engage with this unique customer?

Statistics provided by ISC Research, the leading provider of English-medium K-12 international school data, illustrate why it can be difficult to achieve customer engagement in this industry. In 2000, there were 2,584 international schools in the world. By January 2019, there were 10,282. The key, as you can imagine, is how to differentiate yourself from the competition.

We use Inbound Marketing to engage with our customers. In short, we can define Inbound Marketing as the methodology whereby you do not search or go after customers; the customers find you. To accomplish this, you need to create relevant content and upload it into the right channels, online and offline, so your current and potential customers can see it.

We use all the media channels available to disseminate that relevant content: our own website, social media, and our app for iPhone and Android. We produced a virtual tour of the School, write thought leadership articles, and still use traditional media whenever we see an appropriate opportunity.

Let me give you an example of traditional media use. Before Meghan Markle gave birth, an NBC crew was seen recording the outside of the School. They were preparing background for a story based on the rumour that Meghan had said she might enroll their child in an international school instead of following the royal tradition of attending Eton College as Harry did. We met the NBC crew and not only gave them access to record our campus facilities, but also offered them an interview the Head of School. As a result, a three minute story aired on the TODAY Show worldwide. My advice: do not underestimate the power of traditional media.

Our customers can find us using technology (via online channels) as well as through the traditional word of mouth. Believe it or not, 70% of our new customers are recommended by previous or current families.

When I talk about customer engagement in the education industry, I like to point out that there are two distinct types. First, the engagement to attract potential customers, and second, the engagement to convert customers. To implement the first, you need innovation and creativity. Thanks to technology, this type of engagement is constantly evolving as new ways are developed to make a brand more and more visible. But to convert customers, you need to exhibit your professionalism and develop trust.

Let’s go back to the Mexican family sending their son Diego to a boarding school. Maybe they found TASIS through a friend or through an education agent. They have probably already done their online research and appreciate the virtual tour and all of the relevant content we have online. They like our School but they have not made their final decision. It is up to us to convert them into customers. For this, the most difficult part of engagement, we will need a host of soft skills and a lot of empathy.

Sending your child to a boarding school in another continent is not like purchasing a product online, where you do your online research, read positive reviews, click “buy,” and the transaction is finished. The parents want to talk to a human being, in person or via Skype. For them, nothing compares to a shake of hands – even if it is “virtual.” They are sending away their most precious possession, their own child. At this point, soft skills take over the business relationship. The parents need reassurance that their child is going to be safe and well taken care of. This is the moment when you have to show the customer not only your professionalism, but also your honesty.

My own experience as a school representative shows that, if you truly believe in the product/service you are offering, the customer immediately senses it. Because my two daughters are TASIS students, I can also talk to our potential customers from a parent’s perspective and they appreciate that.

In any international engagement, it is always important to understand the culture of your customer. Some families consider the excellence of the academic education on offer to be a top priority, while others may be simply looking for an international experience for their child. Of course, if you are also able to speak the native language of your customer, it is a great advantage.

Earlier in this article I mentioned the crucial role technology plays in today’s marketing strategy. Nobody can deny that but, in the world of the education industry, it is evident that traditional engagement is still very much alive.

When you work with students and deal with families, you have to go “the extra mile.” It is that extra effort that you, as a professional, put in that makes your customers feel good, feel that they are your priority, and that they are being heard. As an example, my work phone WhatApp lists a lot of conversations with parents who have children at TASIS. Once they know me and trust me, they see me as the school representative forever. And I don’t mind. As I said at the beginning, the relationships I develop with these multicultural families are one the best aspects of my job.

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