You'd be hard-pressed to find a company who isn't interested in satisfying their customers. Some companies have entire departments dedicated to customer success. However, for many small business owners, a customer success department is a luxury they can't afford in terms of time and/or money. Some might say, I know my customers. I don't need a separate department or even a part-time employee in order to satisfy my customers. However, based on thousands of in-depth conversations with preschool owners and directors and hundreds of websites and enrollment forms analyzed, plus some newly conducted market research, you might be surprised when I tell you that over 50% of preschools are catering to the minority of their customer base, and this isn't helping their business.
At Enrollsy, we're passionate about understanding the enrollment ecosystem. This means not only understanding the motives, incentives, and the pain points for the preschool, which includes the owner(s), director(s), teacher(s), etc., but also the enrollee, which includes the enrollees and their parent(s)/guardian(s).
The founders of Enrollsy are all fathers of preschoolers, so one of the biggest challenges we've had is keeping our personal biases from affecting key product decisions. We've probably failed in some ways. But hey, is there really a product out there with zero human bias in it? I doubt it. One of the best ways we've weeded out as much of our bias as possible is to talk to our wives and our customers (preschools) . . . a lot. Those two groups of people are in a way primarily responsible for much of the success we've had in building a great product.
However, in the back of my mind, I can't help but think how little we have talked with other enrollees/parents/guardians, outside of our founding team. Some of our assumptions, and therefor product features, are built around our own experience enrolling our kids in preschools.
For example, our killer auto-bill and auto-pay features stem from the fact that none of us carry cash or checkbooks. Our focus on streamlining the time it takes a mom to complete an enrollment form (and especially to re-enroll) stems from the fact that we hear our wives explain preschool and other program enrollment processes, forms, etc. and they just don't make sense to us in this digital age.
In our early market research, we discovered a nationally popular platform used by a few local companies including the preschool my child went to. So, we set out to build a platform that not only beat that platform in every way, but that also specifically addressed the enrollee/parent experience, or in other words, our experience and that of our wives.
So, in an attempt to test our own assumptions, this week I hired a professional firm to gather a random sampling of 150 moms from around the US to take a 5 question survey to help us understand moms' expectations regarding preschool enrollment and other administrative processes. This is by no means exhaustive, scientific, or free from error. However, I think it's worth sharing.
Below are each of our questions and the responses, which demonstrate that many preschools are catering, even if unintentionally, to the minority of their customer base. This could mean less enrollments for them as they turn away the customer base they seek to attract.
All questions required a response to complete the survey.
How do you prefer to enroll your child in preschool (meaning to provide the required information)?
The vast majority of the small to medium sized preschools (not counting backyard preschools) I speak with still use paper forms and/or require people to enroll at their location. Since a whopping 57.14% of moms prefer to enroll on their phone or computer, a paper enrollment experience might be turning your potential customers off. Additionally, it's not unreasonable to assume that as the millennial and generation Z cohort reach their peak child-bearing ages, this trend is likely to continue away from paper forms. If you have felt some internal pressure to start digitizing your enrollment process, there's good reason.
When teachers or administrative staff are with my child, I don't mind them using personal or company devices (phones, tablets, etc.) to take pictures of my child to share with me.
When teachers or administrative staff are with my child, I want them completely present with my child and would prefer they don't ever use devices in front of them.
Each statement required the mom to indicate whether they completely disagreed, somewhat disagreed, were neutral, somewhat agreed or completely agreed with the statements.
While it's clear that more moms are in favor of devices being used by staff to document and share what's happening at preschool with moms, if you're being told by software vendors that you need to implement a costly messaging app or social networking platform into your preschool in order to satisfy customers, you might want to think twice. This question by far received the most qualitative feedback. Nearly 1/3 of all respondents felt inclined to qualify their response with some conditional feedback in the comments box.
Some comments included:
Would rather not personal devices for pictures, but using a school device is just fine :)
There ought to be reasonable boundaries otherwise it sets a poor precedence. A camera is okay for classroom projects and the class memory book, if there is one. Other than this, Teachers should not have a phone on their person during class time.
The staff are people. People that may occasionally need to use their device. Maybe for personal reasons, maybe to play music, maybe to look up information to answer a curious child’s question, maybe to play a book that they know is perfect for curriculum but they don’t have handy. It’s fine with me if it has purpose.
I feel like I get to know my children's teachers and vet them out before even enrolling them so I have a level of comfort with [them] already so taking pictures of them doing cute things is welcomed.
If the purpose is to document the moment to share with parents later I'm fine with preschool teachers using phone cameras. Using personal cell phones for any other reason I do not feel is okay while they are "on the clock."
Only if they have previous authorization from me to take those pictures and that they are shared only with me and not posted on a FB or other group page.
This is tough, I don’t mind pictures sent to me but don’t love the idea of them on personal devices or saved and I definitely prefer no devices being present as I think most people do not have the ability to avoid looking at notifications and messages sent to them if they have their device during class time.
Of course like at any job there is excessive use of personal devices. If they're taking pictures to share at graduation its fine, but if they're using their device constantly for personal use when they should be teaching then there is an issue.
I think these comments demonstrate that we are in the middle of a massive social experiment to see how our kids develop and learn to cope in a world where their every action is potentially being photographed, recorded, and reviewed. I guess the biggest question here is: What are you choosing not to have budget for when you make this a priority? Many of these messaging platforms are upwards of $50/mo and don't solve your enrollment, payment, accounting, or other needs!
When paying preschool tuition, I prefer to make payments:
I'd rather have the school automatically deduct payments when they're due
I'd rather pay for the year upfront
The options order was randomized for each respondent.
This is where I see most preschools catering to the minority. The vast majority of customers (over 81%) want to pay their preschool tuition online or have the payment deducted automatically using a credit/debit card or an electronic check.
Need help accepting electronic payments? We'd be happy to help out even if you don't end up using the Enrollsy platform. Feel free to contact us if you have questions.
Most preschools I talk with are still primarily taking paper checks and cash, although somewhat reluctantly. Many are hopping on the Venmo wagon in an attempt to save money, but then end up spending a disproportionate amount of time reconciling payments at the end of the month and trying to keep their profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and AR Aging reports up to date. What a nightmare that must be!
After making payment, I want a printed receipt.
Invoicing and receipts are largely a thing of the past. Subscription billing is the new norm. The moms asking for invoices and receipts are likely those who use them to get reimbursed by work or in some other way. While we realize the makeup of a preschool's student population is different from city to city and even neighborhood to neighborhood, this one didn't surprise us at all.
If I had the choice between paying a small fee in addition to tuition (say 2-3% of the amount) for having convenient payment options or I had to pay each month in a way that was inconvenient to me, I would choose convenience + fees.
I don't think people will often voluntarily admit they want to pay more for anything...ever. But, in this case, a surprising amount of moms are actually ok with this. One of our customers made the wise observation that the better thing to do is make this decision based on what's best for the business and to cover merchant account expenses by simply increasing the annual registration fee for every enrollee and altogether leave out the convenience fee. Then, you can give your families all the payment options out there (Credit card, debit card, and eCheck), without having to mention anything about convenience or fees. It's all about how you sell it!
I hope this data is helpful to you. Perhaps it confirms some things you already knew. Perhaps it uncovers some error in your own assumptions or biases, like it did mine. In either case, I hope we can help you run a better business. If you'd like to learn more about how Enrollsy helps preschools make enrollment easy while providing solutions to serious back office pain points, please contact us or schedule a demo.