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'Secret-Shopper' Study Looks at What Happens after a Student Prospect Clicks 'Tell Me More'

When prospective students provide contact details to third-party college aggregator sites, more than a sixth of them can expect a call back within five minutes of the inquiry and more than one-third within the first 30 minutes after inquiry. All will receive calls within the first 12 hours. Nearly nine in 10 will receive their first email within 10 days of their inquiry submission.

These results came out of a "secret shopper" experiment put on by two vendors: Velocify, which has an enrollment management service built on, and Sparkroom, a marketing company. The project created contact profiles for 100 student profiles, which were used to submit inquiries to schools through third-party sites. The responses were tracked using Velocify's technology. Over the course of the 90-day study period, for 159 total inquiries submitted, the companies received a total of 3,629 phone calls and 1,522 emails from schools, education-related companies, employment-related companies, vendors and spammers.

"Our goal was to see how actual communications from third-party providers measured up against best practices proven to maximize enrollment yield," said Martin Lind, director of the education vertical at Velocify, in a prepared statement. "We found a number of surprises, including the volume of inquiry re-selling to non-EDU companies by the third-party sites."

Among the "surprises":

  • On average, each prospect received 7.6 calls, 3.46 voicemails and four emails per company;
  • Overall communications peaked within the first five days then dropped off precipitously until later in the test, by which time vendor volume picked up and school volume slowed down; and
  • Communications from non-school, non-vendor companies began in earnest on day 45 of the test period.

"George Foster," one of the profiles, submitted three inquiries regarding MBA programs at two private, for-profit universities and one public, four-year school. The submissions were made through an education directory that lists schools based on location, degree level, program of interest and other search criteria. Within 35 minutes he had received his first call. Ultimately, he received 12 calls the day of the inquiry, 206 calls over the next 89 days — 173 of those from one caller in particular — as well as 10 voicemails and 31 emails within 90 days.

Although the number of calls was more than any other prospect, overall, George's experience wasn't unusual, the report's authors noted: "a blitz of calls from the time of the initial inquiry that stayed fairly strong for the first 30 days, then tapered off with only sporadic, occasional attempts after that."

"Max Spencer," another made-up prospect, visited a job site and consented to be contacted by companies, including those with educational opportunities. "Though Max received calls from multiple parties within the education community, he did not receive any calls or voicemails from an actual educational institution," the report pointed out. Among the companies that sent emails to Max were these: ChineseWomenDate, Just Hookup, Men's Renewal, RussianSinglesTeam and others classified by the authors as "Internet spam."

The inquiries submitted for all 100 profiles went to 26 third-party companies representing 73 schools. The study submitted multiple inquires per fictional prospect (1.62 to be precise) so they behaved "like typical prospective students." Submission was primarily done by clicking on organic listings on search engines, paid search ads and typing a URL into a browser or by calling toll-free numbers.

According to Sparkroom data from the first quarter of 2015, third-party inquiries account for 59 percent of all inquiries received by schools. Yet they're not nearly as effective as the first-party variety going directly to schools. The first-party inquiry-to-application rate is 11 percent; the third-party rate is 2 percent.

The report offered advice to schools regarding their recruitment efforts:

  • Jump on an inquiry. Once a student inquires, the school will have a much better chance of "getting traction" if it responds "within minutes";
  • Watch contact frequency. "Learn when enough is enough," the authors wrote. The companies' research has determined that six calls and five emails "deliver the best results"; and
  • Consider other communication channels. While this study focused on calls and emails, the two companies advised schools to build a media plan that starts with awareness and continues "through conversion and beyond, delivering a relevant, consistent message every step of the way."

The report is available with registration from the Sparkroom site or Velocify site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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