Discover 4 important ways to improve your listening skills to increase conversions of prospective language students into clients
It’s funny, because the more successful your school, the less time you’ll actually have to listen to your students. Language schools rely very much on volume. Groups have a minimum requirement size, and anything on top is usually margin. So often it’s a “let’s pack in the students and worry about the rest later” mentality.
The same is true of good marketing. A strong inbound marketing strategy will eventually succeed in prospective students coming from many different channels – agents, the web site, e-mailings, advertising, etc. And the more leads you have, the less effort you need to fill classes. So the less you need to care and actually listen to them (and of course needy parents).
Of course this is a misnomer. We all work in language training because we genuinely like people and have strong listening and communication skills. I know hundreds if not thousands of language school professionals, directors and owners. I could count the nasty ones on one hand.
However, it is also very important to understand that listening, however good you are at it, is also a technique. A technique that needs constant improvement. There are important variables that you must understand in order for the prospective student, parent or corporate client to feel comfortable and reassured in your company. Here is a list of four of the most important ones:
Speed of response
You have a thousand things to do today. Quotes to send off, teachers to negotiate with, host families to placate, staff to manage. The last thing you feel like doing is calling up the person who’s just sent an email, summon the energy to show genuine curiosity and empathy with someone you don’t know. Better put it off till tomorrow (or next week). The enquiry probably isn’t worth it anyway. Right?
I’d argue that there is nobody as important as your next student. A language school’s work is never done. The horizon is never rosy pink and clear. Time is our enemy and dates keep looming up like unmoveable mountains. You must never underestimate how important that enquiry is.
Secondly, one of man’s biggest fears is not feel important. To be made to feel insignificant. So what does that say about you taking time to reply to an enquiry? It means that the longer you take, the less important that potential student feels. The faster you are to reply (and I’d always advocate calling if possible), the more likely to get a sale.
“Yes, but I can’t find the time to do it, Joss” I hear you scream “I can’t hear myself think, let alone call back everyone immediately”. I understand, and I empathise. I’m just as guilty when it comes to people contacting me for services for Linguaid. I’m literally in a new city every week, and I find it very hard to reply in time.
My advice is to always plan time in your day to respond to enquiries. No matter what. It could be 8:30 in the morning, it could be 5 in the afternoon. Just set yourself aside an hour to speak to those people because they’re the future of your language school. By being in contact quickly, you’ll be creating the perfect conditions to have a receptive and interested person, and that can only help your listening skills.
Prepare yourself before calling
The more information you have on the prospective student or client, the more you’ll be prepared and can ask the right questions. Yes, enquiries can often be one-liners “I’m interested in a course from 30th August to 29th September, do you have any places left?”. But I think it’s wise to always try to read between the lines. Where is the person writing from? If he doesn’t say, how about his email address? What about his name? If you have a specialise in the students from the Russian market and the enquiry is in bad English but you know the name is of Russian origin, then what does that tell you when it comes to preparing to call back (or at worst, write back, but this will be for another article)?
If there is a lot of information in the enquiry, and especially a lot of questions, then this surely shows that the person needs reassuring. He needs personal contact and his fears calmed. So it is good advice to already have answers for the questions before you call.
Oh god, what does that mean, I hear you cry. Does this mean walking around the room whilst on the phone? No, dear reader, this is the art of showing you understand the person you are speaking to. With a quick nod to our friends in NLP, active listening is the ability to repeat (not word for word) the worries or desires being expressed in order to show that you understand (and yes, care) about what is being said. There is simply nothing worse than not answering a question. Not addressing the issue at hand.
An example: “I’m worried that I won’t like the accommodation” “OK, so what are you worried about exactly?” “Well, the last time I took a course, the accommodation was dirty and I had to clean everything myself”. “OK, so where was this course?” “In London.” “OK, so you’ve taken a course before in London, and when you arrived, the accommodation was so dirty you had to clean it after all that traveling, is that right?” “Yes.” “OK, well just to reassure you, we do have some very good host families. The price is a little more expensive, but I think that based on your last experience, you’d probably be a lot happier, what do you think?”
As you can see, there is a particular questioning technique whereby we’re continuously looking for information to show we care, show we understand, find out what the fears are and then wait until we’re in a position to give a good solution. All in a nice, friendly manner.
Compare this to: “I’m worried that I won’t like the accommodation” “Well I don’t think that will be much of a problem, we’ve never had any complaints here”.
It’s not quite the same, is it?
Asking for a commitment
In this line of business, I’d say 99.99% of telephone conversations end with “I’ll send you an email”. An email with a link to enrol, an email with photos of the school and potential accommodation, an email with the program, an email with a quote. That’s fine, but where is the commitment?
The problem with ending a conversation this way, or simply not talking to the person anyway and sending off the email, is that it’s difficult to get some form of commitment from the interested person.
Let’s put it this way. Remember that part earlier in the blog where I wrote about summoning up the energy to actually make the call? And what about the energy needed day-in and day-out to run the centre? And what about the hours of self-doubt and questioning when it comes to the legitimacy of your role, or your job, or even your centre? That’s a lot of time and energy, isn’t it? Takes a lot to get where you are, and your enquirer hasn’t got the faintest idea about all that, has he?
Well, I think that this is important, and you need to summon all that inner strength to make sure that you have the courage to ask for a commitment. Ask for something in return for your effort. Here are a few ideas:
- “Places are filling up quickly for that course. When do you think you can get back to me?”
- “If I send you a link to the test, when can you fill it in?”
- “I’m going to send you the quote (or here is the quote), when will you make your decision?”
And if the person doesn’t respect his commitment, then you have the perfect excuse to phone back. Follow-up is essential. It doesn’t matter why the person doesn’t get back to you. The why is just not important. Could be their dog died. Maybe they had a bad day at work. Or perhaps their leg fell off. Or even their favourite tree spontaneously combusted and they ran about screaming gibberish for 3 days. It really doesn’t matter. What is important is that they didn’t get back to you, and you need an answer. So call back and ask for a decision.
So I hope you can see the importance of speed, curiosity, energy, commitment, empathy and pressure when it comes to getting more sales of your language training courses.
What may have seemed a simple “call back this person” has turned into a quite technical conversation. However, done right, I guarantee this will increase your sales.
If you like this article, all I ask is that you share it. There are some buttons right below this paragraph and you only have to click one to make my day shine. And even better, you sign up for more lovely articles via our newsletter here.