School Mystery Shopping: A Case Study

This past summer, we worked with a small school on a mystery shopping project. The school was keen to understand the overall experience that prospective parents received when communicating with the school.

Let me tell you a little story.

This past summer, we worked with a small school on a mystery shopping project. The school was keen to understand the overall experience that prospective parents received when communicating with the school.

Three months earlier, Susan, the Head of School in Kerrville, Texas, was frustrated. The town was growing for sure as San Antonio sprawled to the North. More families were moving in, but they did not see this translate in enrollment growth.

Through a long and steep learning curve, the school realized they should be marketing and even learned how to do it.

Leads started flowing in.

Yet, most of them felt like bad leads. Were these bots clicking on the ads and wasting the school's precious, limited resources? Why did barely any leads reply? They had clicked on a clear call to action about the school. Somehow, when contacted by the school, they seemed to slip through the cracks.


Fast forward three months later, 50% of the prospective families got on a 15-minute call, and 75% of them came into a tour. Tours were now coming in like clockwork, and enrollment was climbing. The difference? An Admissions followup machine. Or essentially, the alignment of their marketing and admissions efforts.

Let's take a closer look at what we discovered.

So, what we did was random calls to the school, pretending to be parents inquiring for information, to find out what parents were experiencing. We didn't know the problem, and we want to see how they handle things.

The first issue we noticed is that it wasn't always easy to get through to the appropriate person. Remember it was the summer, people are on leave, and you can get caught up in voicemail hell.

In a few other instances, I distinctly remember calling and being put on hold for some time before being connected to the appropriate person. Finally, a kind voice came through the phone, asking how she could be of assistance.

This is ABC School; how may I help you today? she said. She was kind and asked a few questions about the family.

She then proceeded to tell me tons of details about the school. She talked about their great curriculum, the excellent programs, the high test scores, and the innovative approach. This went on for around 20 minutes until I was able to ask anything else.

Not cool.

I finally asked a few questions about the school's curriculum. I was told to check the website for the information. I thanked her and hung up.

If that doesn't send a clear message, then I don't know what does!

Throughout the interview, she seemed nervous and unsure of what to say. Sadly, this is a common experience for most schools we connect with.

So within the first couple of weeks, we were able to figure out what the emerging patterns were. There was a bad school enrollment prospect experience:

When we first started working on this project, we never anticipated such a wide range of interaction experiences. We supposed that everyone at the school, in this day and age, would be as excited about talking to us as we were, and would be happy to return our inquiry calls.

Not the case at all...

We were also surprised by the inability to get an answer to a simple question like "What makes your school different from the other schools in this area". It seems obvious, but we got a lot of "ums" and "ahs". Then finally, we got a generic answer, one that we could have read from their website. These questions are integral to your enrollment efforts. Your prospective parents' "shopping" experience can make or break their decision to select your school.

So what does this tell us?

To get a reliable view of parents' experience with your school, you need to employ secret shoppers. Schools that leverage secret shoppers can create a consistent and high-quality parent experience.

In our instance, we identified all the breakdowns in the parent experience. We then provided recommendations on where the parent journey could improve. It was not difficult to convince Susan to start on-the-spot training and weekly coaching sessions. The outcome? The numbers speak for themselves.

We recommend conducting a mystery shopping exercise both before and after a training exercise. This way, you will be able to quantify the improvement and expected conversion increase.