Podcast: Phone Skills To Increase Enrollment

Phone Skills To Increase Enrollment

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Episode 174 – Phone skills are often an overlooked aspect of running a child care program. In this episode, we have a conversation with Jaren Hall, CEO of Intellikid Systems on why training your preschool staff to have good phone skills is so important in making a good first impression on prospective families. 

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Episode Transcript

Jared HALL:

We think, “Of course, we’re all professionals and we’re taking care of people’s children.” But it’s the time factor. And can we do things more efficiently? Can we focus on the quality of business and the quality of the program at the same time? And that’s the challenge.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Jared, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

HALL:

Thanks, Ron, for having me!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

So, we are delighted today to have on the show Jared Hall. Jared is the CEO and founder of a company called IntelliKid Systems. And he a very interesting story and is working on a very interesting solution. So, [we are] excited to talk to Jared today. Jared, let’s start off learning a bit about your past and how you got where you are today in helping to solve problems in early-childhood education.

HALL:

Well, I’m second-generation [in the field of] childcare. My family started Creative Kids Learning Center, which was a Las Vegas-based chain of childcare centers in 1980 and eventually grew to be, I think at the height, 16 centers and then averaged that around 10 before we were acquired by a national chain in 2017.

So, I really was born into it and grew up learning about childcare. My first job was on the landscaping crew and all the way into the head office, eventually being a marketing director. So, I really got to see not only the evolution of early childhood as it went through the different decades and into the modern technology, but also the evolution of our own company as we went from kind of a small, single site to eventually a chain and multiple sites.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Very cool. And so you founded this company called IntelliKid Systems. How did that come out of Creative Kids Centers in Nevada?

HALL:

Well, it’s kind of an interesting story. So, it kind of also pairs with how childcare itself has evolved over the years. In the beginning, [Las] Vegas was very different in 1980 than it is today, in terms of the community outside of, of course, the strip where the casinos are. And as the community was growing and the city was one of the fastest growing cities, I think for quite a few years in the late 80s and 90s we were almost the only premier actual early-education center that was providing care for the children.

So, we had this influx of leads all the time in inquiries. And basically the cup was bubbling over and we could maintain full schools pretty much throughout this period of time. Now, that kind of continued into the 2000’s. But after the crisis, a lot of private equity money flew up, came into childcare, and they started to build buildings that were similar to ours. They said, “We had a change something to Vegas.” Vegas was identified as a big market. You just had an explosion of competition

At that time I was working overseas in a software company that I founded. And I got this phone call around 2013 or 2014. My mom says, “I don’t know what’s going on, but we’re struggling with enrollments. So, you need to come home and try to figure this out.” And, of course, at family company at any point in time you can be recalled to do your duty.

So, I hopped on a plane and came back over. And I started taking a look at what we were doing wrong or what we were doing right. And I came to this really interesting observation: Our retention was great; we had a great program; the program was quality; and we didn’t have trouble keeping the children that were enrolled. It was that the rate of enrollment had decreased over the years. So, we were not enrolling the same amount of children each week that we were in previous years.

So, I looked at our enrollment process for the first time and how we handled when someone calls in, how we answered the telephone. What does [our company] online look like? Not so much the marketing, not so much trying to go out there and find new people, but what did we do with the people who found us?

Kind of my favorite story about this from the genesis of where our company came from was I took all of the directors and assistant directors in our company and got them in one room. And I was going to teach him sales because I said, “Okay, well, we need to a have better sales process,” even though that was kind of a dirty word in childcare, the word “sales”.

So, we got them all in one room and I start to kind of talk about different sales techniques and things. And I noticed within five minutes everyone’s eyes glossed over and clearly I was getting nowhere. So, I stopped right then, I took out a piece of paper and said, “What are the things you don’t have time to do? What are the things you hate most about the enrollment process?” And I made a list of about 30 or 40 items. And from that list actually is what built our program first.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

I can just picture you in the room and you’re so excited to talk about sales and all the challenges in enrollment and just talking to a room of people whose eyes are glossed over. But they did come up with a whole laundry list of issues that they’re dealing with. And so I guess this is where the solution was born, was taking that list and building something to help resolve those issues.

Can you talk us through… what were some of those issues? And how did you go from, “I think there’s an issue around enrollment in the enrollment process. And the families called me in to help and I’m going to build a solution that is going to help solve that problem.” How did you make that transition into actually creating something?

HALL:

Well, we were lucky because my mom was a very prolific procedure writer. So, we always had a procedure for everything that could possibly happen. The “How to Run a School” guidebook basically was sitting there. And so we had some good procedures in place – paper procedures, because, of course, these were these were kind of written before the age of technology – on exactly what to do, how to follow up, when the follow up, etc.

It’s just that as you started adding these extra mediums – and it wasn’t just someone walking in or making a phone call, but now you at email, you had online, you had Facebook, for example – the different ways that people could contact you expanded. And so it was just not possible to do everything on paper anymore.

But what we were able to do is extract some of those procedures. So, for one of the examples, if you have someone who’s called in and asked for information, how do you classify them? So, we came up with a whole level of classification. So, for instance, that person would be “Thinking”. Someone who came in and it had toured but didn’t enroll on the spot, that person would be “Toured and Thinking”. So, one of the pillars of our program became the status, and what is the status of the person? And that would then depict how you would speak to them or what kind of content you would provide them.

And so it started to kind of evolve into a system that would aid not only just in the follow-ups and organization, but also in following the procedures. Because for the first time a director would sit down and before she would make a phone call to follow up she could read about where this person was in their decision-making process. And, in fact, we had to create a whole decision-making process kind of a timeline and then teach that.

So really… and I think one of the advantages is, is that when we built the software initially, before it was available to the public like it is today, we had it just in our own company. And so we were able to try and test these things and see how they were effective and watch our statistics and our numbers change based on how we did things and eventually, over a period of a few years, really come up with something that that worked smoothly.

And something that you’ve mentioned a couple of times is talking on the phone to people. And I know that’s something, as a childcare center director or owner, that you’re likely doing pretty frequently. Can you tell us a little bit more about how that played a role in your solution to enrollment?

HALL:

Absolutely. In fact, I think phone skills are some of the things that are just kind of the most elusive of all of the different types of ways that you present your program. I had my first sales job 15 years ago and I’ve been kind of in sales one way or the other my whole life. And I still hate talking on the phone, especially when it’s someone that you haven’t talked to before.

One of the things that is important is to understand kind of the dynamics of a childcare center. It’s almost like you’re handicapped from the start in the sense of there’s always chaos going on. There’s “organized chaos”, we call it, right? There’s always something happening. And it’s hard to just pick up the phone and be calm and give a good picture of what your program is and especially if you’re trying to write down the information and everything.

So, we kind of came up with this thing we called “W.H.I.P.” And it’s an acronym that kind of helps us keep on track when we’re talking on the phone. So, it’s “Welcoming, Helpful, Informative and Productive”. A lot of people, you’d be surprised, forget to introduce themselves. How you answer the phone sets the tone for the entire conversation. A lot of people will add in greetings, for example, but never introduced themselves, as I said.

So, you might say, “Hi, this is IntelliKid Systems. I’m Jared, how can I help you today?” It seems like it’s just a simple thing but it really does set the tone and creates that first impression. A lot of it, the H for “Helpful” is to qualify the questions. Most calls are going to start in a certain way. For example, almost the majority of calls are going to start with, “What are your rates?” Or, “Do you have any openings?” Every once in a while you get a really nice softball one, like, “I would just like some information about your school.”

And it’s important that those questions are answered but not exclusively answered because you have an opportunity and a forum on that phone call to be able to express why your program is unique. And you need to have the opportunity to do that. If you just tell someone the rates right when they ask, more than likely they’re going to say “Thank you” and hang up before you get to tell them anything about yourself.

So, that’s where the I [“Informative”] comes in, trying to be informative, trying to get a buy-in from the customer to the program. This is their first opportunity to hear from you. It’s a mini-tour, so to speak. And then, of course, the P is just “Productive”, make sure that we have some sort of way at the end of the call to try to get a follow-up. “Can I send you more information? Would you like to come in and tour? What time would you like to come in and tour?” These things are important to do, even on that first phone call in.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And this really resonates with me because I went through this process basically just a year or so ago with my toddler looking for childcare programs. And it’s hard to define what it is that makes you choose one childcare program over another. But a lot of it really just comes down to the first impressions and the professionalism and organization through which they handle communications with you. It just gives you confidence that, “Hey, if they’re interacting with me in a really professional, organized way, everything else must operate in that way, too.”

HALL:

Absolutely. It’s kind of one of those things where we’re dealing with almost an element of psychology here. So, one of the key programs, or one of the key features, of our system is call recording. So, we give our customers a digital phone number that forwards to their existing hardware. And so when they get a call from their website, it’s recorded.

And it did some interesting things. This is one of those features that my mother would tell you really changed her business. And it lines right up with what we’re talking about with phone skills. First of all, one of the things that you get when you answer the phone and someone isn’t prepared, you get dead space. So they say, “Hello,” and even if they have a great introduction and you give them your name or some information, as they’re shuffling for paper or even just writing things down you tend to have this kind of dead space.

And a lot of times, if you ask [for] the name and the age of the child at first, you get these different kinds of blocks inside the conversation where nothing’s going on. What we would do is, with the call recording, is say, “Whatever you do, don’t worry about it. Just concentrate on talking about the program, following your script, because you can always go back and listen for it later.”

It’s all about capturing accurate information. How many times are centers on the phone – and especially with customers being millennial these days where we all created our personal e-mails when we were in high school – “Oh, yeah, my e-mail is BarbieXXX9247, and that’s 4 X’s and not three, even though I said triple.” So, you can go back and listen to that thing.

But one of the crucial things was training. So, when we implemented call recording, we started listening to some of the calls. Even though we had done training on calls multiple times, it was just amazing how people were interacting with customers on the phone.

And even though that created this training tool where we could then listen, go school-by-school and try to do some retraining, one thing that resonated the most with me is when you would call someone and say, “Hey, we’d like to talk to you about your phone skills and stuff,” and they would sometimes just jump in and say, “Oh my goodness, I listened to that call from the other day. I cannot believe I said that. I know exactly what I did wrong and I’ll work on it.”

It became self-actuating. And just like you said, everything starts to fall into place when you get a sense of calm from a director when you call them, especially when you think of what the environment really is like inside these centers.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and that’s a good point about the self-feedback and correction, too, is sometimes if you even just listen to your own self on phone call, you hear things that you don’t realize you’re saying or doing, which become obvious when you hear them after the fact.

HALL:

And it’s a process. No one gets this done right. No one gets this done right the first time; no one gets it done right the tenth time. And there’s always going to be mitigating factors. But it’s one of the things where you plan for the best and you adapt to the worst. And we’ve been a big proponent of that when we were running our centers and as we advised other centers, too. If you make the plan and put in the procedures and put in the tools necessary you’re going to get this average line that’s just going to creep up in terms of your organization and professionalism.

I think one of the things that resonates with me most and when we talk to some of our clients and try to work out what’s working and what’s not, one thing that one of them said to me was, “Some of these tools allow us to be professional in an industry where we don’t have time to be.” And that kind of blew my mind because you think, “Of course, we’re all professional.” I mean, we’re taking care of people’s children. But it’s the time factor. And can we do the things efficiently? Can we can we focus on the quality of business and the quality of the program at the same time? And that’s the challenge.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that’s a pretty good quote, actually, I haven’t heard that one before. And so you’re now working with other childcare programs with IntelliKid Systems. Can you tell us a bit about how you’re working with centers and what solutions you’re providing in and how that’s going?

HALL:

Absolutely. So, when our company got acquired by a national chain we still retained the ownership to these great internal tools that we had built. And we kind of had other companies in childcare that we knew the other owners. And so we let them try it out. And what we found was, what was good for us was really good for them as well.

So, having my career in software I went back and we built this, what we call an “enterprise solution”. So, something that can be used by everyone at the same time and that kind of was more built for everyone’s type [customizability] instead of just ours. And we went ahead and released that. And we’ve been doing that now since about November of last year.

So, one of the things that we find and what we try to do when we help these centers is, there’s things that you don’t need to spend your time on. For example, when someone requests some information from you or they book a tour online, you can send that welcome packet out automatically.

So, what we basically have is a lead inquiry management system, which kind of takes both the pressure of organization and also the fear of missing follow-ups off of the centers’ everyday kind of to-do sheet. We average about 15 minutes a day in terms of the director just checking on things that the system does. But really, as I said, what we try to create is this professional organization which allows the center to increase their enrollment and focus on what their core belief is usually and that’s the early education of these young children.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and that’s oftentimes what it comes down to with this, right, is, “How can we save early-childhood educators time to focus on their primary objectives?” And so it certainly sounds like what you’re doing is supporting with that. And of course, having strong enrollment, which then results in a strong business performance and financial sustainability, [which] really puts you in the best place to provide the best education for the kids in your programs, which we all know.

So, this is really a fantastic-sounding program. Tell us how we might be able to get in touch with you or learn more about IntelliKid Systems.

HALL:

So, the easiest way to find is as our software program is online. You can go to www.IntelliKidSystems.com. And right from there you’ll be able to request a demo or ask any questions, give us a call. We, of course, have all mediums available for you to contact us.

Also, one of the things that I wanted to mention, I talked about phone scripts a couple of times. I believe that it’s our job as professionals and as we present ourselves as experts of enrollment solutions to make sure that we give out this kind of content and really, really try to help centers, whether they’re clients or not.

So, we have a link that I believe will be posted on your page, which, if you go to and you fill out our little form there, you’ll get e-mailed a free phone script. It’s a generic phone script but it’s a great foundation for building your own phone script in your own center. And I really encourage people to have these phone scripts. They don’t need to be followed verbatim but they’re great tools to get your staff and even yourself on track with presenting your program the proper way.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Very cool. Thanks for providing that free resource for our listeners, Jared. And thank you so much for joining us on the Preschool Podcast today. It’s been wonderful having you as a guest. And congratulations on all your success and for devoting your time toward solving this important challenge that childcare programs are facing.

HALL:

Thank you so much for the opportunity to come on here. And I really enjoy what you guys are doing and I appreciate it.

Carmen Choi

Carmen is the Marketing Coordinator and Preschool Podcast Manager on the HiMama team. She's been working with childcare business owners and consultants for 3 years. She is passionate making connections that empower the ECE Community through knowledge-sharing to support better outcomes for children, their families, and society!

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