Ratings from Parents Jumped Dramatically Despite Formidable Challenges Facing the Education and Child Services Sectors During COVID-19
In March 2020, childcare centers throughout the United States were forced to close down to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. While some reopened when possible, many were forced to shutter due to declining enrollments and challenges with retaining staff.
The Learning Experience Academy of Early Education, which offers childcare and early education to children from ages six weeks to six years, was deemed an essential business and was fortunate to remain open in most parts of the country.
The Florida-based franchise currently operates more than 270 locations, with plans to open more than 100 new centers in the U.S. by the end of 2022. Last year, it opened 40 new centers, including its first international location in the United Kingdom.
Brad Wahl, SVP of Brand, The Learning Experience
Brad Wahl, SVP of Brand at The Learning Experience (TLE), said that while their centers experienced some enrollment challenges early on, they were able to serve first responders, members of the military, health care professionals, and other essential workers who relied on quality, engaging childcare to be able to do their jobs. In many cases, this meant operating centers with fewer students and staff members.
Identifying Families’ Needs During the Pandemic
The Learning Experience regularly surveys the parents of the children who attend their programs to help gauge both how important specific aspects of their brand are to parents, and how satisfied they are with each of them.
For the past 10 years, they have partnered with Franchise Business Review, a research firm serving the franchise sector that specializes in franchisee, customer, and employee satisfaction surveys.
TLE uses Franchise Business Review’s customer satisfaction survey to ask parents to rate the value of services provided, quality of staff, overall academic development, and safety protocols, among other things. Parents are surveyed annually in February.
“Our growth trajectory over the last 10 years has ramped up tremendously; at first we were small enough to gather parents in a room and get a sense of how we were doing. As we’ve expanded nationally and internationally, a board member recommended we use Franchise Business Review,” said Wahl.
Using a third-party survey enables the company to get direct feedback from parents as the brand continues to grow. It also allows the corporate office to gather quantitative data they can compare year-over-year, he said.
This year, the coronavirus forced TLE locations to change the way they interacted with students and their families. The 2021 survey was a key indicator of whether the new targeted programs and initiatives developed to respond to the pandemic would be recognized as valuable by parents.
Parent Sentiment Jumps to Highest Level in 10 Years
Although TLE has consistently received high reviews from parents over the years, general consumer sentiment trends would suggest a greater level of dissatisfaction reflected in the 2021 survey.
“Researchers anticipated that satisfaction scores would be down this year because they typically follow the overall attitude customers have in general; for example, the more negative people feel about life in general, that usually contributes to an overall dissatisfaction around them,” Wahl said.
Instead of going down, survey scores jumped dramatically. TLE saw its Net Promoter Score (NPS), the score that determines whether or not parents would refer others to a center, rise more than 20 points—from a 50 to a 71.
Seventy-seven percent of all parents surveyed scored TLE with a 9 or a 10 when asked how likely they would be to recommend TLE centers to a friend or colleague.
Seventy-seven percent of all parents surveyed scored TLE with a 9 or a 10 when asked how likely they would be to recommend TLE centers to a friend or colleague. In comparison, the industry typically sees scores in the 30-50 range, Wahl explained. The survey not only validated that parents positively recognized the value of TLE’s programs, but provided them with some of its highest customer satisfaction scores ever.
“Ultimately we believe the Net Promoter Score is the best indicator of true overall satisfaction with our customer base,” he said. “We attribute that to our strong communications, commitment to parents and schools, our leadership, and our attitude of staying positive.”
New Strategies Get High Marks
TLE attributes the jump in customer satisfaction to its ability to stick with the brand’s mission: To create a positive impact on the lives of the children, families, and communities.
With the challenges presented by the pandemic, TLE had to quickly develop and roll out specific programs to allow both parents and students to engage with the brand – even if their children weren’t physically able to attend school. One of its overall goals for 2020 was to remain positive during a time of uncertainty. In fact, its overarching “Happy Happens Here” campaign ultimately helped pull up parent satisfaction scores across the board.
The slogan and mindset, “Happy Happens Here,” effectively communicated TLE’s brand mission to parents and allowed them to feel safe and confident in choosing the TLE experience. There were many elements to the program, which engaged parents and students both in-class and online, Wahl explained, including new online curricula featuring TLE’s character, Bubbles the Elephant. The brand created 500 videos to help parents engage in learning and development during the lockdown.
They also expanded health and safety protocols that exceeded CDC guidelines, and communicated them out to parents to let them know that their children were learning in a clean, safe environment.
Frequent communication was paramount, so TLE employed a proprietary parent app called Show N Tell, along with email and social media outreach in order to “over-communicate” with parents about initiatives such as health and safety protocols, online resources, and in-class activities. “Our FOMO Campaign showcased what their kids were missing out on (by not being at school) and this worked to bring children in more quickly,” explained Wahl.
At the franchise level, the brand also created an internal portal and instituted a weekly CEO call to update franchise owners and staff locations on the latest health and safety guidelines, but also instill positivity and confidence along the way. “We let our franchisees know we were with them all the way—and that we would get through this,” Wahl said. “That translated into a better customer service experience in the schools, because our people were able to feel more positive.”
Using the data from the survey, the leadership team at TLE was able to effectively measure and evaluate how the strategies were received by parents, Wahl said. Despite the formidable challenges they faced, scores rose in multiple areas:
- Value of services provided (+10%)
- Quality of staff (+7%)
- Overall academic development (+7%)
- Extended hours (+7%)
- Safety (+4%)
Value of services provided has always scored high in importance among parents, but satisfaction scores tied to this question rose significantly this year, Wahl said. TLE centers were able to operate without discounting tuition because they added value to their program by offering new online resources, updating curricula, investing in Show N Tell, enhancing cleaning protocols, and increasing communications. The survey validated that parents indeed recognized these improvements as value-added benefits.
Staff development and academic development scores could also be directly tied to the concerted efforts TLE made to ensure that teachers had the right training and materials to educate children in the centers—and at home.
“We knew that now was the time to really upgrade everything. We redid a lot of curricula and positioned it with our brand. We introduced new programs and developed new characters aligned with our sign language, Under the Sea, and our new STEM program, Cody the Chameleon, which teaches kids about coding and patterns,” Wahl said.
Interestingly enough, TLE did not extend its operating hours during the pandemic but did not shorten them either—resulting in the perception that TLE centers were open more than others. Being open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. allowed families to fully participate in the workforce, resulting in a rise in scores under this category.
“A lot of schools just weren’t open—we opened quicker than any other brand out there in our space,” said Wahl.
Striving for Continuous Improvement
The Franchise Business Review survey provides TLE with a gold mine of information. The survey asks 26 questions, which TLE is able to customize to their audience, including overall satisfaction in key areas, likelihood of future enrollment, and demographics. This year, FBR contacted over 25,000 TLE parents, with an outstanding response rate of nearly 30%. Once the survey is complete, FBR provides TLE with individual satisfaction scorecards for each of their 270 locations as well as year-over-year trends.
Rather than looking at survey results to reveal issues in its locations, TLE looks at survey data to seek opportunities to improve as a whole. The data is not only shared internally at the corporate office, but also with regional operations leaders, field leaders and with individual franchise owners.
“We’ve helped our franchise system learn what’s most important to parents. And when we look at our scores, nothing is not important—we see scores ranging from 8.1 to 9.7 in terms of what parents rate as important,” Wahl said. “We use the data to look at how important parents rate something, and how satisfied they are—and we delve into that.”
The survey results are also an opportunity for TLE to thank parents for their participation in the survey and for their business. “We thanked them for their feedback and let them know we are excited to hear their voices and provide them even more access to seeing what their children are doing with pictures they can access on their phone through Show N Tell 3.0,” Wahl said. They will also be offering parents the opportunity to earn free weeks of tuition for referring people to its centers.
The Learning Experience foresees exciting growth ahead. Children are returning to school and the demand for childcare continues to surge as TLE has attracted a new group of parents through its efforts. While summertime typically signals a lull in the childcare industry, Wahl expects that enrollment this year might actually go up.
“As a system, we are not fully back yet—but we’re close,” he said. “Parents are encouraged to know that we operated well above industry standards in terms of our ramp up. We now have schools that have greater enrollment than they did pre-Covid.”
Ready to start measuring customer satisfaction? Franchise Business Review can help you gain valuable insights into how you build brand loyalty and keep customers coming back to your franchise locations. Contact us to get started now.