How to Navigate the Parent Enrollment Journey

A Step-by-Step Guide for Understanding Changing Expectations to Optimize the Parent Experience


Changing parent expectations have created an environment where the old way of managing the parent experience from initial inquiry through family retention doesn’t work anymore. It’s inconvenient, time-consuming, and full of obstacles that cause families to choose another childcare center altogether.

Childcare organizations that make the parent experience digital and convenient will grow enrollment, increase retention, and remain competitive in the childcare market. In this guide, you'll view the key takeaways from our research and provided recommendations to help you grow your business by optimizing the parent experience.

The Challenges with Today's Parent Experience

The parent experience defines the journey a parent takes from initial inquiry to retention, including key conversion points along the way. Today’s parent experience is often a series of starts and stops that can take several months. It is inconvenient, time-consuming, and full of obstacles that cause families to choose another childcare center altogether.

A recent ChildcareCRM enterprise customer explains, “Our families have indicated dissatisfaction with the current enrollment process. Families told us that our process for enrollment was lengthy, painful, incorrect, information was lost, and lacked customer service satisfaction.”

Common challenges with the parent experience include:

  • Slow or no response to new inquiries and tour requests.
  • Wasted time with back-and-forth emails and calls to schedule a tour date.
  • No follow-up after completed tours to discuss next steps.
  • Time-consuming and lengthy enrollment paperwork.
  • No options to pay enrollment and waitlist fees online.
  • Sitting indefinitely on waitlists with little communication.
  • Limited or no ongoing communication to encourage retention.

The Parent Journey - Inconvenient and Time-Consuming

There are many obstacles for parents to navigate as they move from initial inquiry to retention which contributes to a poor parent experience. With these obstacles, parent communication is affected.

Read more about the challenges of today's parent experience, why it isn't working, and how to fix it.


What You Need to Know About Millennials - Your #1 Parent Demographic

Millennials make up 80% of today’s parents to children under the age of 12; meaning a convenient experience is more important than ever. Millennials are one of the first generations to grow up in the digital age, and they use social media, texting, and their mobile devices more than any other parent demographic has in the past. Millennial parents want streamlined, digital experiences for everything from shopping and banking to childcare services.

How the Parent Experience Affects Enrollment and Retention

Each step in the parent journey represents a conversion point where parents can choose another center. Missing a few leads, not following up after a tour, losing parents that never completed enrollment paperwork—these seem like small things, but they all add up.

Plus, the parent journey is ongoing. Your task and organization plan for retaining enrolled families will need to be included in your childcare business's overall plan. Pre-enrollment and post-enrollment communications both factor into conversion success, as well as retention success, throughout the parent enrollment journey. Enrollment retention and maintaining high parent satisfaction not only involves consistent communication but keeping track of your enrollment retention rate as well. Click here to find out how to track this key performance indicator (KPI) or consider investing in childcare software to automate this task for you and your staff. 

Let’s say you’re charging $900/month in tuition, that’s $10,800/year for each family. If you lose just 10 families from your pipeline, it’s costing you $108,000 per year in revenue. With an optimized parent experience, more families enroll creating an ongoing, predictable revenue stream.

In addition, when parents feel their time is valued and their experience was simple, they’re more likely to give positive reviews and talk about you to others. They become your advocates. Their positive reviews pull in prospective families and influence their decision to choose or re-enroll at your childcare organization, so you gain and retain more families. Conversely, parents who have not had a pleasant experience scare off potential families with negative reviews.

Standardize Enrollment to Increase Family Satisfaction and Childcare Franchise Revenue

For childcare organizations with multiple brands, schools, or programs - increasing revenue and keeping families happy is vital for growth. Your Millennial parents need a uniform, high-quality experience, regardless of location.

Standardizing business processes has a significant impact on time savings, costs, and most notably on quality. In fact, standardization improves quality by 61.9%, on average. Create consistent enrollment processes across all your franchise locations to ensure every family has a great experience and a positive association with your brand – leading to higher conversion success and profitability.  

To achieve consistency, your franchisees’ marketing approach and advertising material must follow all your corporate brand guidelines. Your organization should have a lead management system that supports your childcare franchise staff as they guide families through the decision-making journey while also ensuring each location is delivering a consistent parent experience. 

Offer Easy Ways for Parents to Inquire Online, Then Respond Quickly  

With 67% of Millennial parents shopping online, having an effective website and digital marketing strategy is essential to generating leads. ChildcareCRM found that 51% of new leads came from online sources and the best converters completed tours with those new leads within 24 hours. Whether it's for initial follow-up, post-tour follow-up, engaging with waitlisted families, or tied to a specific marketing initiative - plan a targeted enrollment strategy that focuses on enhancing ways to inquire about your childcare business online.

Phone leads continue to decline and, not surprisingly, walk-ins have decreased steadily over the past few years. In a 2021 survey by ChildcareCRM, 70% of childcare business owners and directors said they leverage web forms and landing pages with 38% reporting they use several at once to capture the most leads from their marketing efforts. ChildcareCRM top converters use a minimum of 6 web forms to capture lead information.

In addition, 51% of ChildcareCRM centers integrate with lead generation platforms, like Winnie and Kinside, as additional sources of new leads. These childcare listing directories make it easy for parents to browse childcare centers nearby and view prices, reviews, and photos. Childcare centers can create a listing to showcases their programs, receive inquiries, and respond to reviews.

Lead response time is the single largest driver of lead conversion. The childcare center that follows up first with an interested family has an 80% higher chance of getting that enrollment. Contacting a lead within 5 minutes of their inquiry is 21 times more effective than contacting them after 30 minutes. ChildcareCRM found that most top converters respond to new leads immediately by using automated communications and that 75% of their new leads complete a tour within 24 hours. To make it easy for parents to inquire online, follow these best practices...  

  1. Turn your website into a lead generator.
  2. Optimize Facebook as a lead capture tool.
  3. Know where your leads are coming from. 

Turn Your Website Into A Lead Generator

Turn your website into a lead generator by using web forms and landing pages to capture interest. A web form can easily be added to your website and allows prospective families to inquire for care or request a tour in less than a minute. Use landing pages to capture interest from your online marketing and advertising campaigns.

Fast response to new inquiries generated from web forms and landing pages is vital to conversion success. Optimal response time is less than 30 minutes of the new inquiry. Using automatic follow-up communications for new inquiries is a great way to respond quickly and further increase the potential to generate more childcare enrollment conversions

Optimize Facebook as A Lead Capture Tool

In a 2021 survey by ChildcareCRM, 71% of owners and directors responded that they use Facebook to help grow their childcare business. Your Facebook Business page is a great way to engage with your inquiring, waitlisted, and enrolled families. Share updates about your center including new teachers and staff, program start dates, and more.

You can also turn your Facebook page into a lead capture tool. Use Facebook Messenger to answer parents’ questions in real-time. If you’re using Facebook Lead Ads, parents on Facebook can quickly confirm interest in your center and send their contact information. Look for CRM software that integrates with both Facebook Messenger and Facebook Lead Ads.

Know Where Your Leads Are Coming From 

On average, tracking leads helps businesses earn 30% more in annual revenue. So, it's essential that you understand what lead sources are generating the most enrollments. Lead sources typically include Facebook, Google, Center Event, Community Event, Direct Mail, childcare listing directories (like Winnie, Kinside, or, and more.

For the most effective marketing, develop a diverse set of lead sources, organic and paid, that work in unison. Look at how many enrollments each lead source generates. This will tell you where to increase your marketing spend by investing in the sources that work best.


Enable Parents to Self-Serve

Since today's parent enrollment experience has dozens of key conversion points where parents can become disengaged, self-service is a great way to give parents more suitable online options. Self-service allows parents to manage common enrollment tasks when it's convenient for them, provides parents with a more personalized experience, and makes the process more efficient for both parents and childcare staff. Some of the most useful applications of self-service throughout the parent journey include parent-scheduled tours, online enrollment, and fee payment.

Letting parents schedule tours from your website saves parents and staff from the back-and-forth of scheduling a tour date. ChildcareCRM found that the faster parents can schedule and complete tours, the higher the conversion rate. 75% of ChildcareCRM users’ tours take place within 24 hours. Top converters have almost 2 times as many leads complete tours immediately compared to the lowest converters. In addition, ChildcareCRM top performers convert 76% of their ’completed tours’ to ‘registered’ or ‘waitlisted’.

Online enrollment is another opportunity for parent self-service. Filling out enrollment paperwork is time-consuming and requires parents to fill in the same information multiple times. In a 2021 survey by ChildcareCRM, 30% of respondents said that it takes more than 2 weeks, on average, for families to return their paper registration forms, with some parents taking more than a month to complete all the required forms and make their registration fee payment. In contrast, ChildcareCRM found that the median time it takes parents to complete online enrollment packets is only 4 days and that the overall completion rate is 65% and growing. Enable parents to self-serve with  3 best practices.


Make it Easy for Parents to Schedule Tours from Your Website

Tours are one of the most important steps in the parent journey. Simplify the tour process by including an online tour scheduler on your website. Parents can schedule their own tour and receive automated confirmation and reminders which increase the likelihood of parents showing up for the tour. See best touring practices to follow at your childcare center to achieve higher enrollment rates.

Look for CRM software that includes parent- scheduled tour functionality. Make sure you can specify how many hours you want to make available to parents and when those hours are. This ensures tours are never booked when you’re already busy.

Offer Online Enrollment

Online enrollment is ideal for parent self-service. Easily collect family information, emergency contact information, consent and agreements, medical information, and necessary state forms without parents making multiple trips to the center.

Look for CRM software that provides online enrollment including the ability for parents to upload documents like immunization records. You'll also need a solution that lets you post documents, like your Parent Handbook, for review. Make it easy for parents to e-sign the packet—no faxing or dropping off required.

Pre-fill Form Information Whenever Possible

Filling out the same information on multiple forms is time-consuming. Choose online enrollment software that integrates with CRM software, so you can pre-fill enrollment packets with information you’ve already collected.

That way, when parents open their online enrollment packet for the first time, details like their name, phone number, home address, and expected start date are already filled out. Save parents time by pre-filling as much enrollment information as possible.


Parent-Scheduled Tours


Communicate the Way Parents Want

Each type of parent requires a level of quick, personalized follow-up - whether it's to generate prospective enrollments or reengage lost opportunities. Your target parent audience - Millennials - were one of the first generations to grow up in the digital age. Enhance your enrollment process with quick, streamlined communications. 

60% of today’s parents prefer to communicate with businesses through text messaging. They see text messaging as less invasive than phone calls and more personal than other forms of communication, such as email. Childcare centers that use text messaging to communicate see higher and faster response rates. Compared to email, open rates for text messages are as high as 98%, and on average it only takes 90 seconds for someone to respond to a text. 

Another important part of text messaging’s appeal to the Millennial audience is largely based on convenience, speed, and flexibility. Text messages such as tour and payment reminders are a great example of using text messaging to effectively communicate. In a recent survey, 48% of Millennials said they prefer to receive notices about payment information through text, while more than half preferred to receive appointment reminders through their mobile device.

ChildcareCRM top converters send 13 times as many individual text messages and 76 times as many group text messages to their leads compared to the lowest converters. Use a few simple tactics to ensure your messages are as effective as possible. Keep messages short and to the point. Texts are viewed on smaller screens than most emails so the shorter the message, the better. Keep the tone friendly, rather than too formal. Texting a parent is a more personal communication than emailing so they expect the tone to match the channel of communication. Plus, the Marketing Rule of 7 states that you need to engage with a family seven times to gain that daycare enrollment.

Use Group Text Messaging to Communicate with New Leads and Engage Your Waitlist 

It’s essential that you stay top of mind with both inquiring and waitlisted families during the enrollment journey. Send group text messages at regular intervals to maintain their interest and keep them excited about enrolling at your center.

Keep families updated about events, open houses, holiday hours, and more. Establish a personal connection by including the parent’s name either at the beginning of the text message or within the body.

Use Individual Text Messaging to Schedule Tours, Send Reminders, and More

Today’s parents are busier than ever before. It’s not uncommon for them to accidentally miss appointments because they didn’t receive a reminder. Keep parents on-track with automated tour and enrollment reminders.

Look for CRM software that enables both individual and group text messaging directly from the software. Automate text communications to nudge parents through the enrollment journey.

Provide Multi-Language Options on Forms  

In a 2021 survey by ChildcareCRM, 56% of childcare owners and directors said that families at their center request forms in languages other than English. A parent's inability to read registration forms in their native language prevents them from being able to fully understand the terms of care which leads to decreased conversion rates for those who use English as a second language.

Find a solution that offers enrollment forms in multiple languages so parents can easily complete forms in their preferred language.


Millennial Texting Infographic-1


Guide Parents Through the Journey

There are many steps in the parent journey from new inquiry to tour scheduled, tour completed, and waitlisted or registered. Without guidance, parents can get lost along the way. Guide parents through the journey with automated communications that let them know what to do next and how to move forward. Use automated marketing to not only provide parents with clear, consistent communication, but also save staff time by minimizing the number of manual email and text reminders they need to send.

ChildcareCRM found that 5-10 workflow automations is the ideal number to guide families through to enrollment and retention, saving staff more than 40 hours of work every month. Workflow automations include pre-scheduled emails and text messages sent to families at each stage of the enrollment journey. For example, a new lead might get an immediate, automated ‘thank you’ email with information about your center and a link to schedule a tour. After two days, a text message is automatically sent to remind the parent to check out your website and schedule a tour.

74% of marketers say that the biggest benefit of marketing automation is saving time. By automating outreach and follow-up efforts, reply rates can increase by 250%. Many marketers also saved 80% more time by setting appointments or meetings with an automated tool. While marketing automation clearly saves time on repetitive tasks, it also ensures all leads are followed up on and moving towards enrollment.

See a standard enrollment funnel to better understand how to help parents navigate each enrollment stage.

Use Workflow Automations to Guide Families to Enrollment and Re-Enrollment

Consistent and fast follow-up is an essential component of childcare enrollment success. Marketing automation allows you to build email and text templates in advance. You can then schedule them to send to every family after a specific stage in the enrollment journey is complete.

Personalize each communication with information like the parent’s name, desired classroom, or special care requests. These communications ensure that parents move forward towards enrollment as quickly as possible all while saving hours of manual work for center staff. Plus, you retain more children after a family's initial enrollment start date with streamlined communications and a consistent workflow. 

Save Staff Time and Reduce Manual Work with Task Management

Nearly 70% of workers say the biggest opportunity for automation lies in reducing time wasted on repetitive work. Managing tasks for your entire team in CRM software is like having a virtual office assistant guiding everyone through their daily priorities.

Staff members can see their current and upcoming tasks in one place, and you can monitor progress towards completed tasks. Save hours each day, boost productivity, and increase organization across your business with task management and automation.

Use Software Integrations to Increase Enrollment Retention

The average manual data entry error rate in management systems is 62%. Enabling your CRM software to automatically communicate with your Childcare Management System ensures that family information is accurate and stays up to date. For parents, this means that they don't have to enter the same information multiple times and that they won't miss out on important communications due to wrong information in their records.

63% of ChildcareCRM centers integrate with Childcare Management Systems, ensuring higher rates of parent satisfaction and retention.

Let Parents Pay Fees Online

With increasingly busy schedules, Millennial parents use technology more than any generation before them. In fact, 94% of Millennials are active users of online banking, 41% prefer to pay their bills using a debit card or ACH transfer, and 21% have never written a check. Yet, in a recent ChildcareCRM poll, almost half of the childcare centers only accept cash or check for enrollment and waitlist fees. Giving parents online payment options is critical to improving the parent experience by letting them pay for services the way they want to pay.

For Millennials, mobile devices are ubiquitous, and the majority use their mobile phones to make payments. In fact, 90% of Millennials never stray far from their devices. When you provide mobile payment options, on-the-go Millennials can pay in near real-time. Electronic payments with credit or debit card and ACH transfer can be completed in minutes, pushing funds to your childcare center quicker than ever.

Trust and security are central to winning Millennials’ business. Electronic payments help improve security by encrypting payment information which lowers the risk of a breach. Instead of writing a bank account number on a piece of paper or sharing a card number over the phone, a digital transaction protects this information so that your business doesn’t have to worry about transmitting or storing that data internally. Learn the best practices for optimizing the enrollment payment process. 

Let Parents Pay Online During Enrollment

Save time and simplify payments by letting parents pay anywhere, anytime, using their preferred payment method, whether that’s a credit card or a direct deposit from their checking account.

Include payment options as part of online enrollment. Not only does this improve the parent experience, but it also saves staff the time it takes to chase down payments, send reminders, and process payments.

Save Center Staff Time By Eliminating Payment Processing 

Sending payment reminders and stopping by the bank to deposit checks or cash all waste valuable time your center directors can use for more important activities.

Simplify the whole process with parent-initiated, online payment. Ensure payments are on-time and save hours of valuable staff time.

Keep Payment Data Secure

With a growing number of data breaches and identity thefts, parents are more concerned now than ever about the safety and security of their financial information. Secure payment processing enables parents to pay fees during the enrollment process safely and securely.

The payment software you use at your center should offer powerful security and encryption to protect this information. Look for a solution that ensures PCI compliance at every step of the transaction.



Covid-19 and It's Impact on Childcare Organizations and Families 

Our analysis of ChildcareCRM users across more than 4,000 childcare centers shows an increase in several indicators for 2020-2021 compared to 2019-2020. First, the average number of monthly opportunities has increased. Additionally, conversion rates from ‘tour completed’ to ‘waitlisted’ or ‘registered’ have increased. And finally, the number of ‘tours completed’ in 24 hours has increased.

Together, these findings indicate that families are looking for childcare services as they return back to work. Not only are families looking for childcare services, they are also engaged and converting. With opportunities and conversion rates back to pre-pandemic levels, childcare centers should invest in their marketing to build waitlists, grow enrollment, and improve retention.

In addition, Covid-19 has drastically affected children's mental health. Ensure your directors, staff, teachers, and classrooms are equipped to provide all the necessary resources to support the mental health of each and every child enrolled at your centers. Build mental health into your classroom curriculum and provide a safe space to talk with families. 

  • The average number of monthly opportunities has increased.
  • Conversion rates from ‘tour completed’ to ‘waitlisted’ or ‘registered’ has increased.
  • The number of ‘tours completed’ in 24-hours has increased.
  • 71% of parents believe that Covid-19 has negatively impacted their child's mental health. Learn how to provide support and advocate for children's mental health awareness week in your classrooms.
  • Download the full 2022 Building Blocks for Success Report to view a comprehensive list of Covid-19 impact statistics, childcare industry statistics, and additional tips to optimize the parent experience for a streamlined enrollment journey.



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