Goodwall for Universities | matthieu
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Have you ever lost a prospective student to a competitor but never knew why?  Was it the range of courses you offer? Your localization? Or the customer experience you delivered?  Let’s think about it…

Back in 2012, 53 percent of students considered their course represented good value for money. No matter how bad or good their customer experience was, unsatisfactory elements at this time represented minor or no costs to students. Since then, economic and political factors have hit students quite strongly. Universities fees tripled to £9,000 a year in 2013, which lead to a worrying 16 per cent decline in students’ satisfaction for four consecutive years.

In response to this strong financial shift it has become more and more prominent that students see themselves as customers and yet, on the other hand, universities do not necessarily see themselves as businesses. With the recent sharp decline of 9% in the number applications from international students, it is now a critical time for UK universities to harness customer experience and elevate service as a critical enabler to grow student enrollment.

Become a seamless university

To deliver student enrollment growth through superior service, UK universities need to develop a new mindset to better engage with students on their favorite communication channels. With a new generation of students embracing mobile and social technologies, it’s now a critical moment for universities to lead that change and become businesses empowered with omnichannel forces. Being anywhere, anytime and on any channel to ensure conversations with students never stops.

For instance, let’s take an international student from China interested in a course and considering which university they should enroll with. After considering multiple options and looking at various university websites, they finally decide to engage with your university. How frustrating would it be to this student if they can’t find the information and answers they are looking for and indeed expect? And also frustrating to you when you ultimately lose this prospective student because you have failed to deliver a service that meets their expectations and gained their trust?

To become a seamless university, students should always feel recognized: from the first tweet or email inquiry sent; to a physical conversation with your ambassadors; students should never have to repeat who they are, where they are from, what course they are interested in, the scholarship or accommodation they are looking for. By taking prospective students from start to finish across all channels in one smooth line, students will remember your university for all the right reasons.

Know your students

Customer experience is a strategic decision and to deliver a “wow” effect UK universities need to ask themselves:

What does the customer journey for our prospective students look like?

Which stage of the journey are prospective students dropping out at?

What’s missing in our strategy to make them choose our university?

Most importantly, what can our university deliver to create a stronger customer experience than our competitors and ultimately enroll more prospective students?

Mapping and understanding the customer journey of your prospective students and setting goals accordingly is the right step to take. For each persona, universities must map the most common customer journey; detailing channels and type of interactions through those channels.  There’s little value in a prospective student having a highly personalized experience with your university over one channel, when they connect over another channel your university treats them as a complete stranger.

Create a customer experience with real people

Delivering a seamless customer experience does not happen overnight. Whichever internal changes your university decides to implement, each new process needs to be designed with one idea in mind: to put students at the centre of your customer experience. Let’s not forget that in the aforementioned example, it’s a human that will respond to tweets, answer emails, pick up the phone and meet students at your opening day. Prospective students have the opportunity to feel how great it is to be at your university and meet the people who care about their student experience. However, if they feel they are being processed like a robot, it’s likely that they will feel undervalued and that you do not care about them. To avoid this, universities need staff who understand what your university is, what it stands for, and its value.

Delivering superior customer experience is not something that universities should delay. Stiff competition and consistent increase in students’ unsatisfactory experience are signs that universities can no longer wait. To do so, universities needs to change their mentality and stop thinking that the same number of students will automatically enroll as in the past. Like any business, changes to customer expectations must be met, and universities are no exception to this rule.

“Will I belong?” – This is one of the key questions that goes through an international student’s mind when choosing which university to apply to. That inexplicable gut feeling that makes you feel you’ve made the right choice is key to any decision and may be the most difficult to influence upon.

As Maslow established, belongingness is key to self development. The sense of belonging to a community which shares common interests and aspirations has been demonstrated to influence our level of interest, happiness and motivation.

While universities invest extensive resources in building and nurturing communities for their current students and alumni, they often underestimate the need to create an engaged community for secondary school students and how this could increase not only students’ desire to apply but also their likelihood to enroll.

Of course, social media platforms nowadays offer universities many opportunities to gain access to their target audience, however, let’s not forget that “the medium is the message”. This iconic quote from Marshall McLuhan reflects the importance of choosing the right platform to communicate your message. For example, when looking for movie reviews, users will consult a specialized website such as IMDb and when seeking for a job, users will consult LinkedIn instead of just any online forum. In the case of higher education, the key resides in finding the right platform where prospective students are drawn to engage not only with universities but more importantly with each other.

Imagine Thanh Leo, a student from Vietnam. Thanh loves reading science fiction and is passionate about tennis. He is planning to study business administration in the UK, was accepted to 3 universities, and he is contemplating where to enroll.

For the first time in his life, Thanh will be away from his family and friends. He will live in a foreign country, with a different climate and a different language. He doesn’t know anyone in the UK, he is wondering who would be his roommate, and who he’d play tennis with.

Luckily, Thanh was able to meet online two other students who plan to enroll in one of the universities he is considering. They both play tennis, and plan to study business management. They share their experiences and doubts. They understand each other. Suddenly, he is not alone. He feels relieved. If they choose the same university, he won’t be lonely.

Recruiters currently center their effort, time and budget on increasing the pool of students who apply by visiting fairs, buying list of leads, advertising and running email campaigns, and yet – many students who have applied eventually decide to enroll in another university. It is therefore key to go beyond lists of leads and find ways to build proper relationships and nurture communities of potential students.

Don’t underestimate the power of an online community. Whether it be for an online hotel or restaurant review, people nowadays grant their trust to online communities to which they feel connected to. This is true today more than ever before and this is especially true for teenagers. The key is to encourage emotional connections through positive experiences and engaging conversations. The presence of a supportive and welcoming community for prospective students can therefore be a game changer for universities.

Here are a few tips to get started:

Understand your audience –  it seems like stating the obvious, especially for recruiters who often spend hours with students, but try to listen more and understand what’s really important for your students. Factors that may seem to be irrelevant such as hobbies, socioeconomic status, clothing, religious and political beliefs, can affect individuals’ decisions and lead them to seek for the best fit groups.

Mobile-first platform – when you want to create an ongoing engagement, mobile platform is the best option.

Identify the places where they are most active and receptive – you don’t need to build a platform to host students. Chances are that your prospective students are already actively seeking for the advice of other students who are going through the same process. Also, acknowledge that students are not open to interact with you and with other students on every social platform. Identify the right places for such interactions and participate in their discussions in a non-intrusive way.

Offer relevant content – the content they want to consume in such communities is not about you, but about the community. Don’t share your marketing material here, but rather offer educational and inspirational content. Make sure to address their concerns and encourage them to share their ideas and challenges.

Bring the right people – whether it be your student ambassadors, professors or guidance counselors, don’t hesitate to bring other relevant people to the community. If students are concerned about renting a room next to the university, bring someone who can guide them through this process. If they want to learn more about a specific program, bring the program director to the table.

Care about your students – be present, respond to them quickly, be aware of their internal discussions and offer your support. Focus on building a relationship with prospective students, and make sure you help them build connections with other like-minded students.