Our Thoughts
Piyuesh Kumar
Drupal Practice Lead - Backend
04 March, 2022 12 MIN READ

Crafting Customer Experiences For Higher Education

The educational landscape is evolving dramatically, and technological advancements like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are the top drivers of this change. However, as a higher ed institution, are you aware of the customer needs of this sector?

Students are one of your clients, and you need to ensure an indulgent customer experience (CX) to stay ahead of your competitors in the game.

Do you remember looking at the “People also watch” recommendations when you look up a show on Netflix? Or perhaps, you remember shopping products from Amazon’s “You might also like” suggestions section. With tech giants like Netflix and Amazon setting examples of offering people exactly what they want right when they want it, you know that personalization is imperative to hook users.

The same applies to Higher ed institutes that must leverage the power of AI to deliver an incredible customer experience. In this article, we’ve gathered 9 exemplary ways for you to fulfill your consumer’s needs. Check it out!


What are the common student experience issues?

Student experience refers to the online and offline interactions of learners with an institution. Whether it is their connection with technology, information, or the people representing the educational establishment, the experience can significantly impact lead generation and conversion rates in higher ed institutions.

Most institutions do not treat students as their consumers, resulting in a poor state of client support. So, we bring to you some of the most common service gaps in the higher education industry:

  • Communication requirements: The institutional authorities do not communicate what is expected of the learners when they adopt different approaches like online education or a new discipline.
  • Lack of service awareness: Many pupils do not have enough information on services offered by the academy. Some individuals are entirely unaware that such opportunities exist.
  • Technology gaps: Platforms used by the institute may not be mobile-friendly or may be too complicated for an individual to access.
  • Special needs: Applicants with low-income backgrounds, foreign nationality, or other special needs require additional support in the form of common platforms, auxiliary aids, etc., which is often lacking in a lot of institutes.
  • Absence of online community: Despite shifting the classes online, most institutions fail to create a supportive online campus for learners to interact and participate in programs.
  • Barriers in access to data: The faculty members & students do not have access to complete data due to organizational silos, leading to unsatisfactory student experiences.
  • Enrolment agreement: Schools also force pupils to enter a contract of paying tuition fees and attending classes even if they wish to change later.
  • Divided services: In most cases, learners have to visit multiple offices to get any formal inquiries or tasks done, causing an unnecessary wastage of time.
  • Transition in delivery approach: Every student and staff member cannot adapt to the one-size-fits-all delivery approach.

 

Students - the customers in higher education

Learners expect similar quality service from educational establishments as they expect from other renowned brands like Uber and Grubhub. With the education industry embracing digitalization, officials need to treat students as clients.

The modern learner wants to get things done in a few clicks and clean swipes instead of lengthy procedures. Moreover, they may take the extreme measure of dropping the program if they have any bad experiences.

With the increasing competition among educational institutes and the rising awareness of customer experience in the higher ed sector, the responsible authorities need to modify their perspectives.

Often renowned institutions tend to regard themselves very highly and consider their students as individuals who were lucky to receive admission which proves detrimental. 

Schools and universities instead must develop a customer service mindset and aim to build a reputation as a customer-centric organization focusing on providing quality services.

Why treat students as customers?

Most organizations in the industry do not give enough importance to student satisfaction. However, treating their pupils as consumers and providing quality services can prove to be significantly profitable for institutions.

Some of these advantages include:

  • Visibly increased loyalty
  • Positive publicity through word-of-mouth
  • Higher retention rates
  • Comparatively larger enrolments

As per research conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the pandemic has significantly affected the higher ed enrolment rate.

Did you know the postsecondary enrolment rate declined by 2.6% in fall 2021 compared to the previous year? Moreover, with the rising availability of online knowledge programs and establishments, the market is experiencing high competition levels.

Such circumstances add to the reasons why educational institutes need to take adequate measures in prioritizing quality customer service.

 

Strategies for fostering a positive and productive environment for higher education

With digitalization disrupting almost every sphere of life, learners have a different set of expectations from higher ed institutes. They wish to enjoy profound learning flexibility in both on and off-campus facilities.

Institutes must develop strategies to provide students with the freedom of learning anything from anywhere, at any point in time.

The best approach is to create a customized set of online and offline strategies to enable an ecosystem of innovation, engagement, and adaptation. 

Let’s check out some of the top ways to foster a positive and productive environment in the higher ed sector.

Online Strategies

  • Website customization: Like retail websites, college and university sites must also guide their consumers through the conversion funnel. Practices like providing relevant information to grab visitor attention, directing them towards the next steps in their journey, and following other tactics to provide a customized experience can help boost enrolment rates.
  • Personalized curriculum backed by AI and blockchain: With the rise in digital educational platforms, the one-size-fits-all curriculum is no longer preferable. Students expect a customized learning approach, and institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are leveraging blockchain for the same. With this, they can share confidential documents like transcripts and diplomas securely.
  • Online communities: Despite the countless online courses and MOOCs, most higher ed establishments lack engagement and relationship-building activities. Institutes must introduce digital programs that require learners to work in groups and collaborate digitally.

Offline Strategies

  • Tech-enabled learning space: Pupils increasingly depend upon technology for multiple day-to-day tasks. Institutions can leverage this opportunity by providing a tech-enabled learning environment on the campus. The Spark: Academic Innovation Hub at Washington State University is an exemplary example of innovative space for students to collaborate and engage.
  • Project-based learning: Another similar offline strategy is introducing apprenticeship programs for learners to test their knowledge with practical projects.
  • Promote positive behaviors: Apart from building relationships and collaborative spaces, the responsible authorities must try to inculcate positive behaviors. These include a passion for succeeding, helping others, and practicing an optimistic approach. Educators can also reward learners with certificates and tokens for recognizing their conduct, thereby motivating others to follow the same.

 

Why should higher education websites embrace Personalization?

Higher ed websites must adopt corporate branding strategies to attract their target audience– the students. The new generation learners demand value propositions through well-tailored experiences.

Schools and colleges must offer a seamless web experience that is convincing enough for applicants to realize it is the right place for their learning and growth.

Check out a few reasons why personalization is essential for higher-ed websites.


1. Highly competitive market

Did you know the global e-learning market is expected to reach 243 billion USD by 2022? Online learning has gained massive popularity, resulting in the highly competitive higher ed sector.

The blurred geographical limitations have taken this level of contenders to an all-time high. Institutions do not just have to compete with educational establishments in the same region but with those all over the world.

To attract applicants to your institution, it is essential to stand out from the crowd. Schools can do this by offering a personalized experience just like Lancaster University does by optimizing Alexa as a digital guide.

 

2. The target market is used to a personalized experience

The higher ed sector’s target audience primarily comprises teenagers, and research states that 95% of teens have a smartphone. Even if they do not own one, they have access to it through their guardians.

As a result, most students are habitual to personalized treatment by other digital platforms like Spotify and Amazon Prime Video.

With such a high level of tailored customer experience, students expect similar treatment from educational institutes.

 

3. Students will be encouraged to interact with the website

A personalized website with recommendations based on the candidate information will ensure higher engagement. When they come across topics of interest, the site will automatically seem more appealing.

For example, if an applicant searches for management programs, the website can recommend all the related programs. Additionally, they can get recommendations of relevant online courses, faculty, and degree formats.

This way, when they see material content tailored to their needs, learners will be encouraged to explore the website more. This, in turn, can lead to the conversion of a lead into a client.

 

4. The primary source of information

With open access to the internet, teenagers are well informed about the tuition fees, service quality, and facilities offered by the various institutions.

The new generation students are savvy customers who need relevant data to choose a particular school over the other. It is this reason why a university’s website becomes the prime source of information for learners to make their decision.

For instance, let’s look at the case of Bryant University which has directed its undergraduate admission applicants to personalized landing pages. Each of these exhibited specific information related to the chosen programs and campus life, providing a tailored experience to the visitors. As a result, the university witnessed a visible increase in its enrolment.

 

9 ways to deliver excellent customer service at your educational institution

A modern institute needs to be student-centric at every level. You will not be able to provide a Netflix-like front-end experience in the absence of a Netflix-like back-end setup. Being customer-focused is imperative for every higher ed institution.

Check out 9 practical ways to deliver quality customer service at an educational establishment.

1. Establish personalization practices through student personas

To create a personalized client strategy, you must first understand your target audience. There may be foreign nationals who require help with visas or individuals from low-income backgrounds needing financial aid.

Here are a few questions to help you create a student persona:

  • Who is my target audience?
  • What questions may they have?
  • What are their preferences?
  • Why are they opting for this course?

Based on this analysis, institutions can categorize students into groups and dedicate unique pages for each cluster.

West Texas A&M University, for example, follows this approach quite well. Its ‘Admissions’ page comprises links directing to varying student categories like international candidates, freshmen, pre-university programs, etc.

 

2. Promote a customer-centric culture

When we meant institutes must deploy Netflix-like back-end practices, this is what we were referring to. Educational institutions in the higher ed sector must encourage their faculty and staff members to nurture a customer-centric culture.

To ensure quality service, Coastal Carolina University introduced a unique training module named ‘Feel The Teal’. Its prime theory is that though clients may not always be right, employees must go out of their way to make the situation right.

 

3. Devise and adopt a customer experience strategy 

Every educational organization must develop a concrete customer experience strategy, portraying the kind of value the company seeks to deliver.

It must align with the establishment's brand principles while also including aspects like resources and the investments required. Such a strategy that clearly defines its vision will help the institute stay on track and achieve its goal.

 

4. Incorporate FERPA compliance

Keeping your customer’s records safe at all times is highly imperative. To ensure every educational institution maintains high data security, the US government has made Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) compulsory.

In case the school wishes to share an individual’s information, the responsible authorities must take written permission from the parents.

With digital frauds and hacks on the rise, every institute must follow strict measures to ensure student-customer data privacy.

 

5. Revolutionize customer service through gamification

A school can gamify its services to ensure the employees perform their best and provide quality customer service. To introduce a fun element, the authorities can create a competitive environment where associates are rewarded for excellent performance.

Here are a few ways to practice gamification in customer service:

  • Following a point system to grade the service team
  • Providing weekly or monthly goals to achieve
  • Rewarding individuals with the highest scores

 

6. Voice of Customer (VOC)– Customer understanding through constant feedback 

Gaining insights into the voice of the customer (VOC) is essential to analyzing the current performance and gauging the required changes.

Institutions must interact with students regarding their perceptions, preferences, and overall experience through constant feedback. Surveys, chat forums, and emails are great ways to collect reviews.

Other concrete steps include conducting usability testing and A/B testing while the product is still in the development stage.

 

7. Adopt a culture of continuous CX improvement

Even after institutions have gathered customer feedback and rectified the current product, their work is not over. They must follow an incremental approach to CX design.

Despite multiple feedbacks and tweaks, the educational corporations must not set the final version in stone. Following practices like monitoring student behavior, gathering more feedback, and closely working with the target audience will help ensure customer-centricity.

 

8. Streamlining processes by going digital

Due to the current hybrid work scenario, several organizations may face operation management challenges. Employees on leave may not reply to important emails, and the lack of communication in the team can lead to grave repercussions.

For example, the sponsors, administrators, and faculty members at the Boise State University complained about not receiving responses to emails. So, to streamline the process, the university adopted an automating tool that ensured no emails were missed and every concerned individual was kept in the loop.

 

9. Continuous measurement and rectification

To ensure they are on the right track, schools and universities must use concrete metrics for analyzing customer experience success. Continuous monitoring and measurement is the best solution to spot loopholes in the ongoing process and devise strategies to rectify them. Institutes can use the data to gather insights into the return on investment (ROI) to gauge their overall profits.

 

Summing up

Higher education corporations operate at an advanced level, with multiple aspects playing a significant role in their survival. However, customer-centricity is an imperative factor in their success, and treating students like consumers is the way to ensure promising CX.

Streamlining customer service with the help of digital tools will help institutes enhance student experiences. Similarly, leveraging user voice, feedback, and data can help institutions improve their service quality and, in turn, ensure high enrolment rates.

Customer-centricity is massively becoming a non-negotiable factor, leading to the demand for personalized student experiences.

Higher ed institutions must realize that excellent customer service does not hamper academic value. Instead, it enhances the level of higher education.

So, what’s the hold? Use the strategies mentioned above to deliver flawless customer service at your higher ed institution today!

Piyuesh Kumar