Colleges and universities risk revenue loss unless they understand these 3 lessons.
GUEST COLUMN | by Lee Perlis
Students enter college with a lot of expectations. Expectations about their classes and what they’ll learn, about their social lives and the friends they’ll make, about the challenges they’ll face and how they’ll succeed. Every student touchpoint with your institution, from signing up for classes to attending a football game, is an experience that can meet, exceed or fall short of those expectations — influencing whether they feel engaged in learning, personally identify with the institution (“Go Mascots!”) or even stay in school and graduate.
In the business world, customers are no longer willing to settle for disappointing experiences, and customer experience has become an increasingly pervasive metric. Research shows consumers are 5.1 times more likely to recommend an organization after a positive customer experience. In education, we’ve traditionally resisted thinking about our students as customers. The term seems reductive of the multi-faceted relationship between educators and students. But it’s also important to recognize that our students and their support networks — families, friends and community members — are consumers.
‘Colleges and universities risk losing 9.2% of their revenue due to bad experiences…’
Colleges and universities risk losing 9.2% of their revenue due to bad experiences, according to Qualtrics research. And so, there are important lessons to be learned from the way businesses manage experiences using technology. Amid challenges to the value proposition of higher education, with declining enrollments and heightened competition, institutions that create exceptional student experiences will strengthen their image and drive success in key areas, including student satisfaction, retention and completion. Here are three key lessons from the corporate world that can help education institutions better serve students and reap the benefits of experience management.
Lesson 1: Going beyond customer service
First, let’s differentiate experience from the oft-measured metric of customer service. Service is the quality of attention and care you invest in answering questions and resolving student complaints on the front lines — in the classroom, at the counter, on a contact center call or via the school website and chatbots. Front-line service is crucial, but successful businesses know it’s just one component of overall experience.
Whether the experience is as simple as a student changing their directory information or as complex as graduating on-time, it can be influenced by academic and other support services, facilities and signage, and just about every other part of your institution. Student experience even extends beyond your sphere of control, drawing from third-party reviews and opinion, press and media coverage and even popular culture.
‘…student experience management is your strategy for influencing and improving those perceptions and outcomes, and the right technology is critical.’
As an example, customer service is helping a student with a financial aid question or scheduling an advising appointment. And their experience encompasses everything else that happens in their classes and social life that may influence whether they feel college is or isn’t worth the cost.
In a study of students and constituents of colleges or universities, 20% reported a recent negative experience, showing that there’s some work to do to gain and maintain loyalty. If student experience is defined by their perceptions and outcomes, student experience management is your strategy for influencing and improving those perceptions and outcomes, and the right technology is critical.
Lesson 2: Meeting students where they are
Like most business strategies, successful experience management is built on a foundation of good data. As a consumer, you’re probably aware that your favorite brands are listening. They rely on actively asking for your feedback while also looking at unsolicited feedback in online reviews and social media posts to learn more about how to serve you better. In the past, this kind of sophisticated listening seemed out-of-reach for educators. But with advanced conversational analytics, you can listen to what your students are publicly saying and voluntarily sharing about your institution. Integrating active and always-on data gathering strategies provides richer data that leads to deeper, more actionable insights.
Although your institution may not immediately have access to such a plethora of data today, adding new ways to ask for student feedback, beyond email surveys, will gather richer and more nuanced data, while also demonstrating that your institution understands students’ lifestyles and communication preferences.
‘…students who feel like their institution understands what’s important to them have 42 percentage point higher (87% vs 45%) levels of satisfaction with their overall college experience.’
Additional research shows students who feel like their institution understands what’s important to them have 42 percentage point higher (87% vs 45%) levels of satisfaction with their overall college experience. As students interact with your institution through multiple channels, adopting an omnichannel listening strategy is necessary to cater to different preferences and meet students where they are — whether that’s needing support from a human rep or using Facebook Messenger.
Lesson 3: Silos, begone!
Businesses benefiting from customer experience management know that it requires a company-wide effort. According to Forrester, the competitive advantage of experience management can only be realized through collaboration across the enterprise: “Organizations must find ways to remove information-sharing barriers among specialties to allow for ideas to cross-pollinate.”
To make a difference, student experience management must be more than a one-off project. It has to become a new way of listening, understanding and acting. Every piece of the institution must be involved. The most obvious touchpoints are in the student-facing departments and programs, like Academic and Student Affairs. But experience management can’t stop there. IT needs to bring support systems into play, HR needs to provide the right training to build the culture, finance needs to support required investments, and senior leaders must champion the whole process.
‘IT needs to bring support systems into play, HR needs to provide the right training to build the culture, finance needs to support required investments, and senior leaders must champion the whole process.’
Experience management is more than customer service or data systems on steroids. Businesses have embraced customer experience management as a key competitive advantage. In a time of increased competition and scrutiny in higher education, savvy institutions are taking a page from that corporate playbook and putting student experience at the center of all they do.
Lee Perlis is Vice President of Higher Ed Strategy and Solutions at Qualtrics. Previously, he was Senior Director of Product Marketing, Education Cloud, at Salesforce, and before that, Director of Marketing for Blackboard. He earned his BA in Marketing from The George Washington University. Connect with Lee on LinkedIn.