The competition to enrol new students has continually pushed tertiary institutions to strengthen their future student teams – to listen and take a more consultative approach. With continual COVID disruptions, the competition has now got tougher.

 

Indeed, high performing customer experience (CX) teams are usually from future student teams who work independently of student services and faculty-based teams, unhindered by legacy processes, systems and technology.

The latest CX benchmarking results by CSBA which assessed 194 top Australian organisations across eight sectors over a 12-month period, confirms a high level of customer engagement with future student teams, as five universities and TAFE find themselves ranked in the top 10. That’s remarkable!

But quality engagement is not often replicated in other critical touchpoints throughout a student’s journey in the following years. Certainly, there is a disconnect around what is most important to the student. With faculties focused on content, administrators focused on processes, and student teams focused on making student lives easier.

There is a constant territorial struggle within institutions when it comes to taking a united approach to what “good CX” looks like – how to define “quality”, what to measure, how to measure and how often to measure. Meanwhile, “survey fatigue” sets in as every service provider sends out questionnaires for student feedback. When that happens, participation and the quality of responses fall sharply.

Students want a seamless experience

Young people are ready to use technology to engage across all areas of the institution throughout their campus life. They want their interactions to be seamless, regardless of which channels and touchpoints.

Artificial Intelligence technology is only a few years away from being able to monitor the quality of individual customer interactions. Now is the time for learning institutions to take the lead in coupling an omni-channel experience with a robust Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system so students need only reach out once instead of having to continually repeat themselves to different people in various areas.

Consistency increases retention

Institutions have moved towards a more integrated approach to student engagement planning, following recommendations from the 2018 Higher Education Standards Panel Final Report on Improving Retention, Completion and Success in Higher Education. The challenge now is how to effectively implement evidence-based strategies that are consistent institution-wide.

But rather than collect more evidence – there is sufficient information that provides insight on what students think or feel – the priority should be to work on how to use this data to improve the experience across the institution. The true measure of good engagement is when students find it easy to get resolution in all areas.

One important tool is an interaction quality framework for customer-facing staff, giving them clarity on what is within their scope to provide a great experience. Staff at these touch points enjoy the feedback and coaching which allows them to provide a better service. The most successful institutions have embraced this and are already reaping the rewards of improved student engagement. Even the level of employee engagement has increased for these teams.

The science behind CX metrics

We know that humans are complex beings, and that human interactions have a cumulative effect on customer experience. Measuring CX thus requires a good quality framework that captures a wide range of explicit human behaviours identified by psychologists, socio-linguists and sociologists, across different communication platforms. And this set of behaviours must be weighted based on the results of primary research that reveal what’s important to your customer, to encourage behaviours that make their experience better.

Simply put, to really understand CX, you need to measure Success, Ease and Sentiment. The degree to which the customer can accomplish their goals; the effort the customer has to expend to accomplish their goals; and how the interaction makes the customer feel.

Measuring is not enough

However, measuring will do nothing if there are no plans to consistently monitor and coach teams that support CX. Measuring through customer surveys is a great start, but results can be highly subjective and influenced by factors outside the direct control of staff members.

The first critical step is to take a whole-of-institution approach to understand how students want to interact, rather than planning how to interact with students. The second step is to listen objectively to those interactions.

Only when CX strategies align with student-driven approaches, will we begin to make greater inroads into boosting student retention numbers.

Paul van Veenendaal | CSBA Managing Director

This article featured in the Campus Review, September 2021

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