Creating the ‘customer-centric’ approach

Solve the recruitment challenge with transformative digital-first strategies

Digitalisation and the move to ‘digital-first’ methods of recruitment, interaction and service within higher education is unstoppable; institutions need to embrace change and leverage modern, ‘customer-centric’ approaches to succeed, argues Steve Morgan, Co-Founder at Squiz.

What do all these challenges have in common? 

● Competition for top students amongst Russell Group universities is intensifying;
● Higher education (HE) institutions outside of the ‘red brick zone’ are having to fight to have their voices heard and differentiate themselves;
● Students are demanding more value from the financial investment that a degree represents;
● Universities rely on attracting high-fee paying international students to balance budgets.

The answer? They’re all ‘experiential’ problems related to the recruitment process.

HE institutions deal in complex, rational, big-ticket purchase decisions that confer a sense of ‘brand ownership’ on the buyer who is unable, in the large part, to truly experience what it is that theyre buying until they do so.

Students today are tech-savvy, digital natives who have never known a time without broadband, meaning that the experiences they desire when interacting with an HE institution are informed by wider trends, their large social networks and the knowledge that an investment of over £27,000+ in tuition fees (in England) confers influence.

To continue to succeed, HE institutions need to embrace customer-centric trends and use them to their advantage; the University of Salford’s recent development of a ‘Match Made in Salford’ Tinder-style app, delivering a unique clearing service, is a good example of how effective, novel approaches to these ‘experience’ problems can be found.


Ever since the digital revolution, technologies have developed and been adopted by organisations in a piecemeal approach, leading to technology landscapes within our organisations that consist of disparate, non-integrated systems.

This range of systems and the inability to form cohesive, cross-organisational strategies has caused gaps to appear in the journeys that we provide our students with. The common problem with HE institutions’ existing strategies is that they’ve been approached in the wrong way, with goals that are coherent to the way that the HE institution already operates, without looking at the increasingly ‘disrupted’ marketplaces that everyone is now competing in.

These limited strategies fail to achieve solutions to the long-term problems, so what’s going wrong? There are three common pitfalls:

● Strategies are devoted to technologies, not the organisation. Modern technological solutions, such as CRM and Marketing Automation, often capture people’s attention and appear to be silver bullets. However, looking at technology as a solution is a ‘one-eyed’ strategy because it won’t create the cohesive, organisational change that can improve an organisation. Instead, it’ll create integration problems with personnel, processes and existing legacy systems. 

● Strategies are put together by individuals (or small teams) in an ivory tower. Even if they’re brilliant, it’s going to be impossible for them to suggest strategies that will work for an entire organisation. If created this way, the strategy that comes out of it will come up against resistance, leading to concessions and compromises that mean the transformative plan will fail to achieve its goals. 

● Strategies are designed for organisations – not the ‘customers’. Strategies need to be developed with the customer at the core, only then can you design new products, services and delivery methods that will meet their needs and your revenue goals.

We need an evolution in the way that we approach ‘digital’, ‘growth’ and ‘recruitment’ strategies; creating a ‘digital-first, customer-centric strategy’ that’s capable of tackling
these and other problems within HE
institutions. This endeavour needs to take into account all of the organisation’s key stakeholders and functions, built with a laser focus on the needs of the students and staff, (both academic and non-academic), informed by wider digital trends. It might sound like a lot of work – and it is – but there are huge benefits to be had.

Not only will you deliver an incredible experience and create advocates, you’ll automate work, reduce repetition and cut overheads, as people will stop replicating efforts and begin working together for the common good, potentially finding new ways of collaborating and innovating. This makes the strategy a catalyst for, and conduit to, not just alignment with the ‘customer’, but entire organisational change. 

For more information, and to read the whitepaper in full, visit

Create your own strategy

There are four key stages to approaching your own ‘Digital-First, Customer-Centric Strategy’.

1. Research

There are many strands that need to be closely examined and pulled together to create the right transformative digital strategy, so you need an exhaustive research phase. There are three key areas to examine:

● Students past, present and future – start with your customers: who are they? Form personas and ask each of them questions around their typical user journey, goals, interests, engagement methods etc. Whilst you can theorise and map out likely answers, the only way to confirm them is to undertake primary qualitative research and examine existing data.

● Internal – casting a light on the way that you address your students will need to centre on both academic and non-academic members of staff, as well as wider organisational strategies. Ask questions in several key areas:

✔ Strategic – how are you connecting with your audience? What are you saying about the service journey and is it aligned? What do key stakeholders say? How is data collected, stored and shared at present? Is it connected?
✔ Course/service – what makes them good? How are they explained? What’s the delivery process?
✔ Delivery – what are the student touch-points? Which employees does that fall onto? What systems are they using? What does the map of technology look like across your organisation?

● External – examine what your peers around the world are doing, as well as broader macro business and technology trends to see what you’re capable of achieving now, as well as what you can do into the future to meet the challenges that may lie ahead. 

2. Solutions

The solutions element is about finding the right answer for you; discovering the right configuration of systems, people and processes that will fulfil the goals outlined during the research phase:

● Journey mapping – map the journeys that you want to create for your users informed by the research you’ve completed. Knowing what experiences you want to be able to deliver means that you’ll develop a plan for the systems and people involved.

● People – nothing will work unless the people responsible for delivering the services are in harmony. You need to think about individual department/service strategy, what those functions are, information architecture, workflows etc.

● Technology – what’s your existing landscape? How is it connected (or not)? And what do you want to achieve? Look at new systems, find out what’s best-in-class and how it can integrate.

3. Roadmap

In the real world, it’s almost certainly impossible to make a totally clean break and release a complete, brand new system with everything ready for users right from the start. There are many areas that need to be considered and it’s easy to underestimate how long these can take. A good format is a visual roadmap following a waterfall release method, with systems and processes that are capable of standing up on their own after each stage.

4. Governance and Sundries

The final part of forming a transformative digital strategy is describing what other things are needed to fuel and run it, the most important of which is content. It’ll also require someone looking over it, making sure it’s working effectively and that can develop it to meet the changing demands, developing policies and guidelines that ensure the systems are being followed.