Digital first: 7 questions for every university

Digital-first thinking can deliver one crucial benefit: it can make students feel great about your university

The UK HE sector finds itself in a period of dramatic change – led by wider commercial trends – many of which could be classed as ‘experiential.’ 

A degree is a three-year investment plan made by inexperienced people who are guided primarily by their budget holders – parents and family – and outside of the ‘red brick zone’, very few universities carry enough brand cache to sway much influence with this audience. 

A university’s value proposition is a case of ‘show, don’t tell’: they need to convince prospective students (and their families) that they have the right courses, facilities, student community, vocational opportunities, best lecturers and the most progressive outlook on student welfare. That’s quite a list – particularly if a high proportion of your prospective students don’t get the benefit of an open day prior to registration.

How can digital-first thinking help?

Universities deal in complex, rational, big-ticket purchase decisions that confer a sense of ‘brand ownership’ on the buyer: we want to wear our choice of HE institution with pride and share it with the world. Digital-first thinking can deliver one crucial benefit here: it can make students feel great about your university.

How? A HE institution needs to consider these questions:

1. Do you personalise the key interactions between prospective student and university – especially when first impressions are being made? Are you able to delight your prospects by figuring out what information they want, and giving it to them in the right format?

2. Do you learn from your prospective students with each interaction you have with them? Are you able to acquire information on their wants and needs and then tailor this insight to give them a better experience as they move up the decision funnel?

3. Do you analyse every touch-point with your students and figure out new ways to turn this information into a set of relationship-building assets that will encourage them to come back to you for more?

4. Are you thinking about building a marketing machine that can help you to create and manage great relationships with prospective students – from first contact to registration?

5. Do you listen? Every student has an important story to tell. The best learning organisations listen to their customers and take action on the things that really matter – from suggestions about how and when they receive communication to ideas for new learning initiatives; there is no quicker way to kill a relationship than to stop listening.

6. Are you providing environments where students can build their own peer group relationships and communities of interest? Whilst studying and after graduation? These key student years are a platform for life, not just for the period of the degree.

7. Are you consistent in the student/college relationship? Importantly, a more ‘customer experience’-driven relationship can be used to inform every touch-point with your students so that all interactions with the college are personalised and relevant to the need at hand – across web, mobile, social media, support centre or in person.

Confront them and you’ll be able you to address many of the wider issues facing the sector – from recruitment and clearing, to creating long-term, supportive alumni. 

The best way of doing this is by creating new, long-term digital strategy that will generate fresh student and revenue generating opportunities through putting a better digital customer experience at its heart. For more information about how to create your own student-first digital strategy, there are resources available, including our ‘Build a Transformative Digital Strategy for Higher Education’ guide – download it now here for free.

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