“Building a good customer experience does not happen by accident. It happens by design” – Claire Muscutt
This is as true of universities as any other customer-serving business. With UCAS reporting that EU student numbers applying the UK universities continue to be down (22,400 in 2023, compared with 23,160 in 2022 and 51,310 in 2019), and applications from China showing their first drop in over ten years, it’s never been more important to ensure that your university is offering the best customer experience to its potential applicants from the start. So how do you go about improving your university’s admissions journey?
Like any other business, you’ll have potential customers who:
- Know exactly what they want, and it’s the right thing for them.
- Know exactly what they want, but it’s not suitable for them or what they need.
- Need some guidance to pinpoint what they want/need.
Even once this choice is narrowed down, there are all sorts of steps on their customer journey that will influence their ultimate choice of where to attend:
- What impressions have they gained online? Almost 64% of Gen Z use social media several times a day, but are also protective of their time and prefer short, interactive content.
- Did they hear back from the right people, and in good time? The 2023 QS report shows that 60% of students expect a personalised response within 3 days of an enquiry.
- Were they given correct and helpful information? This might seem like a no-brainer, but in the seasonal flurry of new enquiries, details can be missed.
- Did the staff with whom they interacted make a genuine connection with them? In studies at Customerwise for our clients, we’ve seen a clear correlation between how well prospective students were engaged with and their intention to apply.
- Were Open Days informative, inspiring and effective? Did they feel excited about this next step on their life journey? Prospective students not only want to understand what the course will be like, but want to be able to visualise an exciting, fulfilling and supportive university experience. The last UCAS study that looked at this reported that 67% of prospective students visit between 2 and 5 universities, so it’s paramount that your university stands out in their minds at the end of that process.
- Did any staff do something that put them off? Prospective students will be in contact with people in all sorts of roles during their decision process – administrators, student ambassadors, tutors, accommodation staff, student support, etc. – and just one negative interaction can call into question otherwise positive impressions of a university. Are all your staff and ambassadors on the same page?
- Did another educational institution do something better than you did? You don’t have a captive audience! Other universities are constantly looking at how to improve their admissions processes and engage more effectively with prospective students, so it’s important to stay up to date with how they’re doing things and how you can do better.
All of these things, and more, will influence how a potential student sees your place of learning, and how inclined they feel to move forward with enrolment with you. While a keen marketing strategy can get the leads to you, a stumble at any of these stages – a poor online impression, a delay in communication, the wrong information, a lack of rapport – can mean the difference between an interested student enthusiastically enrolling, and one giving up and going elsewhere.
Every lead matters.
With the next cohort of Sixth Form students now starting to apply for Autumn 2024 entry, it’s critical to make sure that your university has the right processes and content in place.
An Objective Look
Of course, it’s important to look at feedback you receive from potential students, whether that’s proactively offered via online reviews, or solicited following Open Days, for example. This sort of feedback can only give so much insight, though, for many reasons, including the skew towards very dissatisfied/very satisfied in those who feel motivated to feed back, and the many potential students who disengage very early in the process.
It’s therefore crucial to take a real, objective look at your processes. To achieve this, mystery shopping can be an absolute game changer for your institution when you’re looking at improving your university’s admissions journey.
Mystery shopping gives you the opportunity for ‘Mystery students’ to experience and feedback on your admissions process (and those of your competitors, too):
- Initially giving a baseline assessment of where you’re at in all the areas mentioned above, including feedback across the institution, and more granular insights relating to departments, course types and specific processes.
- Over time, tracking areas of improvement and areas needing continued focus.
If you go with the right provider, each mystery shopping programme can be completely bespoke. Through a process of discovery with your institution, the ideal reporting content, mystery student approaches, and the scope of the end data are all established. This means that whatever courses you offer, whether these are in person or online, and whatever your staff, departmental and administrational structures, an effective programme can be produced to assess how potential students are experiencing their journey to enrolment with your institution.
Assessing customer experience doesn’t stop there – effective mystery shopping programmes are used as an integral part of continually evaluating and honing your processes. Real change is seen through not just acknowledging a mystery shopping programme’s findings, but using them to inform procedure on an ongoing basis. To this end, mystery shopping also gives you the opportunity to track and record resolution of issues between teams and departments.
In summary, potential students have a lot of options open to them, and from their first foray onto your website to their decision of which offer to firm, there’s a plethora of steps for any university to not only get right but to exceed in. Using mystery shopping to assess and perfect your processes gives you real control over your progress towards optimising your admissions journey.
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If you’d like to find out more about the services we offer for educational institutions, you can do that here. We’ve helped clients like you in improving their university’s admissions journey, and we’d love to do the same for you.