Higher education needs a CX mindset shift

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College enrollment has been declining since 2010. Today’s teens are questioning the value of a college education. They hear about poor college experiences from friends and peers, and meanwhile social media shows them promise of success from self-made millionaires who opted not to pursue higher education.

How can educators adapt to the world we live in today? As higher education institutions work to meet the needs of the modern student, they can follow the lead of successful companies who have realized the importance of customer experience (CX). Nearly 90% of organizations now have a chief experience officer (CXO), and CX-leading brands bring in nearly 6 times more revenue than laggards.

Let’s take a look at why CX matters in higher education, and ways colleges and universities can improve their CX to meet the needs of today’s students.

Why CX matters in higher education

The term “customer” isn’t used a lot in the higher education world. But higher education institutions are businesses, and improving the customer experience (CX) has helped companies across industries achieve:

  • Higher retention
  • Better recruitment
  • Improved customer (student) satisfaction
  • Technology and operational improvements

We often refer to “the college experience” or “the student experience” — these aren’t new concepts. What is new is thinking of students as customers and prioritizing the customer experience to set students, and institutions, up for success.

Students are customers

In higher education, students are customers. And these customers have the same expectations of their educational institution as they do of the businesses they frequent.

Traditionally, students were considered “lucky” for gaining admittance into a prestigious institution. That narrative is changing. With more competition, a more diverse student population, and higher customer expectations, colleges and universities need to shift their mindset. There’s a call for institutions to become “student-ready” — which is no different from brands becoming “customer-centric.” By focusing on providing quality service that’s tailored to individual student needs, colleges can attract and retain their customers — the students who are the heart of everything they do.

5 ways to improve CX in higher education

We know CX matters. A lot. So how can higher education leaders take a page out of the business world and improve their own CX? Here are five ideas for inspiration.

1. Talk to students in their preferred channel

When a current or prospective student needs help, where do they go? Unfortunately, they usually don’t have a lot of options. Many must either seek support in-person, or dial a traditional call center. This shows a clear disconnect to customer expectations and needs.

Today’s consumer — especially today’s young consumer — prefers digital communication. And they expect a cohesive, omnichannel experience. Offering digital engagement through online chat, online video, social media, email, and SMS allows institutions to seamlessly integrate into the student’s life, rather than the student feeling burdened as they try to navigate a dated campus system.

Download the ebook: Does your CX have a human connection gap?

2. Elevate students’ voices

Students don’t just want to be heard, they’re demanding it — sometimes even walking out in protest.

Customer feedback should be regularly collected and used to inform business decisions, and higher education is no exception. Again, students are the customers. Unhappy customers make for a failing business.

Understanding student perceptions, preferences, and experiences starts with listening. Invite students to share their needs, concerns, and experiences. Surveys, forums, and emails are all great collection tools. But collection is just step one. Elevating those voices into action is the critical next step.

 3. Personalize the college experience

The “traditional student” is phasing out. Today’s generation of students is more diverse than ever before. First-generation students. Students juggling work and school. Adults changing careers. Students with diverse backgrounds and strengths. They all have different needs. Colleges that stick to their traditional models are neglecting a large percentage of the student population.

More than 40% of students who start college will not complete their degree. Institutions that are leveling up and providing undeniable value to their students are improving these stats. A personalized, flexible model that is tailored to the individual student can yield better outcomes for everyone.

4. Identify technology gaps

In the thick of the COVID-19 crisis, campuses had to rush to find tech solutions for remote learning. Now that the dust has settled, and it’s become crystal clear that remote learning is here to stay, it’s time for colleges to re-evaluate their tech stack.

Some questions to ask include:

  • Are all platforms used mobile-friendly?
  • Are we requiring students to perform any tasks in-person that could be simpler online?
  • Do students have a cohesive digital experience, or does it feel disjointed?
  • Do we have solutions in place for proactive, self-serve, and human support?

Read: Future-proofing your digital customer service tech stack

5. Offer a guided student experience

Navigating the college experience can be extremely stressful. Choosing the right school. Living away from home for the first time. Developing new friendships. Figuring out a career path. Studying for exams. It’s a lot, and it’s no wonder nearly 80% of college students report experiencing moderate or high levels of stress.

Guided customer experiences are especially beneficial for stressful or highly personal situations. For example, financial institutions, investment firms, and healthcare/insurance companies often use guided CX to help provide a level of clarity, trust, and comfort to their customers. Higher education institutions can do the same.

Guided CX creates personal connections. Through solutions like video chatscreen sharing, and cobrowsing, guided CX can allow higher education institutions to walk through the journey with their students, giving them confidence and peace of mind. Learn more about guided CX: Download Does your CX have a human connection gap?

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