Prospective university students are faced with steep fees and difficult choices when it comes to enrolling into a course – their pool of choice has overflowed in recent years to include not just local universities and TAFEs, but also overseas, online, remote learning and even non-government supported education options.
This new landscape has put Australia’s universities under enormous pressure as the level of competition has heightened, and students’ expectations of their interactions with universities become more digital and personal.
If universities want to secure enrolments and attract the best students, they need to start looking beyond their internal, departmental structures and look at how they can leverage digital technologies to create personal and emotional connections with students throughout the recruitment process.
Fundamentally, if higher education institutions want to compete in this new landscape, they need to adopt business transformation programs that will enable them to do so. Digital transformation involves an investment of both time and resources if the change is to be smooth and for it to positively impact on students’ experiences.
Targeting a digital-first generation of students who are unforgiving of tedious, manual processes, universities need to make sure that every experience they offer takes individuals’ personal preferences, habits, and needs into consideration. Here are two ways universities can leverage digital technologies to drive better customer (aka student) interactions:
Personalising enrolments through digitisation
In the past, choosing and enrolling into a university was often a difficult and frustrating process. Students would either have to deal with slow and complex legacy systems used by universities, or travel to the university premises and manually sign up.
Today, digital technologies can make this process more appealing, accessible and simple. Enabling online enrolment, subject selection, and timetable management, for example, can rapidly improve students’ levels of satisfaction with the university, as well as significantly reduce the amount of manual labour and time involved in these administrative tasks.
Once these basics are established, universities could and should be taking this a step further to provide personalised experiences where possible. They could be developing apps that help students understand courses they’re interested in before enrolling and match them with the degrees that best suit their interests and strengths. Or they could be leveraging online forms of teaching and learning to engage students when they need the most help.
The possibilities are only limited by the imagination of the industry, but the first step has to incorporate students’ needs and the way they prefer to consume information.
Data-driven marketing to prospective students
With the right technologies, universities can leverage masses of data available at their fingertips to develop highly personalised marketing strategies. Students today are interacting with universities well in advance of actually making an enquiry or submitting enrolment applications - they could be visiting a website, downloading course handbooks, attending webinars and seminars, signing up for newsletters, and more.
Every interaction a university has with a student, online or offline, that is not documented, is a missed opportunity. Digital technologies, such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems and marketing automation systems can leverage information from various information sources, such as your website or newsletter registration databases, and provide universities with a 360 degree view of the students’ activities and needs.
This information could be used to help universities better understand a particular student’s needs and deliver targeted marketing strategies that encourage them to take the next step in their customer journey with that university. With these insights, universities can also ensure that each stage of the customer journey seamlessly flows onto the next, rather than the student being bombarded with random messages and calls to action at irrelevant times or via irrelevant communication platforms.
Technology is drastically changing the way students interact with each other and make decisions about their education. The easier universities make it for students to find this information and make these decisions through digital processes, the more likely that university is to win these students as ‘customers’.
It’s time for universities to take a proactive stance on digitising student experiences, or risk losing their students to more forward-thinking and tech-savvy competitors.
Robin Marchant is Global Marketing Director, Squiz