Published on 2017/06/30

Beyond Lip-Service: Developing an Infrastructure to Deliver a Great Student Experience

The EvoLLLution | Beyond Lip-Service: Developing an Infrastructure to Deliver a Great Student Experience
True student centricity goes beyond a desire to put students first and requires postsecondary institutions and divisions to redesign every aspect of the student experience—down to back-end workflows and processes—to address and exceed students’ needs.

The hallmark of an experience-driven organization is shaping the institution—from the level of service delivered to the processes and workflows that underpin institutional management—to meet and exceed the expectations of students. This requires institutional and divisional leaders who want to evolve into experience-driven organizations to look closely at the tools and systems they use to deliver every aspect of their student experience. In this interview, Dan Bellone opens up the hood and shares his insights on what it takes to develop the infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of today’s non-traditional students.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What does it mean to be an experience-driven organization?

Dan Bellone (DB): Being an experience-driven organization means much more than just great customer service. People probably initially think that to be experience-driven, you have to deliver a great customer experience, and that’s extremely important, but it’s more than that. It’s really about shaping your organization to the needs of your customers.

That filters down to how you structure your department, how you develop your communications and how you integrate technology to get your message across both within and outside the institution. A lot of this focuses around technology and tools that let us communicate with one another, and people often make the mistake of allowing technology to dictate the direction or the outcome of a project. To be experience-driven you really need to do the opposite and focus on the experience and let the experience shape the technology not the other way around. It’s really all about human-centered design.

Evo: What are some characteristics of a continuing education division that’s really committed to delivering that human/student-centered experience?

DB: There are lots of things that make a university a complicated place to be. Coming back to school as an adult learner, for example, can be a daunting task, so to really be effective means simplifying the communication process both in terms of the information presented and the communication channels we offer students. Stronger communication was one of our primary goals when we brought the CRM on, and we re-did our website to create more ways for students to reach out and get their questions answered. Speaking to students directly and really addressing their needs and supplying them with information they need while not overloading them with information is crucial.

Evo: What kind of information is necessary in order to deliver a great student experience that engages learners and keeps them coming back?

DB: When we built out all of our communication pipelines for the programs, the best thing we did was sit down and spend a lot of time with the frontline staff. It’s critical to talk to your frontline staff because these are the folks that talk to the students every single day. They know their pain points, and they know the process better than anyone so in developing these communications we really spent a lot of time with them.

We took the communications process and we made it more streamlined. We cut things out that weren’t necessary and we really tried to make it as simple as possible by adopting an e-commerce approach for the enrollment process. Before, we had a really ugly way for people to enroll and purchase programs run through our back end. So we did away with that and implemented an actual e-commerce shopping cart to make it really easy for someone to go in there and pick a course and pay for it.

What we’ve done is inform people who are interested in applying for a program. They want to know who they’re learning alongside, who they’re going to be learning from, what they can expect and what the outcomes are. We really tailored our website and our messaging to answer those questions. We connect them with current students and we tell them who their professors are, and we talk about the industry and the outcomes for a particular major, option or certificate. And we know that it’s going to take some time to make a decision, so we provide relevant information in small chunks, and we offer multiple points of communication, whether it’s emailing the program coordinator directly or scheduling a phone call or just submitting a question through the website.

Evo: How can a CRM help marketers play their critical role in delivering a tailored experience?

DB: A good CRM allows you to not just evaluate your communication plan and timing around that but also allows you to examine the process for implementation. Our CRM has really helped us to streamline the process, and it’s also changing how we structure our department. A lot of these new positions that we’re putting in have come out of the need to make our process easier for prospective students. The nice thing about that too is that through this whole process we’ve been able to automate a lot of areas that had been costing us a lot of time, which has allowed us to have more one-on-one interactions, especially with students who are further down the pipeline and really ready to make a decision on applying for a program. We really want not make sure that we’re focusing in very closely on individuals at that stage in the cycle. That’s not to say that somebody coming in at the top of the funnel isn’t important, but their interest level may not be as high so that’s not necessarily somebody we want to spend a half hour phone call with. But when somebody is ready to enroll we absolutely want to be on the phone with that person and talking them through the process.

Evo: How could CRMs be improved to allow CE marketers to better engage with non-traditional audiences at every stage of their lifecycle?

DB: CRMs are extremely powerful tools and they’re great, but they’re still highly technical. An area where CRM systems could really improve is in their usability. I use Salesforce, and on one hand it’s a great product with an open platform that allows us to customize based on our particular needs. But the flip side of that is it’s still is a highly technical tool, and so it can be a little confusing to use.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the way that you are leveraging technology to deliver I really high end student experience?

DB: One of the most powerful things about a CRM is the ability to analyze our processes. We’re able to create a really high-end customer experience that also constantly evaluates our communications and the processes behind enrollment, among other things. There’s a lot of power in seeing what’s effective and what’s not effective and being able to craft, redesign and manipulate your messaging until it’s the best it can be.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Key Takeaways

  • Being student-centric means going beyond tailoring communications and examining the processes themselves to ensure everything is geared toward student service and success.
  • Offering critical pieces like a shopping cart and self-service tools through the website help CE divisions deliver an experience that mirrors what students get from other organizations and industries.
  • The biggest challenge with traditional software systems like CRMs is their usability, especially when it comes to setting up the system to perform as expected.
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