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Orchestrating Powerful Learner Experiences is More Critical Than Ever

The EvoLLLution | Orchestrating Powerful Learner Experiences is More Critical Than Ever
Consciously designing a customer experience that meets the expectations of today’s learners and supports persistence requires active listening, appropriate metrics and an openness to change.

Today’s consumers are looking for a lot more than a good product at a good price. We have witnessed the growth of the “experience economy,” in which the customer experience is a driving force of consumer choice and competitive differentiation.

Customer experience (CX) can be defined as “the perception the customer has of your brand. Even if you think your brand and customer experience is one thing, if the customer perceives it as something different, that is what the actual customer experience is” (Morgan, 2018). We are all familiar with brands that deliver amazing customer experiences–brands like Disney, Amazon, Starbucks, Apple and USAA. These companies understand that “consumers expect graceful and seamless journeys across the ecosystem” (The Future of CX, n.d.) and have created loyal customers by designing interactions and transactions to meet customer expectations and needs.

These organizations have demonstrated that viewing CX as a feature is not enough; CX must become part of the core mission. As consumer choice continues to grow, this becomes more critical than ever.

 Institutions of higher education provide learners with a range of transformative experiences, from engagement in the online classroom to interactions with faculty, support staff and service providers. Institutions look to leverage technology to support students with self-service tools and just-in-time communication. But as organizations and technologies evolve, we must become laser focused on creating streamlined student journeys across the board. For example, consumers today expect real-time support (Council, 2020), and waiting 24 hours or more for a response may contribute to disengagement. While live chat technologies offer a solution, we must introduce a consistent experience. We would not want to introduce different chat experiences within different departments, creating a confusing customer experience.

We must find new, innovative ways to collaborate across the complex enterprise and develop streamlined, graceful solutions. By examining the entire ecosystem, we can ensure continuous alignment with our learners’ expectations and needs. Here, we offer some tangible steps to getting this critical work done.

Increase empathy of customer needs & expectations across the lifecycle

As Generation Z enters higher education, students are comparing their experience in higher education to Netflix, Airbnb, and Amazon—companies that have invested heavily in their customer experience and differentiated themselves in a crowded market (Gen Z’s Most Loved Brands, 2020).

We must continuously learn what our students are thinking and feeling, propagate insights across our ecosystem and enable our employees to dramatically improve the student experience (The Future of CX, 2019). And we are all responsible for this work. We must ask more questions about the student experience across the lifecycle and establish systems to share and democratize this data. For example, what are students trying to accomplish when they come here? Do we understand student values, motivations, intentions, and how they change throughout the student lifecycle and within each program or product? Is this data socialized? Are our processes intentionally designed to engage in the data? When is the last time you, yourself, spoke with a student? What did you learn?  

The answers to these questions (and others) are critical to developing empathy and ultimately designing and building customer-centric experiences. We must ask ourselves “How would our priorities change if we had better insights from our students? What can we learn about our students’ lives inside and outside the classroom to better support them?” Operational data show where opportunities for improvement exist, but they don’t answer the question of “why”.

Over the next several years, we must develop new competencies to capture, distill and utilize the ‘customer’s voice’ in our design and prioritization processes. This is more critical than ever.

To create seamless experiences, we must work interdependently across the organization and consider the whole customer journey from the learner’s perspective. Focusing on the customer experience emphasizes the need to understand the customer journey, product testing and usability feedback. We will see an increase in user and product research efforts, persona and journey map development, and testing with actual students.

Everyone wants better products faster, but in order to do this we must relentlessly focus on collecting, analyzing and distributing the customer’s voice throughout our development and continuous improvement processes.

Move from insights to action  

We are at a critical juncture. We have the opportunity to increase student persistence and  help more students access affordable education. Institutions have dozens of metrics about the student experience and how the business of higher education is performing, but are we measuring the right things?

There are many ways to measure the experience effectively, and we can look to industry for some examples. Net promoter Scores, customer effort scores and customer satisfaction score are three customer experience metrics common in the business industry around the world that we might consider.

By aligning experience metrics or key performance indicators across the institution, we can better enable teams to march toward the same goal and drive impactful change. Measuring the customer experience across the school enables us to proactively support students, reflect more deeply on the experiences we’ve created and continuously improve the experiences that make a difference to our students–our customers.  

Our efforts will be rewarded with increased empathy for customer needs & expectations across the lifecycle, experiences designed within the ecosystem context and an empowered workforce obsessed with helping more students graduate.


Disclaimer: Embedded links in articles don’t represent author endorsement, but aim to provide readers with additional context and service.

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Council, Y. E. (2020, January 17). 4 Customer Service Trends You Need to Know in 2020. Retrieved from

Gen Z’s Most Loved Brands. (2020). Retrieved from 

Morgan, B. (2018, June 18). What Is Customer Experience? Retrieved from

 The Future of CX – How Customer Experience Will Evolve. (2019). Retrieved from