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The Benefits to Seeing Students as Customers

The website is your university’s most critical tool for recruitment and customer service. Your website needs to be intuitive, user-friendly and engaging to provide the experience students have come to expect.

Why is it important to see and treat students like customers? This question can be a controversial topic in a university environment, but it doesn’t need to be. We first need to dissect this question by defining the difference between a customer and a student. 

A customer is an individual or organization that purchases goods or services from another organization or business. Customers are essential because they drive revenue—and without revenue, the business will cease to exist. On the other hand, a student is an individual studying; a student pays a fee to take a course or program. In essence, the customer is the student, or the student is the customer. Regardless of how we label said individuals, our responsibility is to help them reach their goals and the outcomes defined in our programs.

I look at things from a marketing perspective and firmly believe that treating students like customers is of utmost importance. To understand the student of today is to know they are discerning. They come with high expectations, and as such, universities need to treat students like customers if they want to survive. If they are not satisfied with our institution, they will go elsewhere. Or worse, they can tarnish the brand. Alternatively, if we meet their needs and the student achieves their desired outcome, they can enhance the institutional brand.

With more schools offering online options, competition is fierce. We all know how hard it is to attract new students. It makes sense to keep existing students (customers) satisfied. Increasingly, the need to deliver on our promise and provide exceptional service is critical.

We want to provide quality, transformative programming and a positive student experience. How do we do that? We seek to understand our students. We ask for feedback on their experiences and adjust what we do to enhance the positives and address the areas of concern. That’s how we create satisfied customers who keep returning.

Modern Customers Expectations for a Website 

As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression—and a website serves as a prospective student’s first impression of your institution. It is your brand statement. When my niece researched universities during her senior year of high school, she said the website was paramount. It was the first impression of the school, and it could make or break her decision to seek more information about that institution. If the particular university’s website experience was lacking, she’d take the school off her list. With so much competition out there, institutions can’t afford to lose students because the website needs work!

When modern customers land on a website, they want a smooth experience (think Amazon). They want relevant content that is clear and concise—but rich enough to inform their decision. They expect well-organized, user-friendly navigation, easy access to dates, times, locations, pricing and the ability to make a purchase (or apply) with ease. They seek to find whatever information they need without getting lost or confused in the process. No matter what type of device the user is searching on, they want the same flawless experience, so responsive design is a must.

The bottom line is that a website must be designed and planned with users in mind. An effective web presence provides users with what they want: specific information, answers to questions and the ability to complete a transaction. A good website delivers information that caters to different audiences. Whether the visitor is a current learner, prospective student, a parent, or an employer, the content is relevant to them and includes calls to action that gives clear direction and guidance to the next step to take. A visit to a university website should be an intuitive experience where visitors can engage, connect and register.

Challenges Higher Ed Marketers are Facing 

Universities are complex organizations, and it isn’t easy to provide an experience that meets each visitor’s information needs, especially in the context of entities within the institution (registrar, finance, faculties, continuing education, and others). From a Continuing Education perspective, adequate representation on the institution’s homepage is a challenge. We also must work within the university’s website templates, which do not always serve our needs. Registration is a significant pain point, as the university’s enterprise system was not designed with the unique needs of Continuing Education in mind.

Overcoming Obstacles 

Our organization maintains its commitment to customer service, which involves understanding the student. We explored how they engage with us through their online journey through a web usability study. We were able to analyze how users interact with our website and gain insights into addressing their pain points to provide a user-friendly experience. We learned to keep the information simple, clear and concise with short paragraphs and straightforward language. Our unique landing page navigation needed to be relevant to Continuing Education learners.

A landing page is critical to serving up specific, targeted content to a particular audience. We direct our advertising to landing pages specific to promoting the program, so users can access the info they want without experiencing the frustration of searching from the home page. Website platform modules are utilized to make each page unique and engaging. Bold CTAs inviting the visitor to ask questions appear on each page, allowing the user to reach out if they can’t find what they seek. We also monitor questions asked and incorporate answers to the website content.

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