Building Value from the Start: Four Key Actions
As a consumer, when you think of an exceptional business, you typically think of a company that excels at one of three value propositions: operational excellence, product leadership or customer intimacy. The same is true of your students’ experience with your university. Many universities choose to focus on Customer Intimacy…or at least say they do.
Operational Excellence focuses on the “back end” of the company. Products are typically inexpensive or require limited customer interaction. Businesses that espouse this value include Walmart (low price leader) or Netflix (easy to access). In higher education operational excellence includes on-demand, asynchronous learning options, which allow universities to lower their “back office” expenses by reducing faculty and staff costs. Classes are taken when it’s convenient for the student. Some universities are critical of this approach, asserting that an inexpensive or “cheap” online degree may undermine the brand. Some universities are also resistant to the online classroom because they perceive it as a lower-quality experience without the traditional classroom format.
Product leadership is demonstrated in first-to-market advances or unique features. You don’t need look any further than Apple’s success in the last decade for an example. They reimagined how we listen to music, use phones and find information. In a university setting, product leadership is demonstrated via cutting-edge delivery methods, experiential learning or novel methodologies for degree completion (e.g. Western Governors University). Product leadership can be difficult for universities because it’s expensive to create new platforms or products. It’s also challenging to create innovative systems or changes within the typical bureaucracy.
In contrast, most universities pride themselves on (or at least aspire to) the value proposition of customer intimacy—with a focus on becoming the most trusted brand for customers. In higher education, it is of utmost importance to be perceived by prospective students, students and graduates alike as a customer-centric university. Unfortunately, many universities fall short—particularly at the start of the relationship with a prospective student—by making it difficult to engage, select a program and enroll.
If your value proposition is customer intimacy, consider how you begin your relationship with a student. This will impact their brand experience, set expectations, and play a large role in whether they choose your school to further their education.
A recruitment and enrollment process focused on customer intimacy should include:
Offering Simple Contact Options
Most prospective students begin their discovery process on your website. Your website should include at least two ways to contact you. Typically, this includes a phone number and a short inquiry form. Other avenues may include email to a specific person or texting—yes texting. A university that leads in customer intimacy would initiate on-demand contact, such as a chat feature, so a prospective student can immediately engage with the institution.
Ensure Immediate Follow-Up
Don’t delay following up with your prospective student inquiries. It reflects poorly on your brand and negatively impacts a prospective student’s expectations of your university. The most successful for-profit universities follow up with inquiries just minutes after receiving an inquiry. You may not be staffed to return calls within 10 minutes, but you should follow up within 24 hours.
Understand Prospective Student Goals
The objective of an enrollment or recruitment call should be to build a relationship with a prospective student. Unfortunately, as consultants, we have seen recruitment and enrollment conversations begin and end with, “Do you have any questions about the program?” While it is important to answer prospective student questions, it’s critical to address their primary needs and potential concerns—will this program align with their individual goals.
To discover this, you must engage prospective students in conversations that allow you to understand their motivations and expectations for the program. This ensures, for both the university and the prospective student, that your program is the right fit thereby improving student retention. By building a relationship throughout the enrollment process and learning how your program will impact a student, you can communicate value in a deep, meaningful and personal way.
Make the Application Process Simple
The application process is, by nature, complex and daunting. Prospective students appreciate being guided through it—and not just by emailing them a link to an online application. True guidance includes managing timing expectations and outlining the information they will be expected to gather and provide, like a personal statement, references, test scores, and transcripts. Look for opportunities to simplify this process for the student. For example:
- Provide guidelines and suggestions for their personal statement.
- Create a Transcript Release Form so you can request their transcript directly from a previous school.
- Recommend the kinds of references your institution will find valuable.
Conclusion: Creating the Right Impression
As you consider the value proposition you are trying to communicate, be cognizant that a student’s impression of your university begins well before they ever set foot in your classroom. Their brand experience begins with that first conversation in the application and enrollment process. The inquiry to enrollment process can be complicated. Demonstrate to prospective students that they matter and are a valuable part of your institution. Build a relationship, communicate their value each step of the way, and become that trusted advisor for your prospective students.
Author Perspective: Business