SMRSMapping the student journey to deliver a customer experience that benefits the entire cohort

Mapping the student journey to deliver a customer experience that benefits the entire cohort

Many institutions struggle to deliver a strong customer experience. Qualitative data can help deliver the insights they need to revamp their offering

Customer experience is important for all higher education institutions. But many universities continue to grapple with the topic – even struggling to come up with a clear definition of the term. At a panel discussion at THE Campus Live UK&IE, held in partnership with SMRS, Ed Layt, SMRS’ head of consultancy, and Rebecca Hollington, director of UK recruitment and partnerships at the University of Wolverhampton, explored the core components of developing and implementing an effective customer experience strategy.

“Perception has a major impact on customer experience, and this varies based on personal experience and individual interactions,” Layt said. “These interactions can be one-off meetings or cumulative experiences. When an individual engages with your institution, they will already have preconceived expectations. These may be based on personal background, your institution’s reputation, third parties, advertising, press and more.”

During these interactions, the customer will build a perception of the institution. This could be a knee-jerk response or a longer-term one, but it is hugely important for customer experience management.

“We want to deliver customer satisfaction,” Layt said. “Other benefits of good customer experience include brand differentiation, reputational gains, commercial advantages and positive cultural impact. In the corporate sector, organisations embracing customer experience as a key differentiator are twice as likely to have highly engaged employees. How can we apply this to create more engaged staff in the academic sector?”

Optimising the customer experience starts with understanding and listening to customers. Customer journey mapping with multiple end-to-end touchpoints will show institutions that the experience is always in flux. “Collect feedback from different customer groups and build journeys,” Layt said. “Seek out moments that matter and take action.”

“The initial challenges that we had around improved customer experience at the University of Wolverhampton were related to student journey mapping,” Hollington said. “Traditionally, we grouped our students by geographic backgrounds and characteristics, but we found that this wasn’t delivering genuine impact.”

The University of Wolverhampton’s student knowledge was data-driven, but the institution did not have a qualitative understanding of who its students were, Hollington said. “Plus, some of our data was quite patchy,” she noted. “We didn’t really join up our analysis. We had an issue where we could not assess what we were doing well. Why were students coming to Wolverhampton? Was there a specific moment that led to their decision or was there a series of moments? And in what areas were we falling short?”

Changing approach, the university started to group students by what motivated them and what their needs were. “We created five groups,” Hollington explained. “This was more qualitative than anything we’d done previously. We carried out anonymous surveys and hosted a segmentation workshop that allowed us to bring stakeholders from across the institution together to better understand the student journey.”

Working together, SMRS created a report for the University of Wolverhampton – complete with a plan and key recommendations to improve the customer experience – using recent persona work to develop the institution’s communications, events and activities. “Not only did this allow us to revamp the student experience,” Hollington said. “It gave our staff added confidence because the innovations being introduced were backed up by solid data.”

The panel:

  • Rebecca Hollington, director of UK recruitment and partnerships, University of Wolverhampton
  • Ed Layt, head of consultancy, SMRS

Find out more about SMRS and higher education.

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