Published by Jason Howard
No matter what sector you work in or what size your business is, positive customer experience has become a core competitive advantage. Higher education is no different. If you want to recruit and retain the right students, and build a community of advocates amongst your alumni, you need to pay attention to the experience your digital channels provide.
This experience starts well before their first day on campus. According to Austrade and Deloitte Digital’s 2019 scoping study, Digital Engagement in International Education, there are areas for improvement at every stage of the student journey. And from initial awareness and interest in studying overseas right through to post-graduation experience as an alumni, digital channels play an increasingly vital role.
Students use digital channels to research their study options, ask friends and family for advice, connect with international education agents, check online reviews and forums, deal with enrolment and immigration processes, and build their support networks once they settle down to study. A good digital experience means they will feel engaged (by useful and relevant communications or content), informed (by accurate data and updates) and supported (with responsive, personalised services).
However, the study highlighted gaps in the ideal experience. It can be hard for students to find up to date, unbiased information when they’re making such an important, life-changing decision about where and what they will study. The idea of moving to a far away, unknown land can be stressful enough, without poorly designed websites and out of date processes adding to the confusion.
They want a single, trusted source of truth at their fingertips and an intuitive online application process. They also expect real-time responses like those they receive from many other online transactions – from banking and shopping to entertainment streaming.
The study identified a few key ‘moments to master’ in the student journey. Getting these right can improve student experience by a proportionately higher degree.
Moment 1: Personalised guidance through the research stage
When they start researching all their options, it’s a pivotal moment in the student journey. Their perception of the opportunities institutions offer will be shaped by family, friends, education agents and even strangers during the research stage.
According to the study, students said this stage can be complex and frustrating, with so many different websites and physical sources to read through.
That’s why they turn to agents, who act as a gatekeeper to that one source of truth, guiding them to make an informed choice. So how good are your relationships with agents? How strong is your network?
Our own research with agents highlights what they value in their own experience with institutions: real-time application tracking, faster response times, simpler systems and up to date program information. This is backed up by a recent report by Cohort Go where agents listed response times, accuracy of information and delays with processing applications as key problems when working with institutions.
At StudyLink, our priority is ensuring everyone has the right information at the right time to make an educated decision. That could be the student who is choosing between two institutions, the agent advising which path they should take, or the admissions team determining their suitability as an applicant.
Accurate and timely information can help agents provide more personalised support. StudyLink’s global course search data is kept accurate and up to date with a combination of sophisticated technology and regular manual checks. It covers thousands of courses from 4,000 institutions around the world – without scraping websites for course data.
Moment 2: A simpler, faster way to apply and enrol
The Apply and Enrol stage of the student journey is equally important. The Austrade study found many students apply to multiple institutions, and if they get multiple offers they tend to base their decision on how quickly an institution responds to queries – and how efficient the application and visa processes are.
So speed really matters. Especially when a late response can lead to logistical hassles with accommodation and visas – adding to the anxiety of starting their new life in another country.
If admissions teams can respond to queries and send offers more efficiently, then more time can be made available to support students with the urgent and important queries that can’t be resolved by an automated response. And in turn, this will enable institutions to grow enrolment numbers without having to expand support teams.
Our solutions enable accurate, pre-validated student information to admissions without the need for manual re-entry, freeing up the team’s time to provide support to students.
The University of South Australia was able to halve its offer letter turnaround time and grow acceptances by 37% when it started using StudyLink Connect.
We see technology continue to play a crucial role here, providing a consistent and seamless application experience for students and agents, and a rich source of data for providers.
Bridging the gap in the human experience
Improvements to digital channels at every stage of their journey does not only benefit students. It also provides a better experience for partners (agents) and for admissions and international office teams. Another Deloitte report, The Human Experience: Quantifying the value of human values, found that if your organisation is closely aligned with customer, workforce and partner values, it will grow faster and build stronger loyalty. This is what the report defines as a ‘human experience’.
Austrade hopes a focus on student experience will continue to strengthen Australia’s successful higher education sector as it works towards the AIE2025 roadmap. But these findings are just as relevant to every global market that seeks to expand and improve its international education sector – and meet the needs of an estimated one billion students in 2025.
If you’d like to learn more about how StudyLink’s solutions can help your institution master the moments that matter in the student journey, please get in touch.