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6 Steps to Map Higher Ed Student Journeys by Mirroring Customer Experience
Jul 31, 2020 • 5 Minute Read • Ross Lucivero, EVP, Product
There was a time when the language of marketing and customer experience was frowned upon in higher education. So much so that one former academic vice president said that “students are not customers; neither are their parents. We do not have customers. We must keep repeating this.”
But more and more, the higher education industry is seeing that this is exactly how they should treat their students. By applying the following 6 tactics from the world of customer experience, you can map higher ed student journeys that set your institution apart from the others.
1. Segmenting the Student Body
The same way that businesses segment their customers based on demographics, purchase history, psychographics, and more, higher ed institutions should divide the student body according to key personas. While it’s critical to create equity and equality across all experiences, the reality is that not all students will follow the same journey.
Creating sub-segments of your student body based on key personas will make journey mapping far more effective. The main goal is to create groups of people that will help you target student experience initiatives in ways that make them feel more personal. For example, the experiences you create for international students who live on campus will differ from those of grad students who commute.
These segments should cover everything from pre-admission all the way through graduation and career placement. The more granular you can make each segment, the more personalized you’ll be able to make student experiences.
2. Focusing on Phases of the Student Experience
Companies in consumer-focused industries map experiences based on a multi-phase customer journey. The stages progress from awareness to interest, consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy. While these phases aren’t exactly mirrored in higher ed, the principles still apply.
Once you have your student body segmented in a way that works for your institution, the next step is to track all student interactions. Similar to the business customer journey, you can map these interactions to key phases of the student experience. Your phases might include pre-admission, adapting to student life, coursework selection, career preparation, and alumni involvement.
Mapping the experiences according to these phases will make it easier to spot friction points that your students may experience along the way. For example, are you finding that new students are entirely overwhelmed by the massive packets of information they’re given about adapting to life on campus? Maybe a more interactive digital experience can replace some of the text-based information with videos that are more engaging to certain segments of your student body.
3. Identifying All Student Touchpoints
Consumer-focused businesses need to know all of the different touchpoints they have with customers to ensure they’re designing seamless experiences. These include brick-and-mortar stores, Amazon, e-commerce websites, social media, traditional advertising, digital advertising, and more. These are the places where businesses can interact with customers.
But higher ed is unique in that the student experience is continues over the long term and is often made of mostly in-person interactions. Mapping the student journey means understanding all of the positive and negative interactions a person has with your institution. To make it easier to track, focus on these five specific areas:
- Academic Programs: What are the interactions a student has in relation to their degree programs and other projects/workshops? This could include how you communicate the curriculum before application, the orientation process, the ways students collaborate within the program, preparation for real-world application of skills, and the process of applying for continuing education after graduation.
- Student Services: These touchpoints revolve around academic support, including interactions with key departments like admissions, enrollment, financial counseling, advisement, career assistance, health, and research.
- Technology: What technologies are you providing to support students? This includes any hardware, software, and infrastructure in place to help students both in and out of the classroom. Understanding how you train students to use these systems, troubleshoot these issues, and provide access to the technologies will be critical to overall experiences.
- Facilities: How do campus facilities impact student experiences? Map the experience students have with classrooms, dining halls, healthcare facilities, libraries, residential housing, study spaces, sports facilities, and more.
- Community and Culture: The student experience is heavily influenced by your ability to create a sense of belonging through access to clubs/activities and leadership opportunities. Map the interactions you have with a student while they engage in these activities, provide feedback about institutional programs, and participate in the campus community.
Having all of these student interactions mapped out gives you a high-level overview of the entire experience, helping you spot opportunities for improvement over time.
4. Collecting Student Feedback
Whereas a consumer business could correlate sales numbers and return rates to issues with product experience, the vast array of interactions you have with students over such a long period of time makes it difficult to identify pain points and areas of strength on your own. Collecting feedback at every stage of the student journey is critical.
There’s no one-size-fits-all way to collect student feedback about experiences. However, simple digital surveys across social media and on-site following a specific event can give you quantitative insight into the student experience. Beyond that, you can run focus groups and interviews with your segments to get a better idea of how students feel about experiences—both in the big picture and on a lower-level with specific interactions.
Analyzing these insights will help you prioritize improvements to alleviate pain points. And it will also help you double down on the initiatives that deliver great student experiences.
5. Turning Data into a Story
All of the data in the world won’t help improve experiences if it’s not actionable. This is as true for higher education as it is for any consumer-focused business.
Once you’ve collected all the student experience data and feedback, you need to find ways to display results in the most impactful ways possible. Creating data visualizations that map feedback to the different phases of the student experience will make it easier to collaborate with higher education leaders on solutions to pain points.
There are all kinds of student journey map templates available online. However, it’s important not to force your situation to fit a generic template. Whether you use a template or build your own student journey map, make sure it properly communicates your specific needs, pain points, and interactions.
6. Identifying Needs and Implementing Improvements
Student journey mapping is all about creating a system for feedback and continuous improvement. It’s an agile approach to delivering innovative student experiences that gives you the flexibility necessary to adapt to challenges as they come up.
Once the mapping processes are complete, you can start to pull in stakeholders from different areas of the institution to start improving student experiences. For example, having a documented list of student pain points will make it easier to interact with website designers to improve digital experiences. And communicating specific pain points to administrative staff will make it easier to update processes and operations to better serve students.
Designing Innovative Higher Ed Student Experiences
Journey mapping isn’t just for organizations in the business world. Applying these principles to your higher ed institution can make a significant difference in your ability to satisfy evolving student expectations—which in turn increases overall performance for your college/university.
Student journey mapping gives you the framework to identify weaknesses in your experiences at every stage of interaction. But that’s just the first step. Finding innovative ways to address those weaknesses is key to improving your institution.