Do Your University’s Digital Services Create a Competitive Advantage

Do students ever have difficulty using the information system at your university? Are processes involving various technologies nebulous and frustrating? Are digital systems for admissions, courses registration, financial aid, transcripts, and learning easily found, accessed, used, and are they mobile friendly?

Recently, I read a fascinating article that focused on customer service within UK higher education. The gist of the piece was that since UK higher education is much more competitive from an enrollment perspective, it’s now time for universities to start thinking like businesses in the ways in which they provide quality customer service for students.

From “Dirty Word? Thinking about customers” by Ant Bagshaw at Wonkhe:

There are often too many steps in processes, the information can be hard to find, and it can be hard to get answers when you need them. In my most recent experience as a student, I’ve found the multiple systems, opaque terminology and hoops to jump through particularly frustrating, especially as a part-time, distance learner. It can be better than this. Why shouldn’t the student experience be as good as the top retailers?

University marketers, communications professionals, and recruitment agents spend vast amounts of time and resource building up the brand of university, connecting with prospective students, and acting as the initial point of contact for a diverse array of audiences. When students visit a university (at least for those that are campus-based), they are usually exposed to a beautiful campus estate that’s been landscaped, renovated, and structured in such a way that students immediately feel that this is their space.

However, why is it that university digital services – technology-based systems and spaces that students use on a daily basis – are often incredibly frustrating to use? These systems are a massive part of the student experience.

The journey from new student to alumni is a tale of bad design, crashed systems, poor mobile experience, and a user interface that is all too often like a junk drawer in a kitchen…everything is technically available, but you can’t find anything when you actually need it.

At some point, ideally in the not-too-distant future, universities will pressure “old-guard” technology companies into providing systems that meet or even exceed the expectation of modern users. Or better yet, maybe new solutions/providers with less built-in corporate rigidity and sloth-like creativity will enter the higher education digital services arena.

Instead of people using university-branded system names in lieu of swear words, these digital interfaces would actually add to the overall student experience.

Imagine seeing social media posts that are overwhelmingly positive about student information systems? Digital testimonials saying how easy it is to find something or achieve a task…it would be a dream. This type of positive feedback would perfectly complement and amplify positive messaging that’s already coming from university comms channels. Your digital systems would help, rather than hinder, your university’s recruitment and brand-building efforts…and that would be quite advantageous in today’s higher education environment.


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