Every year, colleges have to do more with less. Their goals around enrollment, net tuition, diversity and academic achievement increase, while their resources often do not.
In scrambling to keep up without re-thinking how to do so, colleges risk compromising two correlated factors: the capabilities of their staff, and the individual needs of their students. When staff are spread thin during peak times or trying to support hundreds if not thousands of students individually, they lose time for their most important, high-impact touches. Conversely, their efforts to engage as many students as possible comes across as outreach that feels as accommodating as a day spent at the DMV.
How you choose to communicate with students, and how you encourage them to communicate with you, makes all the difference. Through technology, we can bridge this gap and deliver communication strategies that are, first and foremost, student-centric.
We created this series to clarify the most effective ways institutions can leverage communication to set both their students and staff up for success. We place such an emphasis on communication because it bakes into student engagement like eggs in a cake: communication holds engagement intact, binding outcomes that span across a handful of high-level priorities.
When developing a student-centric approach, we’ve found there are 5 critical strategies to include in your cookbook.
- Targeting support through two-way channels
- Proactive nudging
- Establishing a path of least resistance
- Balancing conversational, personalized, and scalable engagement
- Leveraging a versatile and consistent platform
A paradigm shift in expectations
Before we cover the first recipe for student-centric communication in next week’s installment, let’s set the table by addressing a paradigm shift that many institutions overlook: people absorb and engage with information differently than they used to. Gen Z (and beyond) has grown so accustomed to on-demand access and support that near-instant gratification isn’t a plus, it’s expected. Our co-founder, Kirk Daulerio, even wrote a book on this phenomenon.
People everywhere want on-demand results - they sign in to Netflix to stream a movie instantly; they go on Amazon to buy with 1-click (and get guaranteed two-day shipping via Prime); they send a text expecting an immediate reply.
This shift in expectations hasn’t just changed the way we consume - it’s also changed the nature of the services provided. We’ve seen massive growth in the gig economy with on-demand jobs, whether it’s driving with Uber, hosting through Airbnb, or working remotely instead of in the office.
When baking your communications cake, you have to consider the tastes of your guests. Students want to digest information on their own schedules and their own terms.
‘Right now’ brands
Impatience has become a virtue, but it’s not the consumer’s fault. The aforementioned services have empowered the “right now” consumer by adopting technology that’s allowed them to become “right now” brands. And the ultimate tool for “right now” consumption has been the smartphone.
Compared to a few years ago, smartphone users are 50% more likely to expect the ability to purchase something in real time. Since people have been empowered to act in the moment, they expect relevant-to-the-moment information at all times. Here’s a telling example: search interest for “open now”, flights today, and hotels tonight has tripled in the past three years.
Conversations that are conversational
On-demand support is a crucial ingredient within every recipe of this student communication cookbook. An equally important element to consider in the paradigm shift of engagement is the preferred structure of conversations. Specifically, to what extent are they conversational?
Everyone and their grandmother communicates through instant messaging platforms these days, whether it’s through SMS texting or conversational apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. Even the style and length of emails has shifted towards shorter, back-and-forth messaging. Therefore, when it comes to keeping students engaged and conversations going, one-way communication channels, or those with a built-in lag time, are missed opportunities.
Surely you’re familiar with ‘Siri’, ‘Alexa’ or Google home. Maybe you’ve even changed the channel using your X1 Xfinity remote. All of these devices tap into the powerful practicality of voice, which caters directly to these conversational preferences. This is a trend that’s here to stay. While hovering around 20% usage today, experts predict nearly every application and every website will integrate voice technology in some way in the coming years, with more than 50% of search integrating voice by 2020.
Even colleges have started exploring voice capabilities for student engagement. Saint Louis University and Northeastern recently installed thousands of Amazon echo dots across dorms, apartments, and common spaces in order to add a tremendous amount of conversational support in a very scalable and practical fashion.
To be fully student-centric, schools need two-way communication channels that can appeal to the shift in expectations by promoting scalable, on-demand assistance. They need to engage students on their own turf, which has proven to be mobile messaging, but they also need to provide a path of least resistance for their staff in order to maximize the impact they are capable of making. A platform like this will increase the impact of nudges, provide schools with more data that they can use to further target their support, and allow communication to be both versatile and consistent.
We’ve set the table for effective student support, but we’re just getting started. If you’re hungry for more, make sure to sign up here to receive our next installment, “Targeting support through two-way channels.”