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Rolling Out the Red Carpet in Higher Ed: Back to School Edition

By August 13, 2019

It’s back to school season. What are you doing to help your college or university students feel welcomed?

By Yeva Roberts, Head of Salesforce Global Partnership at PFL

Do you remember your first day of grade school? I do!

It was the BEST DAY EVER.

I felt wanted, special, and excited to meet everyone.

As I reflect on my college experience, it felt different.

It was overwhelming.

I had a constant drumbeat of self-doubt.

“What do I need to complete before class starts?”

“Why am I receiving this email and letter? Am I supposed to do something or was this just sent to everyone?”

“I don’t feel welcomed.”

I can’t help but wonder why so many universities miss the mark.

For college students to feel a sense of belonging, they need a welcoming school culture that respects and nurtures their individual needs.

Today’s students want the same experience they’ve come to expect from Amazon and Netflix.

They want to feel in control of their lives.

In the rise of “Me” culture, “personalized experience” has become the non-negotiable theme of the 21st century.

According to the fourth annual “State of Marketing” report, 52% of B2C customers say they’d switch brands if they didn’t feel they were receiving a personalized experience. This is also relevant to how students view your institution’s brand.

I believe a smart and achievable step in this direction is to place emphasis on delivering a more personalized student experience from the start — when it matters most — during back to school season.

What’s Working and What’s Not

I asked recent grads to share their back to school experiences with me. Here’s what they shared:

“I really liked knowing that I could talk to an adviser about my classes and career track. I also wanted a checklist of things I had to do before going back to school, or some kind of calendar to show important deadlines and events during the first few weeks. That would have been an amazing time saver.”
 — Amy Auble

“When I would get a communication, they would never tell me where I was in the process. I felt like I had to rely on other people to tell me what was going on instead of having a place to keep all my different to-dos and events front and center.” 
— Peyton Reffeitt

“College is designed to test you immediately because it’s a new environment. While the amount of failure you experience at the onset isn’t indicative of the full college experience, in order to figure something out, you have to admit you don’t know something first. It would be super helpful for students to have a place or chance to say to each other, ‘Hey, it’s okay, we’re learning.’” 
— Mya Thompson

With this feedback in mind, here are three tips you can use to start to personalize your back to school experience and make every student feel like they belong.

Do your students feel welcome on campus?

Tip #1: Know Me

Your college or university is like a big data machine. You collect oodles of student data that never gets used.

Consider how you could begin to make better use of the data you already have and thoughtfully respond to your students’ wants and needs:

  • Instantly identify them
  • Respect their preferences
  • Give them immediate access to information
  • Understand their issue and know how to solve it, based on the captured data

Moving away from a “one size fits all’ communication strategy is possible with Education Cloud. The value in the extensibility of Education Cloud is unmatched — you have access to 10,000+ apps in the AppExchange — which means the sky’s the limit.

You can use Education Cloud to better document channels used, track student interactions and understand their preferences.

Tip #2: Show Me That You Know Me

Show that you’re not only listening, but also taking action. For example, using marketing automation with Salesforce Marketing Cloud or Pardot, you can send a welcome email from the advisor alerting each student to expect a welcome package in the mail.

Back to school student welcome package.

You can also extend Education Cloud to customize it further with an app like Tactile Marketing Automation from PFL. You could automatically send a welcome package to the student a few days later – personalized to the nines!

When a student opens the package, it includes a tailored video from the dean with a box of popcorn. After watching the 30 minute welcome video, students walk away with everything they need to know along with a calendar of events with key deadlines and materials that include:

  • Registration survival kit
  • Contact information — from roommate to professors to advisor to the dean
  • Parking Pass Instructions
  • Invitation to a game or ice cream social, department scavenger hunt to get to know your professors
  • Class Schedule — if registered already
  • Dorm Room — here’s how you get the keys

You could sweeten the unboxing experience with a branded T-shirt and a thank you note from the advisor. After all, student success starts with building a strong bond with university staff.

A screenshot of Journey Builder in Marketing Cloud, which can help you personalize communications to improve the student experience.

Tip #3: Give Them C.A.K.E.

When I think about all the different elements needed to roll out the perfect red carpet vibes, I refer to it as the “C.A.K.E” strategy. This is shorthand for remembering the four student communication needs:

  • Connect me – introduce me
  • Appreciate me  – make me feel like I belong
  • Keep me on track – help me organize
  • Engage me —give me updates relevant to me

Start by gathering feedback from your student population. With that feedback, determine if there might be a major disconnect in communication and plan your 2020 back to school strategy accordingly.

Let’s Make It The Best Day Ever

It’s no secret that companies that deliver one-of-a-kind experiences create raving fans, who reward them with their loyalty and advocacy.

Why should the higher education experience be any different?

Why shouldn’t the first day of college feel like the BEST DAY EVER, too?

AppExchange partner image.

PFL is an official AppExchange Partner. Find their app, Tactile Marketing Automation, on the AppExchange.

Learn more about Education Cloud by checking out our Higher Ed Trailblazers Guide to Salesforce.


About the Author

Yeva Roberts

Yeva Roberts, Head of Salesforce Global Partnership

Yeva serves as the Head of Salesforce Global Partnership at PFL, inventors of Tactile Marketing Automation. She is a self-described marketing behaviorist who is part creative, part strategist, part technologist, and believes in using her powers for good. She has spent two decades in a variety of product marketing roles, across industries, including managing CRM and digital strategy for leading brands like Lenscrafters, SunglassHut, and Frontgate Catalog. Today, Yeva lends her voice as a frequent guest speaker inside the Salesforce ecosystem and sits on the Ohio University Marketing Advisory Board. Originally from Moscow, Russia, Yeva lives in Southwest Ohio with her husband and two fur balls, Pushkin and Gwen. Follow Yeva on Twitter: @yeva_roberts