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The Higher Education Imperative: Competing on Customer Experience

By May 7, 2019

Higher education campus discussions
By: Gene De Libero, Director of Industry Strategy & Digital Transformation at Sitecore

Developing remarkable personalized student experiences across the entire education journey is an integral part of making higher education more than a commodity. From awareness to studying, providing students with experiences tailored to meet their individual needs is what separates world-class education institutions from their commoditized peers.

The 7th Annual Higher Ed Summit, co-hosted by and the University of San Diego, was an excellent opportunity to engage with administrators, marketers, content creators, and technologists from a variety of learning institutions. We discussed the challenges and various solutions related to creating a single view of the student – integrating student data across multiple systems, leveraging AI and marketing automation, moving forward from legacy technology, and more.

Helping students succeed on campus. Photo from the University of San Diego, which hosted the 2019 Higher Ed Summit.

It was no surprise these educators are facing similar challenges in their quest to keep pace with an audience which moves faster than they do. One topic that came up most often was the desire to provide a personalized customer experience (CX) for new and existing students, alumni, and donors.

From the beginning to the end of their journey, many students today seek a path to get from “I need a college degree” to “I have my college degree” with as little friction as possible. Yet, at four-year public colleges, 69 percent of all students graduated in eight years according to the National Student Clearinghouse.

For those institutions that focus on the needs and wants of their various audiences, and tailor their interactions (both online and offline) toward a more timely, relevant, and personal experience, the rewards can be significant.

Customer-centric institutions that create remarkable customer experiences enjoy improved lead generation, deeper engagement, and increased conversion rates in the face of headwinds of an increasingly competitive online market for education globally. Highly flexible, powerful platforms such as Education Cloud can be used to create a single view of the student across the entire lifecycle, making it easier to cultivate one-to-one personalized experiences at scale.

Higher education students on campus

However, it is not enough to rely on technology alone to make these personalized experiences happen. Some foundational strategies and tactics must be employed to avoid commoditization and drive deeper connections with higher education constituents. For example, the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), the global nonprofit dedicated to the advancement and cultivation of the Customer Experience profession, sets forth six performance domains required for customer experience excellence that can be applied to higher ed:

    1. Customer-Centric Culture – Creating and nurturing a culture, through behaviors, practices, and standards that encourage all employees to focus on delivering outstanding customer experiences.

    2. Organizational Adoption and Accountability – Driving change and developing cross-company experience accountability from the C-suite to the front line.

    3. Voice of the Customer (VOC), Customer Insight and Understanding – Building collective insight into customer needs, wants, perceptions, and preferences through the capture and analysis of the voice of the customer.

    4. Experience Design, Improvement, and Innovation – Implementing practices and approaches to continuously improve, design and differentiate customer experiences.

    5. Metrics, Measurement, and ROI – Creation, and reporting of the measures of CX success including their use in business cases to illustrate the ROI and business value of customer experience.

    6. Customer Experience Strategy – Development of a strategy that articulates a clear vision of the experience that a company seeks to create in support of the company’s brand values, including its direct linkage to CX activities, resources, and investments.

Cultivating knowledge and skills in these domains creates a solid foundation for customer experiences that will engage new and existing students, alumni, and donors, keep them coming back for more, and turn them into advocates for your higher education brand. This approach gives higher education institutions the tools to build trusted relationships that help guide students on the path to success.

It is hard to do integrated digital marketing without technology. Even direct mail fundraising can be more easily managed in the cloud. To help students succeed, online self-service platforms and communities can connect students to information they need, even at 4 am during finals week. Through this community, remote students will experience a sense of belonging, which is a valuable part of the learning process, especially for first generation students.

Shifting from a traditional transaction-based focus to a customer-centric focus will help institutions create remarkable personalized student experiences across the entire online education journey. This new way of thinking and working is an integral part of making higher education more than a commodity play.

Learn more about what’s possible with Education Cloud in this guidebook from Nucleus Research.


Salesforce AppExchange PartnerSitecore is an official Salesforce AppExchange Partner. Find their app, Sitecore Connect for Salesforce Marketing Cloud, on the AppExchange, or learn more about Sitecore Experience Cloud on their website.

About the Author
Gene De LiberoGene De Libero is Director of Industry Strategy & Digital Transformation at Sitecore. He is also a digital marketing adjunct at the New York University School of Professional Studies and The Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida. Gene serves as an advisory board member of the Customer Experience Certificate Program at Rutgers Centre for Innovation Education. He has over 30 years of business, technology, and marketing experience. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter: @GeneDeLibero