The Edified Enquiry Experience Tracker and mystery shopping study has found that only one in five prospective students have a positive experience enquiring to colleges and universities through social media.
The annual report maps the scale of lost enrolment opportunities for universities globally.
For the first time, the 2023 study – published in partnership with UniQuest – evaluated Instagram & Facebook and referral websites as enquiry channels. It found that up to a third of institutions fail to reply to enquiries made via the social media platforms.
The mystery shoppers were either left hanging or redirected to submit enquiries by email instead.
“Students really do have high expectations,” Elissa Newall, partner at Edified and project director of the Enquiry Experience Tracker, said. “They expect prompt and personal service through the channel of their choice.”
In total, only three in four enquiries globally received a reply, with email and enquiry forms being the most reliable channels.
Overall response rates haven’t improved since 2022 but timeliness has, the report found. On average, universities in New Zealand were the fastest, while UK Russell Group universities tended to be slowest.
Instagram had the lowest response rate, with a third of enquiries going unanswered or having auto replies directing students to other enquiry channels.
“It’s simply not good enough to ignore messages on social media or to brush students off by asking them to send an email instead,” Newall added. “You really only get one chance to make a good first impression.”
Examples of good practice include auto-reply emails to confirm enquiry form submissions, making a variety of enquiry channels easy to access and offering mobile messaging like WhatsApp or live chat functions.
One in four institutions are using some form of outsourcing in their enquiry teams – fully outsourced or centralised models were rated higher on average, it added.
The report found that Australian and New Zealand institutions have “embraced live chat more than any other group”, with 75% offering live chat. The global average is 60%.
Peer-to-peer – which mystery shoppers highlighted as “incredibly satisfying” – is now “entrenched as part of modern student recruitment”, the report found.
Some 90% of UK institutions offer tools such as The Ambassador Platform or Unibuddy, while 70% of institutions globally do. Canadian institutions are a little behind, with only 50% offering the tools.
The number of institutions offering mobile messaging like WhatsApp is up to one in three institutions, from one is 10 in 2022.
Photo: EET 2023
Along with peer-to-peer channels and social media capability, institutions are advised to focus in on student questions and acknowledge and answer each question asked by prospective students.
Templates and scripts should be presented in a clear and compelling way.
They must also check funnels for leaks. “Gaps, delays and errors can mean that some prospects miss out on timely lead nurturing activity,” the report reads.
“If you’re collecting a prospective student’s email address and marketing consent in one place, make sure it flows through to your marketing automation platform.”
Universities have long been warned that poor enquiry experiences will deter prospective students.
This year’s report looked at 128 colleges and universities worldwide, including 48 in the UK, over half of all Australia and New Zealand’s universities and 29 institutions in Canada.
Around 40% of institutions evaluated received negative ratings from half or more mystery shoppers due to bad service. For those that had a negative experience, 93% went on to say they would not engage further with that institution, the report said.
In total, six out of the top 10 scoring institutions globally were from the ANZ region, with Auckland University of Technology ranked top in the Enquiry Experience tracker.
Scottish universities scored the top average result, with responses rated the friendliest and most trusted in the world. Three quarters of Scottish universities in the survey scored above world average.
Australian universities in the Australian Technology Network and Innovative Research Universities groups where 50% of mystery shoppers gave a positive rating. The global average was a third of shoppers had a positive experience – the same result as the 2022 research.
“Prospective students are walking away from institutions if they’re not satisfied with the level of responsiveness”
“In the global sample, 40% of institutions received a negative rating from half or more of mystery shoppers,” the report noted. “These students felt ignored, frustrated and disappointed after their interactions and said the experience would stop them from engaging again.”
Analysing data from 60 universities, the report found that half received between 10,000 and 50,000 international student enquiries each year, with 5% seeing more than 100,000.
Most institutions have a CRM operating alongside other standalone systems, with Microsoft Dynamics used by 45%.
Last year, universities in Australia, Wales and Sweden were best at handling student enquiries.
Newall emphasised that the research is designed to spotlight areas that might be “forgotten or out of view” and prompt “institutions to start looking into different channels and having conversations about their enquiry processes and content”.
“The EET is now in its third year, and it’s fascinating to track institutions’ progress over time and see who is bedding down meaningful improvements year-on-year,” she added.
While two thirds of communications were rated as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, most institutions have an opportunity to improve the relevance and persuasiveness of enquiry communications, the report detailed.
Over 90% of students felt they could trust the information they received, but only four in 10 felt replies were warm or approachable.
Edified recognised eight universities across the world for good practice, including AUT best in New Zealand, Wilfred Laurier best in Canada and Keele University best in the UK.
Photo: EET 2023
Fanshawe College in Canada was recognised as the most improved institution worldwide this year, having almost doubled its 2022 score.
“Prospective students are walking away from institutions if they’re not satisfied with the level of responsiveness,” Rachel Fletcher, co-founder and CEO of UniQuest, added.
“On the other hand, our data shows that those who have a good enquiry experience with reciprocal engagement from the institution are three times more likely to convert to enrolment.
“As the recruitment landscape becomes ever more competitive, those institutions who invest in improving the enquiry experience will reap the reward.”
- The PIE hosted a Student enquiries – the ‘open goal’ of international recruitment webinar on October 5 at 14:00 GMT. Watch it back here.