University: Increasing student engagement

What do students really want from your university? When they come to your website, what are they really looking for? A good social life and nightlife? Is that it? Well, that's the stereotype of the student, isn't it?

Over a number of years, we've carried out Customer Carewords polls in the Unites States, Ireland, Scotland and Australia. We've polled school leavers, executive MBAs, business students, programming students, and professional pilots. We've found that there's one word that matters more than any other.


Yes, when students are figuring out whether they should join your university or not, nightlife and social life are not top of their agenda. Nor is the course or degree. What they're thinking about is their career. That's why they're thinking of going to university in the first place; to start or further a career. Simple really.

Not so simple from a university perspective. Universities are among the most organization-centric entities on earth. Many academics think that students should feel privileged to be "admitted" to the university. The idea of thinking of the student as a customer is very difficult for many universities.

The right words build engagement

Customer Carewords is about doing just that. It is about developing a clinical understanding of what students (and other important customer groups) really want. It is about identifying the words that will engage them when they get to your website. It is also about identifying the words that turn them off.

We have built up a database of these words over the years but we know that every university has subtle differences. We'll guide you in relation to what the major word trends are, and give your students a tried and trusted way to vote on the words that are uniquely powerful for your university.

What students really want

Some years ago, we developed a list of about 150 factors that might be important to students in deciding which Irish university to join. The following table is a sample of the list.

We asked students in University College Dublin and Dublin City University to vote on what really mattered to them. The following table shows the top 10.

We get the same basic top 10 whenever we ask students to vote. Sure, students are interested in a good social life but what really drives them is their career. Customer Carewords is about moving beyond the cliché and stereotype. It is about exposing organization-centric thinking using hard data to focus on what your students really want. It brings the website debate beyond the realm of opinion and internal politics, giving you the facts needed to initiate customer-centric change.

Customer feedback

City University London
"I'm delighted I chose Customer Carewords to evaluate the performance of my School's website. I have followed Gerry McGovern's emails for some time, and have always tried to produce a website based on users' top tasks. However, until now I hadn't had the customer research to back up my hunches and information gleaned from web analytics.

"Our project consultant was friendly, professional and patient, and obviously an expert in his field. His guidance and support from the start of the project right until the final presentation of results was hugely helpful, and he kept the momentum going throughout.

"Critically, the project has engaged us with our actual users, and given us the results we need to further develop our website based on their needs and top tasks. I look forward to implementing the recommendations in the coming months."
Spencer Ball, Digital Marketing Executive, School of Arts, City University London

School of Extended Education, Ball State University
"The Customer Carewords CCI survey has helped us identify problems we did not know we had, verify customer service issues we suspected existed, determine what we are doing right, and give us important benchmarks for measuring future improvement. We are using this data to make adjustments to our navigation and Web site copy, especially as it relates to search terms. It is also helping us focus efforts on our most critical needs, so that we are tackling problems impacting the largest number of our Web readers first.

We added an open-ended question at the end of the survey to help us understand the "whys" behind some of the responses. We believe this provided us with more helpful and honest feedback than we would have received in a whole series of focus groups.

When the vast majority of prospective students are looking at our Web site before requesting more information or applying, providing customer-centric self-service is a key component of driving action- and ultimately to insuring our success. The CCI survey and data analysis has given us insight into our audience needs to help us better connect with them.
Nancy Prater, Director of Marketing and Communications, School of Extended Education, Ball State University

East Stroudsburg University
"East Stroudsburg University launched its re-designed website just over a year ago. Before launching we engaged you to consult with the university and advise us on the scope, the content, writing and the general functionality of the new site. Your insights, advice and comprehensive report on your findings were invaluable to us and contributed greatly to the ultimate successful launch of ESU's website. As you counseled at the time, higher education websites must be always viewed as a work in progress and a year and a half later, upon hearing of your newly designed CCI Survey, our web committee and I were more than happy to be among your first trial customers.

"The information gained from conducting your Customer Centric Index survey was highly pertinent to the website issues which we at ESU feel will immediately help guide us as we continue to improve our site. The summary report of the survey results, which you provided in a very timely fashion, is easy to decipher. We now have the data, not merely the impressions, as to how differently each of our surveyed audience contituencies (alumni, prospective students, current students, faculty and staff) perceive the website. I am confident the information will help us improve our website in key areas. There is also added value to having this information, in that these results will help back up our rationale as to which of our audiences should be considered by the university to be our primary audience(s)….in order of priority."
Doug Smith, Director of University Relations, ESU

University of Hertfordshire intranet
"Customer Carewords worked closely with the University team to understand our existing content requirement for a new staff intranet and supported us in providing a sound analysis of users needs for an effective intranet. They provided prompt communication support via email, phone, and conferencing online. They produced a presentation and a clear report with a set of actions to take with our site focussing on the twenty top tasks and analysis."
Ian Fraser, Project Manager Staff Intranet, Marketing and Communications, University of Hertfordshire

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