Uni of South Queensland pumps up customer engagement efforts with ‘Communicate’

‘It is getting those emotional hooks to connect with people in a very engaging way.’

University of South Queensland (USQ) is on a mission to enhance digital engagement with customers across multiple touchpoints in real-time, and boost personalisation interaction across all channels.

That’s the message from USQ executive director, marketing and student attraction, Helen Nolan, who said the university needed to find new and innovative ways to better engage with students.

“At the moment, customer experience is really top of mind for me. The university is a complex service environment. It’s a complex buyer's journey. There’s a lot of focus on user experience and a reasonable amount on customer service excellence. But the whole customer experience is important to me. I am driving conversations in that space.”

In that vein, the university recently used the Communicate platform from Pitney Bowes in order to increase its engagement and enrolment of students who apply through the tertiary admissions centre.

Built around the EngageOne line of customer engagement solutions, the Communicate solution features a set of digital self-service capabilities that enable organisations to better communicate with customers and deliver more relevant and engaging interactions– every time they interact with a brand.

“It was about increasing interest and enrolments, but also reinforcing their decision to consider USQ, and then ultimately convert to enrolment,” Nolan said, explaining the success of USQ’s recent engagement and enrolment campaign.

USQ's Helen Nolan
USQ's Helen Nolan

“University recruitment is going to get much more competitive than it currently is. So we’ve got to be doing everything to make sure that we make strong decisions that are based on evidence, but not be so hard that we don’t connect with that emotion of our prospective students and their influences.”

Within preference campaigns, she said applicants have the ability to choose up to six university preferences. “In Queensland, we want the applicants to put USQ higher up the ladder so it was about elevating them as well.”

Video love

Nolan said the university chose the Communicate platform in large part because it offers the ability to deliver personalised and interactive video capability. Nolan said USQ is using video technology to digitally engage and stay connected with its students.

“Video was important to us because you only have to look at the phenomenal success of YouTube, and the phenomenal success of videos within all forms of social media. We knew video was a platform that a diverse cohort were interested in and that we would get some engagement.”

Additionally, the personalisation factor - and offering personalised videos - is crucial for the university moving forward, Nolan said, explaining the Communicate solution combines video with user data to deliver interactive, personalised video.

“Personalisation is a major factor of modern marketing, and consumers are demanding a more personalised experience than ever before. It is becoming imperative for organisations to deliver marketing material tailored to their target audience’s interests, behaviours and desires. The higher education sector is no different.”

Nolan said USQ’s personalised video email campaign was delivered to 4,660 applicants. During the course of the project, USQ found that eDM Unique Open Rates (73.20 per cent vs 37.36 per cent) and Unique Click Through Rates (40.93 per cent vs. 7.04 per cent) performed considerably higher than industry benchmarks.

“We saw the project as a new way for USQ to approach a traditional campaign. The modern consumer demands a highly personalised experience in any media they consume, and in order to influence their purchasing behaviour, the personalised video, tailored to the individual based off university data, was seen as a great option for USQ and aligned perfectly with the university’s brand.”

But she acknowledged she has her work cut out for her as she deals with all manner of challenges in the higher education space - particularly fighting for student eyeballs.

“There’s so much competition for students, not only in terms of where we might study, but also competition on time. They say, ‘We want a short-term fix. I want the big money today. I don’t really want to study for three or four years.” It is getting those emotional hooks to connect with people in a very engaging way.”

Digital strides

Asked her thoughts on digital, Nolan said the university has already proven key performance metrics, and sees digital as the necessary lifeblood of the organisation.

“One of my mantras for many many years now has been evidence-based decision making - and it’s so much easier to deal with that within digital. We’re about to work on a project to refresh our website. It is to a certain standard, and we are happy with it, but we need to take it to another level and look at human-centric design. We need to make sure whatever facelift we do with our website, that it takes a student journey to a whole other level.”

And while USQ has about 29,000 students, she said 75 per cent of them study online. “That is an important difference. We pioneered online study in about 1991 here in Australia. Our median age is 29,” she said explaining some of the key reasons why digital is so powerful. 

“In regional Australia, digital has to be front and centre. We can’t expect all our students to be here on campus so we have to be able to deliver an online and digital fluency, a powerful digital connectivity and user experience. Our brand has to be up there in their faces the whole time.”

Nolan said USQ also has its sights on future technologies. “We haven’t signed any dotted lines yet, but we are looking at machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). You just have to. AI is definitely on my radar. It would help the students with their decision-making in terms of coming to study at USQ, but also their retention and completion rates.”

Meanwhile, her technology wish list also includes a deeper integration of its marketing automation technology.

“We’ve got it there, but we need to integrate it with all of our systems. Our technology stack, like any organisation, is quite complex, and we need to make sure that it delivers for our student experience, right from the awareness and discovery, right through to insights and analytics and retention. So we’re very keen to get that integrated further within our organisation.”

But she acknowledged it’s very challenging adopting an agile approach in higher education.

“I want a very agile approach to what we do and when you’re in a complex service environment there are sometimes some challenges there. But I have to push on ahead until someone tells me. ‘No way.’ It’s a bit like our campaign tagline of being fearless. You just keep going and empowering our students and empowering  our staff.

“At USQ, our brand is about making sure we connect with students digitally, but also making sure they can see the big picture - that it’s a career conscious world out there and we want to help them become the professionals of the future.”

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