This blog post is derived from content originally written for and published in NAFSA’s Winter 2019 issue of the IEM Spotlight. Authored by UniQuest’s Head of Global Marketing Mary Evans.
Best practices are powerful but only to the extent to which they are actioned. In international enrollment management, the big challenge often lies in how teams can actually execute the approaches they know make an impact on student engagement and conversion.
Before IEM teams can meaningfully improve yield throughout the admissions journey, they need to make sure they are set up to operate at best practice. This means critically assessing that they have the right people, technology, and processes in place to achieve the goals they have set.
Today, effective international student conversion requires genuine personalization, proactive encouragement across multiple channels, and quick support for every student through every stage of the full journey to enrollment. The UniQuest team has managed nearly one million student conversion journeys to-date; this blog post summarizes the competencies we’ve found to be critical in driving prospective international student engagement and conversion.
There is no substitute for good people. A high-performing yield operation is supported by people with the relevant expertise and skills to personally assist and proactively encourage every prospective student throughout the enrollment journey, from inquiry to enrollment.
To meet the needs of prospective international students, IEM teams need people with skills in:
- Email marketing automation and optimization to create, test, and continually improve segmented and dynamic email marketing campaigns
- Student customer service to deliver exceptional support to students across all time zones
- Data analytics to turn information into insights
- Market analysis to understand how cultural and market forces may influence student behavior and decision-making
- CRM adoption and development to ensure comprehensive data is tracked consistently and that data remains clean to enable relevant interventions with students and accurate reporting
Fostering relationships in some student recruitment markets requires members with relevant language fluencies. At UniQuest, fluency in Mandarin is key for engaging students in China who are often uncomfortable practicing their English, particularly over the phone.
Additionally, IEM teams must ensure their people have the capacity to do their best work. Check that there are enough hands-on-deck to serve the volume of students you’re generating interest from. Teams need enough people to manage communications with students across all channels being used – e.g. live chat, email, Skype, WhatsApp, phone – and to meet student expectations around speed and quality of support. UniQuest’s 2018 student survey found that 83% of students expect a same-day response to their inquiry.
Replying to inquiries across the admissions journey is only part of the battle; IEM teams need the capacity to proactively and consistently nurture relationships through every stage of the admissions pipeline. Engage prospective students with a mix of one-to-one (e.g. phone calls, SMS, WhatsApp) and personalized, one-to-many communications (e.g. email marketing, web chats) to deliver relevant content and communications at every stage. UniQuest’s data shows that conversion to enrollment doubles when one-to-one channels are coupled with personalized automated, communications as opposed to using only one-to-many communications. It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to following up with prospective students; use individual student data and insights to determine the relevant frequency, timing, channels, and content of communications.
The right technologies help teams work smarter and more efficiently. Institutions’ Customer Relationship Management systems need to be fit-for-purpose. Any CRM needs to be easily customized to suit the institution’s unique needs, report data in a digestible way to inform strategic decision-making, and integrate with all tools used to contact prospective students. For example, data from live chat tools, email automation platforms, and event forms all must integrate with the CRM so the institution has a single repository of data to gain a holistic picture of their unique student journeys. This gives IEM teams a stronger understanding of what interventions are working, or not.
In finding a fit-for-purpose CRM, think about the volume and variety of data it needs to accommodate to inform highly personalized engagement activities. And, the reporting capabilities that would deliver actionable insights. For instance, reports on student decision-making reasons, FAQs, pipeline progression, student sentiment, volumes and types of communications received – all filterable by country, major, study level, student stage.
With comprehensive tracking and reporting, CRMs can empower your teams to deliver personalized communications at scale that reach students at the best times to nurture their interest to the next stage in their admissions journey.
Robust protocols and processes harmonize all the effort across teams to ensure students have a seamless experience with the institution through their entire journey. A strong process joins up the activities directly managed by people, across any department, and the communications that are automated through technologies to create an integrated student admissions journey. Beyond creating an excellent student experience, strong process and protocols are needed to manage and safeguard personal student data, especially for those students whose data falls under the protections of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The relationship between GDPR, which came into effect in May 2018, and international student admissions is that colleges and universities are now responsible for gaining more specific and proactive consent to communicate with students from the EU and to store their personal data. Consent is not static, but rather changes as students progress through the admissions funnel or as they use a variety of communication channels. Therefore, institutions need methodologies to manage compliance continuously as they build new, and grow existing, relationships with prospective international students.
Understanding the foundations of a high-performing international student yield operation, institutions should do an audit as it relates to the volume of prospective students they’re managing to check they have the capacity, resources, and process in place to deliver best practice student journeys at scale.
Some institutions will be able to fill existing gaps in their conversion operation internally. Others will find that building a high-performing conversion operation in-house isn’t cost-effective, in which case it would be worth exploring public private partnerships focused in international student yield. Whichever approach institutions find is the right answer for them, a commitment to improving international student yield management is a great strategy in what is becoming a fiercely competitive global market.
To learn how we partner with colleges and universities to maximize international student yield, get in touch with our team.