When universities work to attract students, they are doing more than just selling an education; they’re selling a lifetime experience. From initial information packets sent to prospective students still in high school, to student life literature sent during their undergraduate years, to post-graduation and alumni relations, each touch point should have a corresponding look and feel that supports the university’s goals for the student experience.
Gathering business intelligence by utilizing undercover students as mystery shoppers to measure these experiences is now a global best practice. The undercover student or mystery shopper poses as a student and engages the university with a particular interest. University administrators are then able to measure the interdependency of the touch points throughout the journey that define the university-student relationship.
Universities are complex places with many different facets that affect student life. For example, dining experiences or healthcare services at a university may garner complaints from students, so an “undercover student” can be deployed to determine what specific aspects of these experiences may need to be changed to improve the student experience.
Here are some possible questions about admissions, for example, that a university might use mystery shopping to answer:
- What are my competitors doing differently in their recruitment process?
- Is my institution well presented in social media?
- Is our application process easy to navigate and are all entrance requirements easily found on our website?
- Are we missing any important information on our website?
- How quickly should I respond to queries, and how quick are my peers in answering such requests?
Measuring the experiences students have at a university enables cause-and-effect linkage with the metrics universities track today and, ultimately, students’ willingness to give back to the university when they are alumni. Metrics could be financial or more qualitative:
- Within the bookstore, test “suggestive selling” behavior to see how it increases the average size of sale or units per transaction.
- Determine what impact a program has on the number and type of student complaints.
Employing frontline research – like mystery shoppers – to shape university life from start to finish, will have a positive impact on a college’s bottom line from tuition to donations.
Universities compete with each other for the best students and the most efficient and effective way of reaching these students. By using undercover students as mystery shoppers, you can walk in their shoes and gauge best practices for competing in today’s educational marketplace.