Earlier in Aug, I had written about the importance of knowing one’s customers (Do You Know Your Customers?) to have a, strategically planned, business growth.
Customers, for any product or service, in past 2-3 years have changed drastically in terms of their buying behaviour. This is a result of the significant economic changes that we’ve witnessed– job layoff’s, tightening individual budgets, lack of trust where corporates are concerned, increased social media interaction and usage.
But the most significant trend (in consumers buying behaviour) has been the need to comprehend and see value in whatever they spend their hard-earned money in. In fact, initial purchase decisions by customers are being affected by the ‘re-sale’ value that would be available. Something that trendwatching has called Recommerce.
Now whilst for high ticket items likes cars, houses, plasma TV’s etc, this is understandable my interest is in the field of education. Does this apply? College education, be it undergraduate or post-graduate today is a massive cost! Understandably, the various customers (its not just the students but the parents & industry organisations who are also customers of any educational institute) are looking at what ‘value’ they get from the relationship they get into with the educational institute.
An educational institute, often,tends to think that its customers are only potential students. Thus, all customer service (if it can be labelled as such) is geared towards only the students. Such an approach in today’s world, is fraught with significant dangers. Here’s a couple of key ones:
- Competitive Advantage— In order to show value, if the focus of the institution is only on course material and courses offered, which are developed independent of any input or interaction from industry, the practicality (or application of knowledge in one’s career) of the course lessens. Subsequently, creating an advantage which aids the institution to stand head and shoulders taller than the rest is missing.
- Lack of Revenue Generation–Students being the key customers or the only customers in focus, the institution’s only source of revenue becomes limited to the fees payable by students. With escalation in costs (simply given inflationary trends, for example) the rise in fees could alienate the institution from its key customers– the students.
However, if the same educational institution were to, identify, segment and prioritize the various customers it has (and it would have, in any given point, about 6-8 customer segments based on the stakeholders having an interest in that institution) it would find that:
- It’s able to develop alternative revenue channels. Which over time can be developed to be major contributors to the institutions bottom-line as well as to its brand value.
- Importantly, its able to create a ‘preference‘ for its academic programs (both among students and industry practitioners).
- Move into providing their faculty (which for any academic based institution is their core competency) opportunities for practical industry research as well as consulting (which in turn opens up the door for them to present their findings and theories in journals and in turn add to the brand value of the institution).
So what stops an educational institute from doing this? Simply put– lack of knowledge on who’s the customer & what is it that he/she wants.
Can this be changed?
- Approach the entire service (of providing education) as a commercial enterprise i.e. it has to reach a self-supporting stage and generate enough finances to be operating.
- Evaluate best practices from other service industries and utilise what works best.
- Engage with the customers. Know what their likes, dislikes and needs are.
- Evaluate through competencies available how those likes, dislikes and needs can be delivered.
- Prioritize, through good timeline planning, with a long-term goal in mind and execute.
The above 5 steps are not the only ones. These are what I’ve used and had results. I’d be happy to know of other steps and strategic ways of making an educational institute develop its brand value.