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Prospective students disappointed by university enquiry services on social media, global study shows

Prospective students disappointed by university enquiry services on social media, global study shows

A global mystery shopping study conducted with over 120 higher education institutions has revealed that only 1 in 5 prospective students have a positive experience when they enquire to colleges and universities through social media. 

Mystery shoppers found that up to a third of institutions fail to reply to enquiries via Instagram and Facebook, either leaving students hanging or redirecting them to submit their enquiries by email instead.

The global findings of the Enquiry Experience Tracker 2023, published today in a summary report by Edified, highlight the scale of lost enrolment opportunities for universities around the world.

Edified’s Enquiry Experience Tracker is an annual study developed in partnership with student conversion specialists UniQuest. It sees mystery shoppers pose as prospective domestic and international students, and place enquiries with institutions via multiple channels. They assess the enquiry experience against a range of criteria, including responsiveness, relevance, personalisation and impact. 

For the first time, the 2023 study evaluated Instagram/Facebook and referral websites as enquiry channels along with channels assessed in previous years – email, enquiry form, live chat and peer-to-peer tools.

The research included 128 institutions worldwide, including approximately one third of all UK universities, more than half of Australian and New Zealand universities and more than one third of higher education providers in Canada’s British Columbia and Ontario provinces.

The results reveal that poor enquiry experiences deter prospective students. Around 40% of institutions evaluated in the study received negative ratings from half or more mystery shoppers due to bad service. When students had a negative experience, 93% went on to say they would not engage further with that institution.

When it comes to the global leader board, Scottish universities have ousted competitors to claim the top average score. Responses from Scottish universities were rated the friendliest and most trusted in the world, and three quarters of Scottish universities in the survey scored above world average.

The top performing institution globally was Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. Institutions across Australia and New Zealand were consistently rated well by mystery shoppers. Six out of the top 10 scoring institutions were from the ANZ region. 

The UK received an average Enquiry Experience Score that was just one point higher than the global average, while Canada was one point below. 

The results highlight clear improvement opportunities for higher education institutions. One in 4 enquiries do not get a response. Half of responses do not answer all the questions asked by students. And only half of institutions globally follow up on leads.

While over 90% of students felt they could trust the information they received, only four in 10 felt replies were warm or approachable. By far the weakest area for almost all institutions was persuasiveness, with most missing out on opportunities to sell themselves. 

Despite these challenges, significant progress has been made by institutions committed to improvement. A quarter of institutions have improved their rating from ‘below world average’ to ‘above world average’ in the past 12 months. Fanshawe College in Canada was acknowledged as the ‘most improved’ institution worldwide.

Commenting on the results, Elissa Newall, Partner at Edified and Project Director of the Enquiry Experience Tracker, says:

“Students really do have high expectations. They expect prompt and personal service through the channel of their choice. It’s simply not good enough to ignore messages on social media or to brush students off by asking them to send an email instead. You really only get one chance to make a good first impression.”

“One of the reasons this mystery shopping research is so valuable is because it shines a spotlight on areas that might be forgotten or out of view. It prompts institutions to start looking into different channels and having conversations about their enquiry processes and content. The EET is now in its third year, and it’s fascinating to track institutions’ progress over time and see who is bedding down meaningful improvements year-on-year.” 

Rachel Fletcher, co-founder and CEO of UniQuest, adds:

“Prospective students are walking away from institutions if they’re not satisfied with the level of responsiveness. On the other hand, our data shows that those who have a good enquiry experience with reciprocal engagement from the institution are three times more likely to convert to enrolment. As the recruitment landscape becomes ever more competitive, those institutions who invest in improving the enquiry experience will reap the reward.”

Fanshawe College in Canada was recognised as the most improved institution this year, having almost doubled their 2022 score. Wendy Curtis, Dean, International at Fanshawe College, says:

“We are remarkably proud of our diverse teams’ commitment to deliver an exceptional level of customer service to our student enquiries. The Enquiry Experience Tracker is a unique opportunity for us to benchmark our enquiry services with other institutions globally. This award is a testament to our teams’ concentrated effort this past year to streamline communications and respond quickly to all enquiries. Our student ambassador, recruitment, digital communications, admissions, student life and advising, transition and engagement, and customer service teams have all united to raise the bar on coordinated and personalised responses to potential international students at Fanshawe College.”

A full list of the Enquiry Experience tracker award winners can be viewed here

A visual summary of the 2023 key findings is available here.

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