Stefan Drew

Like me you probably understand that recruitment is a complex issue. You need the right courses, market them effectively and undertake extensive interview and induction processes to get those bums on seats. Even then you could find some students walk in the first few weeks. Recruitment is hard work and, for full time courses, the main recruitment season only comes around once a year.

Some providers seem to perform better in terms of the business performance measure we call recruitment. Why?

Sometimes it helps to look outside the sector to see what other industries do to recruit their customers. I believe there are lessons we can learn from the best performing supermarkets as, believe it or not, there are similarities. 

The Institute of Customer Service have just completed their UK Customer Service Index (UKCSI) and it reveals the power that customers hold when it comes to business performance.

Is Your Organisation an Aldi or Tesco?

The UK supermarket that’s seen the largest gain in sales and market share is Aldi. They outperform M&S, Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury and the other major players.

They also take pole position when it comes to customer satisfaction.

Coincidence? I don’t believe it is.

If customers aren’t happy with customer service they tend to spend less in supermarkets and don’t return.

Those supermarkets that saw drops in market share include Tesco, Asda and Co-Op Food and they also exhibited the lowest customer service performance index.

In my FE Success Research Study, I’ve discovered similarities between FE and supermarkets. Those providers that have a better recruitment record seem to score higher on customers service when we mystery shop them.

Coincidence. I don’t believe it is.

We also investigated student services and online enquiry logs to and correlated them against providers’ own perceptions of their recruitment performance. There is a high degree of correlation.

The UKCSI also demonstrated that where Aldi was getting a lot of repeat business it was also benefiting from customer recommendation. Satisfied customers tell others that then become customers.

It seems to me that FE should take note and learn from supermarket exemplars.

Poor Customer Service Examples

On examining the questions posed to those providers with recruitment issues there are shared issues.

The key one is that the same old questions seem to appear time after time. For example, one provider has been repeatedly asked a whole series of questions that come back to one thing; when is induction?

Another gets repeated questions about exam results. Again, they are phrased in different ways but boil down to “I was promised I’d get a letter with my results by the end of the month but it hasn’t arrived”.

In both the above cases the questions link back to poor communications and processes. If a complaint or query becomes commonplace then we need to examine why it repeats and amend the process or improve communications. It’s not rocket science.

If we’ve not changed a process in the last 3 years there is a good chance it is outdated or could be done better. We need to check processes on a regular basis to see if they are still needed in their present form or if we can automate them.

Einstein said, “Beyond complexity lies simplicity”. My advice is to keep it simple.

A Word of Warning

Humans don’t enjoy change. We revel in the routine. And it is easy to think we don’t need to make changes. It is also easy to convince ourselves we are good at something when we are not.

For example, I can guarantee that some readers will be saying to themselves that they have a customer service award so their customer service is clearly excellent.

Sadly, this is not always the case. A customer service award is not the same as delivering good customer service.

A lot of customer service award criteria is based on having systems in place. This is not the same as using those criteria effectively. Saying you answer the phone by the third ring and have a process in place for monitoring this is not the same as actually monitoring it at busy times when performance will be lowest!

Marketing Isn’t Key

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been called into colleges that tell me their recruitment is dropping and marketing needs an overhaul. Quite frequently the problem isn’t with the marketing department but is a more systematic customer service failure.

Customer service can go wrong at so many levels. It happens when the phone isn’t answered, emails get ignored, poor information is provided and teaching is poor.

One of the main issues however is an overly complex customer journey. Getting it right first time is key. Students that have to ask for their results several times are not going to be praising you in the local pub or on social media. Your reputation is a good measure of customer service. A new logo doesn’t build your brand, good customer service throughout the customer journey builds your brand.

Preventing problems is key to good customer service (followed with how you handle the few problems that slip through the net). Other than checking your logs for regular complaints try this simple technique. Turn every step of the customer journey on its head and determine what, in your worst nightmare, could go wrong at each step. Now ensure you have something in place to prevent it happening.

However good we are we will still get few things going wrong. None of us is perfect! So, the secret at this stage must be to focus on complaint handling. The worse organisations start this process wrong. For example, they start their reply by acknowledging your complaint and telling you they have 6 weeks to answer. It’s like saying your complaint is not important to them!

Acknowledging the complaint correctly is crucial. Empathising and being a human helps a lot. Checking what outcome the complainant wants is essential and being able to do remedy the situation quickly works wonders! If the complainant wants their exam results telling them to phone another office doesn’t provide good customer service. The answer is to tell them you will chase it up and get back to them within ten minutes! Then you need to do that and deliver exemplary customer service. This can turn a detractor into a solid ambassador in minutes. 

To do the above you need just one thing. You need engaged, well trained competent staff. It sounds easy but many organisations find this a real challenge. That’s why Aldi are winners and their competitors lag behind them!

It’s Obvious Really

I’ve not written anything in this feature that you didn’t know. So why is customer service and recruitment such a problem for so many providers?

So many providers say they are student focused. But are they really as focused as Aldi? Are they gaining market share as well as improving their customer service index?

About Stefan Drew: FHE Marketing Consultant Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and for the last decade has consulted with colleges, universities and private providers throughout the UK, Europe and the US.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Is a 'love of learning' far from common among tutors/students,
and (Love being blind, madness, a...

AELP Webinar Team added a new event 2 days ago

Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers – Refresh 2021

Overview It has been nearly two years since the ESFA refreshed the current Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers, therefore it is time for...

  • Thursday, 14 October 2021 10:00 AM
  • Online

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page