Expert InterviewsPodcasts

Customer experience leadership in higher education: interview with Josh Dodson – E74

By March 5, 2020 April 9th, 2020 No Comments
Vice President of Marketing & Innovation at VisionPoint Marketing, Josh Dodson, shares his insights about how the field of higher education is embracing customer-centricity and responding to the demands of the Age of the Customer. Customer experience leadership is quickly becoming an enabler for success in higher education. Josh and show host, Julia, discuss how changing market dynamics are forcing schools to turn up their game, the importance of ease of use in student journeys, the role of personalization in engaging students and how CX success is measured in higher education. If you’re looking for some insight into how customer experience is playing out in an industry facing disruption and steep competition, then this episode is for you.

Driving change in higher education

Josh Dodson is the Vice President of Marketing & Innovation at VisionPoint Marketing. Josh doesn’t just strategize, he delivers results. With his uncanny ability to author strategy, execute nuanced, technical tactics and leverage big data, Josh has helped countless institutions modernize their enrollment and marketing programs. His expertise with digital marketing, analytics and SEO for higher education has made him a sought-after thought leader in the industry. Before joining VisionPoint, he led digital marketing efforts at Bentley University, Southern New Hampshire University, Eastern Kentucky University, and Lincoln Memorial University. His experience both inside the university and partnering with them from the outside gives him a unique perspective that clients find invaluable.

While Josh doesn’t have “CX” in his title, his work is very much focused around helping higher education institutions deliver better customer (i.e. student) experiences. As a marketer, Josh’s work with schools might start with exploration into how to improve the sales funnel and engagement with prospective students, but he’s not shy about pointing out the importance of managing the full student lifecycle. He notes that most institutions regard the student lifecycle with a siloed view of the student as a prospective student, student or alumni, though he’s working to change this.

Josh Dodson, Vice President of Marketing & Innovation at VisionPoint Marketing

Responding to a tough market

The numbers of college students in the US have been on the decline over the past decade. A decline in the pool of high school graduates paired with concerns about the cost of college and changing attitudes towards higher education since the 2008 financial crisis have led to a 2 million student drop in enrollment during the last decade. This has hit for-profit schools the hardest, along with public 2-year schools in the US. And the bad news is that it looks like the same trends will persist through the mid 2020s.

Adding to the challenge of dropping enrollment is a rise in alternative avenues for education. Josh notes that students are increasingly turning to “bootcamp” style learning over multi-year degree programs, meaning that a larger pool of organizations are now competing for the same (shrinking) pool of prospective students.

In response to these changes, US colleges and universities are turning to student experience as a way to stand out and differentiate. From the enrollment side of things, schools are becoming more clever and streamlined about they way that they engage with prospective students, aiming to provide a frictionless experience that integrates digital engagement and personalization a la Amazon.

To realize these changes, schools have had to completely change the way they think about the student journey. 

Schools historically have tended to look at [the student journey] from the perspective of the school and not necessarily from the perspective of the student. And I think that that’s also a shift that a lot of schools are really having to reckon with at this point.

Just like their business counterparts in the for-profit corporate world, schools are needing to switch their thinking from inside-out to outside-in. This requires customer experience leadership, which isn’t necessarily a skill set that school administrations are traditionally equipped with.

The metrics that matter

Enrollment, retention and revenue are all key indicators used by higher education institutions to measure their success. Traditional CX metrics like CSAT and NPS seem like less of a feature in this industry, and perhaps that’s to their advantage, as these can become a distraction from the bigger picture.

Josh points out that most schools don’t currently look at student lifetime value or at the ROI within the student journey, but he’s trying to change that.

One of the things that we’re working on is trying to get more schools to go deeper into the funnel and actually look at metrics like cost for enrolled students and whether that value is in the right area for getting return on the investment.

Josh stressed that there is untapped opportunity for schools to use predictive analytics and regression models to become more sophisticated with their marketing approach and how they unite the silos to engage students throughout their journey. 

Preparing the next generation of customer experience leadership

Josh also provided his perspective on the future of CX education. Josh sees opportunities to integrate the principles of customer-centricity within marking programs, MBA programs, general business and specialized degrees like a masters in analytics. There are a multitude of ways that customer experience can be applied to different fields, and with a decline in MBA enrollment, it will be important for schools to look at how they can include these concepts in other courses, broadening exposure to CX principles and encouraging the next generation of customer experience leadership. 

To learn more about Josh, be sure to check out his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter, where he often posts news and insights about digital marketing in higher education. If you’d like to learn more about VisionPoint Marketing, they’ve got a great website with details about their services.

Want to keep learning about CX?

Decoding the Customer is a series of customer experience podcasts created and produced by Julia Ahlfeldt, CCXP. Julia is a customer experience strategist, speaker and business advisor. She is a Certified Customer Experience Professional and one of the top experts in customer experience management. To find out more about how Julia can help your business define customer experience strategy that delivers results, check out her customer experience advisory consulting services or get in touch via email. To hear other episodes of Decoding the Customer, click here.

Julia Ahlfeldt

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