Universities in Australia, Wales and Sweden are ahead of counterparts in other study destinations when it comes to handling student enquiries, new research has suggested.
According to the Enquiry Experience Tracker 2022, one in three prospective students feel negative about the university they enquired with following their enquiry experience.
The mystery shopper study conducted with over 100 higher education institutions – carried out by Edified and student conversion specialists UniQuest – assessed institutions on a range of criteria, including “findability, responsiveness, clarity and personalisation”.
It highlighted the importance of enquiry management, finding that nine in 10 prospective students are likely to drop off if they have a negative experience after enquiring.
“In contrast, eight in 10 of those who had a positive experience said they would be ‘very likely’ to continue exploring the institution,” researchers added.
“Incoming enquiries are a great opportunity for institutions to make a good impression,” said Elissa Newall, partner at Edified and project director of the Enquiry Experience Tracker. “But the tracker results show the opposite effect in too many instances.”
“Very few universities used the opportunity to showcase their strengths”
However, unresponsiveness is not the only issue, she continued, but tone and effectiveness play an important role too.
“Many mystery shoppers reported a lack of warmth and felt that universities treated them in a transactional way. Very few universities used the opportunity to showcase their strengths or add value beyond what the student asked for – all things that can make an institution stand out.”
Welsh institutions were rated as “most approachable”, with four in 10 communications described as “warm and engaging” – almost double the global average.
Poor follow up practices mean institutions are “missing a significant opportunity to nurture their leads while they are hot”, the report found.
North America and Ireland “lag behind” in how well they handle enquiries, the researchers noted.
Unresponsiveness remains high, with one in five enquiries globally going unanswered. Previous iterations of the research found that one in four enquiries were not answered. Only half of responses answered all questions asked by mystery shoppers.
“For the UK, unanswered queries increase to one in four. Swedish universities were the most responsive globally, closely followed by Wales,” the research found.
“Just over one quarter of all enquiry responses globally were perceived by mystery shoppers as “cold”, and by far the weakest area for almost all institutions was persuasiveness, with most missing out on opportunities to sell themselves.”
It noted that enquiry service delivered by phone and WeChat was the worst.
Mobile messaging platforms were the least common enquiry channel offered, which according to UniQuest, represents a big area of potential opportunity.
The company’s data shows WhatsApp is a “top converting channel”, with students engaging through WhatsApp or live chat “three times more likely to convert from offer to enrolment”.
“We understand the resource pressures universities are facing, but those institutions that invest in delivering a good enquiry experience will reap the benefit,” noted Rachel Fletcher, co-founder and CEO of UniQuest.
The global mystery shopper study was conducted with 107 institutions from the UK, Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
The Enquiry Experience Tracker Awards found the top experiences in seven categories.
EU Business School was most responsive, while Dalarna University in Sweden was the student favourite for Europe. London Metropolitan University was the Student Favourite for the UK, with University of York in the UK rated Best Live Chat Experience.
Aberystwyth University in Wales and Scotland’s University of Aberdeen were recognised as Best WeChat Experience and Best Phone Experience, respectively. New Zealand’s Massey University was awarded Best Email Experience.
“Students like mobile messaging”
“Students who have a good enquiry experience convert from offer to enrolment at twice the rate of others,” Fletcher added.
“In addition to the timeliness and quality of their communications, institutions should consider the blend of enquiry channels they offer and whether this aligns with student preferences. Students like mobile messaging, for example, but very few offer this.”