The greatest tech stack in the world is only as effective as the higher ed staff members using it. Building relationships with current and prospective students, their families, and alumni is paramount to your institution’s mission, but doing so takes empathy and understanding.The more you ensure the student journey is not a task-driven maze, the more you’ll connect with your audience.
Mongoose sponsored an industry panel with Inside Higher Ed, More Human With Tech: How to Build Relationships that Last, where higher ed professionals discussed ways they’ve humanized the student journey and found success. Their insights reveal that institutions that leverage technology and build trust with their constituents get the best results.
Technology Brings Colleges Closer To Audiences
There’s only so much time in a day, so utilizing technology to make outreach and communication more efficient is key. The right engagement platforms not only make it easier to help students, alumni, etc. but also more personable and engaging.
“Our research tells us that using technology to know students by name and their story, whether the institution be small or large, will help students feel like they’re being seen and matter.That really matters for their ability to be retained by an institution and pursue their degree and platforms are one way to start that conversation, allowing you to personalize messages.” - Emily Calderone, Executive Director for Student Transitions, Johns Hopkins University
It’s More Than Reminders
While navigating the enrollment process, or any part of the college journey, requires plenty of help, it can be mentally exhausting for students to have to respond to countless messages reminding them what they have not yet done. These messages are important, but it’s also important to be supportive in outreach. When a student understands where you’re coming from and why they have to accomplish so many tasks, they’ll be more responsive.
“It’s a delicate balance for us because you can’t get things done without the relationship building that comes in first. A lot of shops can get transactional with the communication they have with prospective students. Putting yourself in their shoes, it can be really tough being told what you have not done, constantly. We have to get them to understand why they should do those things. That comes with relationship building.” - Tony Sarda, Director of Undergraduate Admission, St. Mary’s University
Technology gives college staff members more time to foster relationships and build connections so they don’t feel like text messages are annoying beeps from a robot. Changing the way you frame reminders can elicit a more positive response. Use language that encourages action and explains the importance of action instead of just blasting suggestions.
“Instead of saying, ‘You haven’t completed your financial aid form.’ You can say, ‘Did you know that by completing your financial aid form, you could be eligible for more money next year?” - Emily Calderone, Executive Director for Student Transitions, Johns Hopkins University
Involvement Increases Empathy
No one knows more about what prospective students are going through than their fellow students and new alumni. Recruiting current students from your campus to be a part of your outreach saves you time and better serves your recipients because they get to correspond with someone who can relate to them.
If you do employ students to communicate with other students, make sure they’re transparent about who they are. It will only benefit your overall mission if it’s clear who is contacting them and why.
“My student interns know a lot more about what students are thinking. Prospective students might look at me as someone who just wants them to come to our school. My interns can say to students, ‘I’m a current student, you can ask me anything.’ Students feel seen by that. This method displays empathy and helps students accomplish their goals.” - Tony Sarda, Director of Undergraduate Admission, St. Mary’s University
Current students or alumni can give practical advice. With the right platform and a transparent approach, you can utilize what you have to make stronger connections to your institution.
Texting Alumni Can Break Down Walls
When leveraging technology to communicate with alumni, it’s important to remember that a smartphone is a person’s personal space. It’s best to think about whether or not a text you’re sending will actually help the recipient. Alumni can be very guarded about engaging with an institution, fearful that they’re being set up to be bombarded with donation requests.
“When they ask questions and receive authentic responses, I think it’s a surprise for them. People enjoy that. Emojis are a great way to break down walls, too. Life is tough. We need to have a little fun. When they have a moment like that with you, they get a little giddy. That’s relationship building.” - Erick Weber, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Annual Giving, University of Tennessee Knoxville
Technology Levels the Playing Field
There will always be more students and alumni than staff members, and time and resources are at a premium on almost every campus. A tech stack should be built with the needs of your constituents as the priority.
“We started using Cadence for texting because we had some early indicators that we weren’t bringing back students in the fall of 2020. We have a very high student to RA ratio, it’s about 1-to-65. So we knew there would be almost no safety net for students. Texting has been met with a lot of success and students feel like they’re being seen.” - Emily Calderone, Executive Director for Student Transitions, Johns Hopkins University
Technology in higher education is a valuable tool that gives you more ways to care, connect, listen, and learn. The more you incorporate technology and master the tools you have, the better you’ll serve your audiences.
Want to learn more about how technology can help build relationships? Listen to the full recording of ‘More Human Than Tech: How To Build Relationships That Last.’