Voice of the Customer in Higher Education

James Vineburgh

Dr. James Vineburgh

Share On  


There is perhaps no greater marketing asset than voice of the customer. For, who can better sell a product or service than someone who vouches for your brand? It makes intuitive sense that a prospective customer would trust the recommendations of those who have enthusiastically engaged with your organization/institution more than the marketing messages conveyed from those entities, themselves.

On an analytical level, there are myriad statistics to support upticks in reputation and revenue when the voices of satisfied customers are being leveraged effectively on websites, social media, and other marketing channels.

Identify Customers

Identifying who customers are might seem simple in some industries. For example, the customer in healthcare is the patient, right? Actually, as Jeff Cornwall writes, “I spent almost a decade as an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry. I heard the same debate in that industry. Is the customer our patients? The employer who pays for the patient’s healthcare? The insurance and managed care companies that decide who gets what care and how much of it they get? It can get to be very confusing for even the most experienced entrepreneur.” Thus, identifying who customers are is actually a lot more complex than might be initially thought.

Higher Education Customers

So, who are the customers in higher education?

Current students are clearly customers as they are paying to receive academic degrees. As this Forbes article recommends, “…higher education institutions must rethink the way they communicate, and provide the same level of top-notch customer service that parents and students expect from a host of other industries. Here, parents are also included as a customer type.

What about graduates of the institution?  Two professors from Oregon State University definitely believe so when they write, “Relationship marketing has found favor with university administrators owing to the opportunity presented by proponents and adherents: loyal customers can provide significant revenue and profit for the firm over the long-term. These revenues and profits come from the adage that it is less costly to market to existing customers than to capture new customers.”

Adding to students, parents, and alumni, Yan Dominic Searcy, Associate Dean of the School of Health and Human Services at Southern Connecticut State University, argues, “Because state universities — and some private universities — were established by state constitutions and are supported by tax dollars, the actual customers of higher education are the citizens of respective states.” If we accept this proposition, then higher education’s customers are…well, just about everyone!

Students, parents, alumni, citizens – all customers of higher education. How can all of these customers’ voices help institutions (let alone even be heard)? Stay tuned for several practical ideas and examples in upcoming posts.

Read Next: Brand 4.0 and Beyond

About the Author