Every School Should Appoint a CEO – Chief Experience Officer

Now is the time for every school to appoint a Chief Experience Officer.

The dynamics of the education sector are changing: budgets continue to shrink, parents have more choice (from the growing Academy programme to the Free Schools initiative); there is a relentless drive on raising standards; and as state schools work on new initiatives harnessing best practice from private schools, the gap between them narrows.

The sector is increasingly behaving like a market and this will only intensify over the coming years as maintained and independent schools alike fight for pupils.

Schools must be equipped to compete in this market and that means they need to embrace marketing fully. Yet the role of marketing is evolving: it is no longer just about driving brand awareness using traditional outbound marketing techniques (print, radio, poster advertising etc), supported by a website and a toe in the social media water.

A new ‘customer-centric’ role is emerging in the business sector. Whether this position has the title Chief Client Officer, Chief Customer Officer, Chief Engagement Officer or Chief Experience Officer (CEO), it has a clear focus on customer engagement.

77% of brands answering a Gartner survey in 2014 say they now have a Chief Experience Officer, Chief Customer Officer or equivalent. These brands understand that customer engagement is fast becoming a primary driver for growth, and they are working hard to ensure customer focus exists at the very heart of their strategy. It is a new battleground. Today’s customer engagement is viewed as more than just great customer service – It is the sum-totality of how customers engage with your [school], not just in a snapshot in time, but throughout the entire arc of [becoming and] being a customer (Harvard Business Review).

So what does the role of a Chief Experience Officer look like?

According to Wikipedia, they are “responsible for all user experiences of an organisation. This function is taking care of marketing communications, community relations, internal relations, HR relations, investor relations—and all other encounters an organisation may have with its various audiences.”

In this cross-functional role, the CEO ensures every ‘customer moment of truth’ (any point the target audience comes into contact with the brand or product) is aligned with the marketing strategy and, based on customer insight, is optimised to delight the audience.

The point is that marketing is increasingly about bringing the brand experience to the customer and maximising audience engagement; as Jeff Bozes, CEO Amazon, put it: ‘your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room’.

Schools quick to adopt this thinking and act on it will create a competitive advantage. Appointing a Chief Experience Officer (CEO) will force strategic and tactical thinking away from traditional marketing techniques, and drive greater focus onto how the brand (the school) interacts and engages with parents throughout the decision making process and beyond.

Taking this step should force schools to ask the following key questions:

Do we truly understand our target market (the parents)?

Answering questions, such as those below, will paint a three-dimensional picture of a school’s target parent, which is the basis of an effective marketing strategy:

  • What are their attitudes?
  • What do they expect from the school their children will attend?
  • How do they view the role of a school in society?
  • What are their needs and wants?
  • What are their interests?
  • How do they behave online?
  • How do they prefer to communicate/receive information?
  • Who are their influencers?
  • Where do they live?

What is the brand experience we want to create and the Chief Experience Officer needs to bring to life?

  • Are you clear on your market positioning?
  • Is the proposition compelling and competitive?
  • Is it supportable?
  • What is the resulting experience you want parents to have when they encounter the school?
  • Does every ‘customer touchpoint’ bring this experience to life?

Do we have a coherent and integrated digital strategy or are we just playing at the fringes?

A recent report by the Economist found that only one in 20 companies claim a seamless customer experience across channels throughout the purchase cycle. I suspect this is significantly lower within schools. Aspirations may be high but making progress is complex. People have high expectations for their digital interactions and this is driving a digital transformation from which schools will not be immune.

  • Is your website designed with the user in mind, catering to expectations from first enquiry through to enrollment and beyond?
  • Is it geographically, contextually and attitudinally relevant to the parent and child?
  • Are there clear ways to find out more by phone, chat, e-mail or booking a visit? And do you have the right people at the receiving end?
  • Are you responding to queries and complaints swiftly? (Research by Lithium Technologies/Millward Brown Digital showed that 53% expect a brand to respond to their Tweet demand within the hour; this figure increases to 72% when they have complaints)
  • Are you using the right channels to target the right parents in the right way at the right time and are you using them natively? (i.e. does the content fit the medium or are you mistakenly pushing out the same, un-customised content across all platforms?)
  • Have you got an integrated customer data strategy? (I.e. are you collecting all you reasonably can about parents and collating it in in one database?)
  • Are you measuring impact by tracking online impressions, engagement and conversions?

We have now entered Marketing 5.0. As it was put at Oracle Open World last month: the printing press is 1.0; broadcast media 2.0; PCs and the internet 3.0; mobile and social media 4.0; and now omni-channel experiences is Marketing 5.0.

Gain your edge and appoint a Chief Experience Officer.

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