One of the greatest pleasures of what we do is seeing the long-term benefits that human-centered design has on a school or business’ performance. In 2014 California State University East Bay (CSUEB) approached us to help them reimagine the student journey on their website. Visit our original case study with CSUEB here for more details.
Now, three years later, we wanted to check in with our friends at CSUEB and see whether the changes have continued to impact customer satisfaction and internal functions.
“It’s completely reshaped how we do business, interact with students, and what we say to students,” says Dan Bellone, Marketing Director at CSUEB. When CSUEB partnered with us, they made the conscious decision to ensure that all messaging and customer-facing interactions would be clear, helping students and prospects find whatever they needed easily through an intuitive and familiar shopping experience. “I’m such a proponent of human-centered design,” says Bellone. “That really came through in this project.” The result is that CSUEB is now able to respond strategically to customer needs, driving prospects easily to areas of interest and giving clear reasons and outcomes for each decision they make.
By being proactive, Bellone explains, the CSUEB team is able to initiate conversations with prospects earlier, rely on objective data to drive internal programmatic discussions, and ensure that all marketing outreach is intentional and considered for the greatest benefit to both students and the school. And students and prospects have continued to respond positively to the system built with them and their experience in mind.
In its first year, the new website and student-facing systems saw a 700% uptick in inquiries, with the numbers consistently increasing year-over-year since. Enrollments have also received a boost, with a 14% decline in 2014 to increases of 14% and 16% in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Embarking on a multi-year student experience initiative is not for the faint of heart, but it has clear benefits for schools. Developing, creating and deploying the website, CRM, registration and branding projects took two years. However, Bellone wouldn’t change a thing. “It was absolutely worth the time and investment,” he shares, “I’d do it again in a second.” There is no underestimating the importance of getting all of these moving parts to work together to produce a truly effective student experience. “Don’t be afraid to take the time to make it right!” Bellone adds, “The product you’ll end up with is worth it all.”
One of the keys to the success of this repositioning and commitment to the end user was the engagement of everyone in the continuing education division at CSUEB. Staff was focus-grouped in order to help the marketing team and S+S understand every aspect of the business, incorporating these insights into the overall design. This collaboration across the division resulted in internal benefits of the new design as well, including automation that decreased some of the staff workload, the encouragement of open and frank discussions, and everyone feeling a sense of ownership in the new endeavor that continues to today.
In reflecting on the partnership between S+S and CSUEB for the duration of the re-engineering of the student experience, Bellone has expressed his appreciation for the way we tailor our efforts to each customer. “One of the best things about S+S is that they would never be a cookie-cutter provider, everything is custom,” he says. “Working with S+S, the focus was very much on CSUEB, never canned. They took a lot of time to get to know us and our specific needs.”
Bellone found the creation of the shopping cart tool to be the most significant change to CSUEB’s student experience. The custom API streamlines the entire registration and enrollment process, making it far easier for prospects to find the information they are searching for on the site.
In fairness, I also asked Bellone if there were any areas in which we could have been more helpful, or more effectively articulated CSUEB’s value proposition and customer focus. “Overall, it was a very positive experience,” Bellone responded. “On the experience side, it’s hard to find fault!” The only hiccup in the rollout was the integration of the SalesForce CRM with the school’s existing database system. Due to its complexity, we brought in an outside resource for support. As a technology agnostic firm, we do depend on technology partners for complex implementations. Bellone quickly adds, “our robust needs presented a challenge.” He points out that the most effective leaders find the best way to fill in the gaps—and that’s just what we did for them. Bellone concluded our conversation with a final statement that we love to hear from our customers: “Hiring S+S is one of the best things I did!”