The School of Continuing and Professional Studies at the University of Houston (SCPS) was looking to launch a new, responsive student experience. Prior to this engagement SCPS realized the benefit of creating and delivering a curated student experience. In 2011, SCPS launched a new student experience supported by a CRM tool. This effort led to a 78% increase in revenue as well as increased scores on satisfaction.
- Several reorganizations of the SCPS parent unit, Academic Affairs, left the unit destabilized.
- Reduced business support, staff attrition, as well as a lack of strategic guidance led to ambiguous staff roles.
- Leadership focus moved from educating students to using SCPS revenue to fill revenue gaps present in the larger institutional budget. SCPS students were seen, institutionally, as a means to generate revenue.
- A previously successful student experience had been abandoned as customer needs shifted. As a result revenue was falling.
- UHSCP had outgrown their present CRM, marketing automation system, registration system, and website.
The Discovery Process
Story+Structure began the project with an in-depth discovery engagement. We examined the customer experience. Through customer surveys, interviews with faculty, staff, and students, we were able to understand how the organization wished to be perceived and how it was actually perceived.
The website woes of SCPS were symptomatic of larger concerns. Uncovering these concerns and addressing them was key to creating a new student experience. As a result of our discovery we found:
- Lack of communication and work alignment between marketing, program/product teams, and lead nurturers.
- SCPS was not leveraging the strong institutional brand of the University of Houston.
- Marketing and recruiting teams had no strategy for a seamless hand-off.
- SCPS had no shared vision for what the service experience should be. Team members were creating it largely as they went along.
- Recruiters were developing ad hoc recruiting strategies.
- No inbound marketing strategy to leverage and convert as many captured leads as possible.
- Although built on old architecture, the shopping cart experience was fairly simple to navigate.
- Any task beyond adding and paying for a registration required staff intervention.
- In the physical space there was poor signage and no proper way-finding.
- The physical space was unwelcoming and did not reflect the UH brand.
- SCPS was not providing parking, food, or water. These items were offered by competitors and expected by students.
- Alumni wish to be more connected and informed.
Along with our findings we also developed a comprehensive list of design activities to address each of the challenges.
- Design a three-part strategy to “power-up” marketing content by leveraging the university brand, creating student centered architecture, and developing user friendly content.
- Prioritize marketing spend on programs with the greatest likelihood for growth.
- Design marketing, recruiting, and conversion as one experience - because that’s how the customer sees it - focusing on smooth hand-offs between each phase.
- Select new technology platforms to support the student/customer experience through all phases.
- Design a service blueprint to guide the creation and delivery of a new service experience.
- Engage in branding work to define the relationship between the SCPS brand and the larger parent institution.
- Adapt the classrooms and other physical space to align with the look and feel of the digital experience
SCPS engaged Story+Structure to design:
- Brand expression engagement
- Business plan canvas
- Service blueprint
- Organizational change
- Recruiting design
- SalesForce Implementation
- New website experience
Brand Expression Engagement
Organizational brand provides the foundation on which a customer experience is built. As such, it was the ideal starting place to redefine SCPS around a new customer experience. Story+Structure designed a new thesis statement supported by brand promises. This core foundation provided the building blocks necessary to start setting goals for the organization (click here to read more about our branding work).
Business plan canvas
Story+Structure led a business plan canvas engagement to develop a strong set of achievable goals, objectives, and initiatives. Through this process we helped the unit define five year revenue goals, product development goals, and organizational goals. We also identified key steps and assigned responsibilities necessary for achieving each goal.
We then worked with SCPS to develop a new service blueprint. The service blueprint is a tool used to identify touch-points between a customer and an organization. Once these touch-points are identified an experience can be designed that keeps the brand promises which support the brand.
SCPS knew their current staffing assignments would not support the new student experience. Story+Structure was able to work with SCPS to re-align roles and responsibilities to support the new experience with existing employees. We achieved this by removing program directors and instead giving them responsibilities similar to product companies. SCPS also moved one coordinator into the marketing team to lead recruiting leaving one coordinator to focus exclusively on the student experience in the classroom.
With the new recruiting support in-place, Story+Structure worked with SCPS to develop new recruiting journey maps for each program. The previously designed service blueprint was leveraged extensively to develop each map. Once completed, each map was used to guide the implementation of the new SalesForce CRM platform.
Originally the new project plan called for the launch of new CRM system prior to the launch of the website. However, at the request of university leadership, the site launch timeline was moved up by six months. To achieve this, Story+Structure focused the CRM launch on only the specific items needed to recruit students. Leaving other functionality for later in the process.
new website experience
For the website SCPS identified four key goals:
- Utility - create a site that’s easy to use.
- Brand - reflect the desired brand promise of accessible expertise.
- Engagement - deliver an experience that resonates emotionally and intellectually with the people SCPS wants to reach.
- Recruiting - support the intentional process of creating a relationship with a lead.
- Conversion - provide a clear pathway to initiate a relationship and to enroll.
Story+Structure chose a visual expression for SCPS that featured the graffiti culture in Houston, Texas. Well known to Houstonians, yet not so much beyond the city, it provided a visually compelling canvas that would hold special meaning to Houstonians. Our goal was a site that said, “we are Houston.” A the most diverse city in the United States, we felt that if we could appeal to Houstonians, that appeal would naturally extend beyond the city. We combined the visual complexity and density of graffiti with a clear lay-out and typography.
The content strategy relies heavily on testimonials and other content from students. This was a direct result of the service experience that SCPS wished to provide. Other key features of the site or the near immediate reveal of programs. Early user testing confirmed a strong preference for getting to programs/products as quickly as possible with an interest in researching further once the desired program was found.
The homepage features iconic graffiti with the city skyline behind it and content derived directly from the branding concepts developed by Story+Structure. Scrolling down takes the image away and exposes more of the page’s utility. Popular programs are highlighted within a full list below a student testimonial featuring another prominent piece of Houston graffiti. The graffiti theme carries into the footer.
Beyond the homepage program page imagery focuses more on city skylines to tie-in with the homepage images. The primary focus shifts to proof points and infographics. The new digital experience also marks the first mobile ready site for SCPS.
+ Story+Structure designed a seamless experience through all parts of the student journey.
+ The new experience aligned people, process and technology to provide one experience.
+ Story+Structure designed an experience based-brand, service blueprint, and digital experience that deliver a resonant and meaningful experience.
A final note: As mentioned in the case-study the timeline for this project was altered significantly. Shortly after that SCPS, as it existed during this project, was shuttered leaving little time and less than ideal circumstances to gather data on the impact of the new user experience. As the work was well received by the client and informed by user testing, this case study remains, as does Story+Structure’s pride in the what we were able to accomplish with SCPS.