Using omni-channel engagement to recruit more students from China

Year after year Chinese students make up the UK’s largest cohort of international enrolments. Despite strong demand for overseas education, building relationships with Chinese prospects at the university level is still no easy task. Breaking through government censorship and standing out against global competition requires careful communication planning.

Developing a localised omni-channel engagement strategy can help you create a stronger affinity for your university, translating to meaningful increases in conversion rates and consequently your enrolments. Here we discuss some tactics to deliver an omni-channel approach specific to the Chinese market.

What does omni-channel engagement look like in student recruitment?

omni-channel engagement v multi-channel engagment diagram

Multi-channel and omni-channel engagement are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually quite different.

A multi-channel approach covers a breadth of communication channels, managing each channel in its own silo.

An omni-channel approach engages students across digital and offline channels in an integrated way such that students have a joined-up and seamless experience between the channels they use.

Omni-channel engagement is the strategy we deliver for our partners. From decades of international student conversion experience within UniQuest, we know that creating a dialogue with prospective international students is critical to conversion rate optimisation. Our 2019/2020 recruitment cycle data shows that generating reciprocal engagement – i.e. two-way communication with students – increases international offer conversion by 26%.

Under a siloed, multi-channel approach, it’s particularly difficult to get students from China to respond to email and phone calls. But, omni-channel communication planning and delivery significantly increases engagement and is especially critical in increasing Chinese student conversion.

University of Bristol case study: integrating phone, email and WeChat to increase Chinese student engagement

‘We commissioned UniQuest to support us with our conversion efforts as much of the feedback we had from students and other stakeholders was that meeting conditions of offers was challenging and there was a great deal of anxiety about the safety of the UK as a study destination and how teaching would be delivered.

UniQuest were able to rapidly implement a campaign which was highly successful in terms of the volume of contacts and the success rate in reaching our offer-holders. This had a significant positive impact on conversion and we estimate that conversion amongst the contacted group was more than double that of students at similar stages of the application journey who were not contacted.

Furthermore, the insight that we got from the campaign was important feedback that informed our admissions and onboarding planning.’

Charlie Pybus, Head of International Student Recruitment, University of Bristol

As part of a broader campaign targeting overseas conditional offer holders, UniQuest and the University of Bristol achieved a successful phone contact rate of 60% with 6,000 Chinese offer holders by tailoring outreach to local customs and developing a cohesive communication journey across key channels – email, phone and WeChat.

Chinese students can be very sceptical of phone calls from unrecognised phone numbers, so we built trust through localised email messaging in advance of calling campaigns. Emails sharing plans to call students and promoting the University’s WeChat account nurtured trust and created anticipation.

Emails were written in Mandarin and English to improve engagement with the content of the email. Subject lines and the sender email address were localised to Mandarin to optimise open rates, which reached as high as 74%.

Example email with WeChat
Example multi-lingual email

A common technical barrier to reaching Chinese students by phone is that China often blocks foreign numbers. To avoid being blocked, the UniQuest technical solutions team set up a regional phone number for the University of Bristol. Understanding the importance of authenticity and University branding, we used features in the UniQuest telephony system enabling a vanity number so that the regional phone number appeared as the University’s UK phone number on students’ phones. In other words, from the government’s perspective the phone number was Chinese but from students’ perspectives, the number was a UK phone number.

To deliver a cohesive student experience across all channels, we offered the same multi-lingual options on phone and WeChat that had resonated over email. UniQuest Enrolment Advisers fluent in Mandarin managed all phone outreach and enquiries received over the University’s WeChat account.

Chinese student engagement quick tips

Launching an omni-channel engagement strategy to maximise conversion rates requires the right technology, processes and experts. Below are some tactics to make the most of the channels you’re already using but get in touch with our team to discuss implementing an omni-channel approach cost-effectively.

  • Establish authenticity over the phone by introducing the University in English first. From there, continue the conversation in Mandarin to make students more comfortable.
  • Chinese students are more sensitive than students from other markets to authority. Use a more formal tone in your communications and where possible connect students directly with faculty to nurture interest in specific courses.
  • Use Chinese characters in your subject lines and the front part of your email address (before your university domain) to increase open rates.