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Reclaiming trust in higher education

building trust higher ed

Trust is a small word with big implications—especially in higher education where news of scandals, rising tuition rates, and shuttering of institutions plague the headlines. 

Leadership guru Stephen Covey put it best:

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

Be it conversations with professors, counselors, dining hall staff, or university police officers, the quality of each of these engagements supports the very foundation upon which your institution’s reputation—and, ultimately, its success—depends. 

These interactions can’t be left to chance. But, for many college and university leaders, developing a repeatable process for building and maintaining trust can feel elusive. 

Thankfully, there are strategies your institution can put into place to ensure a more trust-oriented culture, with a focus on the customer experience. 

To help build trust at your college or university, focus on these 4 key steps:

1. Understand where you stand

Having a clear understanding of community perspectives is critical to building trust. Don’t assume you understand what your community wants or needs—and don’t assume all stakeholder groups feel the same way. 

What is your community talking about? Do the same topics or themes continually crop up on your college or university’s social media accounts? Has the local—or national—media honed in on a controversial decision or recent misstep? Taking a discerning look at the conversations taking place on- and off-campus can help you determine where your institution currently stands, identify areas of mistrust, and help you develop a responsive action plan. 

Provide a central location for students, faculty, staff, and others to provide their feedback and pose relevant questions to your institution. Flag trending topics and recurring themes to understand what your community cares about. Then use that information to identify potential risks and areas of mistrust so that you know where to focus improvements.

2. Develop an action plan

Once you understand your community members’ perceptions, it’s time to build an improvement plan that addresses their wants and needs. Outline the outcomes and define the steps you plan to take to achieve your goals. Make the steps measurable so you can track your progress and easily identify areas for growth and improvement. And make sure you stick to the plan. After all, trust is a result of your words aligning with your actions. 

Higher education leaders are turning to technology such as Let’s Talk!, a cloud-based customer experience solution, to streamline and consolidate interactions—while getting the real-time metrics and insights they need to drive change. Learn more about Let’s Talk! in the video below:

3. Create a positive brand story

Your college or university brand is important. How students, their families, faculty and staff, and others perceive your institution goes a long way toward your ability to build trust with your community. 

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Effective marketing is a key part of this. Traditional channels such as radio, television, and billboard advertising can be a great way to get the message out, especially if you’re looking to attract new students. 

But building trust requires more than just signs, billboards, or words on a website. Your brand relies on the promise you make to your community and—more importantly—whether your actions (and the actions of everyone at your college or university) align with that promise.

4. Reinforce your story with exceptional customer experiences

A bad customer experience will almost always put your college or university in a negative light. People are more likely to talk about bad experiences, which means those stories tend to spread fast. Even an isolated negative interaction can have a long-term impact on your institution’s brand. 

Develop and implement a strategy for measuring and managing the customer experience so you can stop bad headlines before they happen. Ensure that—after every interaction with your institution—students and others have an opportunity to rate the service. Then use that feedback to identify where your college or university is already providing great service and where it can continue to improve.

Ready to improve the customer experience and build strong, trusting relationships at your college or university? Learn how we can help

About the Author

Kyle Freelander
Kyle Freelander is the Senior Marketing Manager at K12 Insight.

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