Does this apply to higher education? Of course it does. The young people who are buying consumer products and reviewing the things they come across in an informal way every day via social media are also the people who are applying to and studying at universities.
I saw this first hand in persona-led usability research this year when current students played the roles of personas I developed with postgraduate programme directors and administrators. When staff played the roles they interacted almost exclusively with the University website. When I recruited students to do the same thing, they spent as much if not more time on third party advisory sites (including discussion forums) trying to complete the same tasks.
In 'Customer experience is the new brand', Phil Whitehouse brings some excellent examples of industry sectors where customer experience management has already had significant impact on how competitors have fared,
The power of social media really should be a no-brainer to us all, but here it is again:
"The touchpoints which the customer trusts the most are those which you seemingly have little direct control over. If someone complains about your product on twitter, the potential reach is global and instantaneous."
"The advent of the internet has heralded a new era of brand transparency, with much more to come. And in this emerging landscape, Customer experience will become more and more important to the point where it’s far and away the most important aspect of running a business."Customer experience is the new brand - article by Phil Whitehouse for Nextness.com
In the Harvard Business Review, Bill Lee is even more blunt - "Marketing is dead".
"Buyers are no longer paying much attention. Several studies have confirmed that in the "buyer's decision journey," traditional marketing communications just aren't relevant. Buyers are checking out product and service information in their own way, often through the Internet, and often from sources outside the firm such as word-of-mouth or customer reviews."He goes on to suggest ways in which you can harness the power of peer influence and social media, giving examples along the way.
Marketing is dead - article by Bill Lee for Harvard Business Review