University of Calgary's Anju Visen-Singh, "We need to learn to ask the right questions to get the right insights from the data"

Anju Visen-Singh: Close Digital Experience Gaps With Stronger Data Science Capabilities

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Anju Visen-Singh of the University of Calgary shares DX lessons business can take from higher ed, discusses CX consistency and more in our DX Leaders series.

Anju Visen-Singh learned firsthand the importance of focusing on customers’ needs in her career in marketing, which spans a variety of industry verticals.

“What should drive marketing, no matter which sector you’re in, is always putting the audience at the center,” she said. “It’s being mindful about how we engage with the audience and how we move them along in their journey so that ultimately we provide them with a great experience while also achieving organizational objectives.”

Visen-Singh is currently acting associate vice president of marketing at the University of Calgary. Her responsibilities include overseeing strategy and planning related to marketing at the university. She’s been with the Canadian higher education institution since January 2013. Previously, she held marketing and communications roles in the technology, banking and media sectors.

Combining Technology and Communications

Visen-Singh grew up in India. After graduating with a BA from Lucknow University, she started working in technology journalism at a time when the IT industry was really taking off.

“I was able to marry technology and communications in a very interesting way,” she said. “That has continued to be the case throughout my career.”

Having a media background has proved “extremely helpful” over the years, which involved first a move to Oman, and then later to Canada. Along the way, Visen-Singh also gained an MBA from Aspen University.

“What you learn in media is to focus on what the audience is interested in and provide value by delivering a story that would satisfy or fuel their interest,” she said. “You have to take a broader view and do a ton of research to be able to write about different subjects intelligently.” There’s also the discipline of deadlines.

Visen-Singh is a speaker at CMSWire’s DX Summit taking place Nov. 4 through 6 at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Chicago. She will be giving a workshop at the conference titled “Delivering Experience Consistency from the Mayhem of 500 Content Managers,” on Monday, Nov. 4.

We spoke with Visen-Singh for her thoughts on what higher education and business can teach each other about digital experience; the importance of consistency in digital experience; and the University of Calgary’s own digital experience journey.

Differentiate Yourself Through the Types of Experiences You Provide

CMSWire: Where do you see the gaps today between the digital experiences organizations deliver to their customers and what those customers and other audiences are expecting? How should companies work to close those gaps?

Visen-Singh: Different organizations are at different levels with their digital experiences. I think one gap is in really understanding the interplay of different digital channels in your engagement with a constituent. You need to connect all the dots between all the channels.

Secondly, there’s a gap between data and the insights gained. What are you doing with all the data you’re collecting and generating? Are you asking for the right information, or are you just getting lost in the data?

It’s as much about organizations as it is about marketers themselves. Over time, we’ve all had to evolve. We need to learn to ask the right questions to get the right insights from data.

The next piece of evolution is in adopting more data science capabilities and gaining more data science understanding. That’s one pretty critical way to close those gaps.

We’re already seeing data science becoming a sought-after capability in marketing. Even in our organization, we’re talking about how we leverage those people who have data science capabilities. Getting the right insights from data, that’s one of the growth areas for marketing in any organization.

CMSWire: In your opinion, what are the differences between the digital experiences provided in higher education and what B2B and B2C companies offer? What can higher education and business learn from each other?

Visen-Singh: We focus a lot on providing experiences which differentiate us from the other public institutions where you could go and get the same degree.

It’s about what the experience in engaging with our institution feels like to you, the applicant. Do you feel like you have access to the university and are we engaging with you in a more open and friendly way than other institutions?

Are we there yet? No, of course not. We’re striving for that. We are focusing on what the engagement experience looks like so that people will ultimately choose us. That focus on differentiation through digital experience is what business can learn from us.

Becoming more conversion-focused is one thing we in higher education could probably learn from business.

For us, conversion can mean different things — it’s a student getting accepted at the university; it’s an individual donating to the institution; it’s a person being able to obtain some other kind of value from us, whether it’s through consuming education, having access to the outcomes of our research, or participating in that research.

The way for us to gain more conversions is, in part, to ensure that people know about us and what we can provide to them.

CMSWire: Why is it so important that organizations provide their audiences with a consistent user experience? What are the inherent risks in not delivering such consistency?

Visen-Singh: This is what I’ll be addressing in my DX Summit presentation. At a university like ours, you have a number of different schools. In the typical higher education institutions, there will be a lot of decentralization. So, the school of arts will target arts students in their own way and they’re not necessarily connected with or aware of how the business school and the rest of the university engages with students.

Learning Opportunities

But the person we’re targeting could have many different relationships with us, for example, a prospective graduate student. They could have done their undergraduate degree with us, so are part of our alumni community. They could have been a volunteer for the institution as an undergraduate student or they might have donated to the institution. They may also have a sibling who’s ready to undertake undergraduate education — that postgrad could be a strong influencer to their younger sibling in favor or against the institution.

We need to ensure that the postgrad has consistency in their experience with us, no matter who they’re dealing with. If not, their experience will not only be fractured, but ultimately we may have a detractor if they have a varied and confusing experience.

Another example is a future undergraduate who’s interested in studying either international business — that would be a business school program — or international relations — that’s a school of arts program. If you go to the websites of the two schools and there are different ways of finding information on programs and different kind of information available on the programs themselves making it difficult to compare programs, firstly, you’ve confused the student, and then, they might just abandon their exploration of your websites.

Then, there’s someone who has graduated from the school of engineering who might then want to do an MBA, which takes them to the business school, or an M.Sc. from the engineering school. A student may move across our different schools, but we want them to always feel that they’re dealing with the University of Calgary.

CMSWire: What lessons learned and best practices would you share with other organizations about the University of Calgary’s digital experience journey so far? What do you see as UCalgary’s next challenges to address?

Visen-Singh: We have actually come a long way, but there’s a long way to go still. Because the web was one of the main channels of engagement and connection with our audience, that was one of the first things that we tackled.

We moved from more than one thousand different websites to a much smaller collection of websites. We moved from being non-responsive to offering responsive websites, no matter which device you’re using to access them. In terms of providing a consistent experience, all of our websites will move to the same new system by the end of this year.

We’ve ensured that we have a great marketing automation platform as well as a social media strategy and governance. We’re also tackling urgent trends such as voice search. We want to make sure that our content on the back-end is properly set up so that the University of Calgary always gets served up as an option to anyone looking to study for a degree that we offer.

Where are we going? Our next order of business is about how we create a good hybrid experience for our students, alumni and community. We have a huge campus and physical space, alongside digital, plays a major role in how our audience experiences us. Ensuring that we deliver consistent experiences across both spaces would be where we want to go.

We’re exploring everything to determine how we create an immersive experience. Virtual reality obviously will play a role, but we’re looking at tons of other technologies as well.

CMSWire: What interests or hobbies do you pursue outside of work? Do you see any common elements between the experiences you gain from following this interest or hobby and the creation of digital experiences at the university?

Visen-Singh: That’s a really difficult question — I don’t really have hobbies. However, I could spend hours watching crime shows. I keep moving between different shows, my favorites at the moment are ‘American Crime’ and ‘Scott & Bailey,’ that latter show is largely a cast of women, which is really compelling.

I asked myself, ‘How do crime shows connect with who I am and what I do?’ Oftentimes, there is so much that is unseen — a crime happens, people try to solve it, and to understand why it’s happening.

When you think about the digital space, it is really about peeling back the onion and then understanding how everything, including audience engagement, comes together to help you deliver the right experience.

In work we do, there’s often so much that we don’t know. There’s also so much we need to explore, before we can piece together what we need to deliver with digital customer experiences.

Learn more about the Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit.