Life can be full of unfair biases. Strangers are more likely to overestimate the intelligence of a good looking person. Tall people are seen as more leader-like and authoritative. Humans make snap judgements based on the data at their disposal at the, which sometimes means that they rely on the wrong information for the wrong reasons. As a result, while someone’s height doesn’t necessarily correlate to their level of assertiveness, your mind may automatically link the two. So how does this apply in business? Well, there’s an obvious correlation when it comes to products. According to Investopedia, “The Halo Effect is a term for a consumer’s favoritism toward a line of products due to positive experiences with other products by this maker.” If you buy an iPhone and you love its functionality, you’re more likely to believe that a Mac will be a similarly good purchase.
Riman Verma has spent most of his career trying to understand what drives consumer behaviour and generates brand loyalty. We spoke to Riman about building customer experiences, the power of online reviews, and why The Halo Effect is such a powerful phenomenon.
Riman Verma | Interview
Riman’s varied career spans digital marketing, eCommerce, and customer experience. He has worked across a diverse range of industries: digital consultancy, retail, sports, and utilities and leverages this wealth of experience in his current position as Head of Digital at Oxbridge, where he is primarily focused on maximizing the number of people who benefit from their distance learning opportunities.
Hi Riman, thanks for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit about your career?
I originally studied Computer Science at university, one year of which was spent in the United States. After completing my B.Sc. (Hons), I came back to the UK and my first role was as a developer with Sportal (the world’s largest internet startup outside of the USA) back in the days of the dot com boom. However, I soon realised that I wasn’t very good in a development role and didn’t enjoy the work. I then fell into account management and progressed into digital marketing as it took off.
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some incredible organisations including Everton Football Club, First Utility, Arriva and BP. I’ve also worked with at least 5 different startups throughout my career. Startups generally give you the freedom to learn, test, and innovate on an ongoing basis and at pace – so these opportunities have given me a fairly broad breadth of experience to draw from.
It sounds like you’ve really benefited from having such a varied career. Can you tell us a bit more about Oxbridge itself and your role within the company?
Oxbridge is a distance learning college that enables students to study anywhere, at their own pace using award-winning course materials and with the added benefit of unlimited tutor support. We offer around 250 courses, spanning GCSEs, A-Level’s, Bookkeeping, Counseling, Childcare and much more. We provide real-world qualifications that enable students to pursue the career of their choice, up-skill or simply study for the joy of learning.
As an EdTech business, my personal focus is on the digital side of the organisation. I have two primary specialties: customer acquisition and customer experience. So I devise strategies to bring in new students, but I also strive to deliver an excellent cross-channel experience from the first touchpoint, all the way through to when they enroll and beyond.
What do you believe is essential in building a good customer experience?
Coherency and simplicity are at the core of all good customer experiences. You want to coherently and clearly answer your customers’ questions and also make it as simple as possible for them to find exactly what they are looking for. We try to embody this throughout our customer journey. For example, we make it really simple for potential students to find the course they are looking for and read reviews from previous learners—they shouldn’t have to dig around our site to get to the information they’re looking for. Secondly, we make sure to coherently communicate with all prospects or existing students regardless of channel. We offer a live chat service and we have a knowledgeable team answering the phones every day.
People get frustrated if they can’t get through to an actual human being. For many people, it’s just so much simpler to discuss their issues by chatting with someone rather than using a live chat or a self-service portal. We make sure that students can speak with Oxbridge through whichever channel they feel most comfortable with.
We also feed any insights we learn from these conversations back into our overall customer experience. For example, we found that the customer service team was answering an endless array of questions about the difference between paper-based and online courses, so we clarified this on each course page. This has led to an increased conversion rate and a reduction in queries – we’re always looking to simplify our students’ digital experience as much as possible.
How important are online reviews?
Online reviews have a huge influence on purchasing decisions. We have and continue to learn a great deal from reviews from students who have enrolled, completed their studies or perhaps are researching courses. We use these reviews to continually inform our customer experience, on and offline.
I found out just how crucial reviews were back when I worked for First Utility, then a challenger energy provider. Over a period of 4 weeks, all our competitors suddenly hiked up their prices as we maintained ours. Thousands of customers switched over to us and we ended up acquiring as many new customers in 6 weeks as we had done in the previous couple of years. However, there was a problem—our onboarding process couldn’t handle this sudden increase in new customers. We started to see negative reviews pop up online so we worked hard to fix it as well as scale up internal processes.
Once it was all sorted, the tide truly began to turn—we’d see positive review after positive review, and this had a myriad of further benefits. The Halo Effect is definitely real. The more people who see good reviews, the more highly they’ll think of your company, and the more successful you’ll be. At First Utility, we soon saw our own search engine rankings and domain authority improve as a result of these reviews, which then led to increased customer acquisition, revenue, retention, and so on.
Everything in business is connected. If you neglect one side of your operations, it will affect the business as a whole. On the other hand, if you pay close attention to everything within your control and improve them as much as possible, it can only mean one thing for your business going forward: success.
What are some of your biggest challenges at the moment?
Data is a big issue for us at the moment. We know so much about our student base, but there’s still a lot of work that we can do to improve our customer experience. We’re also busy trying to optimise our adaptive learning and personalisation capabilities. For example, we’ve been thinking about how to start altering the courses based on an individual’s behaviour, ability, and any other insights we can glean from the data. If we get this right, not only will we free up teacher time, but we’ll also be able to scale more easily in the future.
Are there any other company initiatives you’d like to mention?
I want to highlight the amazing work that our founder, Matt Jones, has recently been doing. At the beginning of lockdown, many people found themselves needing, or wanting to study. Some studied to retrain or up-skill. Others simply wanted to learn something now that they had so much more free time. Matt set up a bursary to support people through the pandemic. The bursary meant that Oxbridge would fund the first 20% of any new course fees. We know that this helped many, many people and as we saw this increase, we in turn increased the bursary funding from an initial £30,000 to £100,000.
We are incredibly proud of this – it goes back to the fundamental human element at the core of our business. We obviously want to be profitable, that’s a given, but it’s equally as important for us to help people in the process. Education has the power to transform people’s lives, so the more people we can help, the better.
The Halo Effect
The Halo Effect and its opposite, the Horn Effect, can have a massive impact on customer behaviour. If consumers have positive experiences with one area of your business, they’re more likely to trust the business as a whole, and to keep coming back – even if they’re looking for something completely different the next time. A consumer who appreciates a company’s products is more likely to believe that brand has superior customer service, be more loyal towards that brand and recommend that brand to their family or friends.
The main takeaway is simple: everything counts. The more positive interactions a customer has with your company, the better. So it’s important to regularly reassess every aspect of your business that impacts your customers. Are there any areas you’ve been neglecting? Are there any operational processes that simply aren’t up to scratch? If so, how can you address these gap and improve the customer experience? A good reputation spreads quickly. If you create positive customer interactions across your business—from your customer service team to your in-store attendants, to improving your user manuals, the Halo Effect will start working for you and you can’t go wrong.