“Circle gave us a completely fresh perspective which led to a significant repositioning of our business. They did an outstanding job. I’d urge you to use them”
The End Goal
Randstad Student Support is the UK’s leading provider of support to students with disabilities. It believes that disability should be no barrier to further or higher education, and since 2002, its specialist staff have helped over 17,000 students achieve their true academic potential. This includes things like mobility support for those with physical limitations, someone to translate complex terminology into simple terms for those with dyslexia, or even teams of readers and note-takers for blind students.
Randstad wanted to understand why, despite the number of students with disabilities doubling in recent years, the company’s growth was not as dramatic as hoped for – especially as it is the market leader in its industry. They suspected that there was an untapped opportunity in the market and engaged Circle Research to find it and recommend new service ideas.
The Research Project
What followed was a far-reaching research project which helped us to determine the goals of universities that were buying these services, as well as identifying gaps in the market and barriers to adopting new services. The research exercise also explored perceptions of Randstad’s sales pitch for existing services, so that this could be optimised.
The process we implemented identified how to break down barriers to change, how to optimally position the Randstad offering, and how to best engage with potential buyers in this market. The changes that it eventually made were actually quite subtle, but their impact was dramatic. Our approach included:
- Setting up workshops with senior management which explored what they felt buyers were looking for in this market and how Randstad Student Support differentiated itself
- Observing and speaking with Randstad employees – looking at the language they used, their sales processes and even how they dressed
- Conducting numerous in-depth interviews with disability teams from universities across the UK
The Key Findings
Our findings fell into two camps, the obvious and the not so obvious. And it was this second category which really made a difference to Randstad, as the vital answers only presented themselves on the back of careful, intelligent probing. This research was underpinned by decades of real world experience – subtle, clever, diligent and creative in its approach, yet always with an eye on wider strategic objectives. Some of the key findings were as follows:
- Student disability managers have a strong sense of responsibility towards their students, and any moves towards outsourcing are viewed with trepidation – so this is an important hurdle which needs to be tactfully overcome
- Recommendation and word of mouth are critical in the closely networked education sector – hence the importance of networking and relationship building
- The market atmosphere is very different from a corporate environment and most crucially, the student is by far the most important factor in any decision
This last finding is an obvious yet often overlooked point, with huge implications for how potential suppliers to the sector position themselves. We learned that the story suppliers tell shouldn’t be about capabilities and resources, but about how their services will make a positive impact on each student’s life.
As part of the research exercise, it also became clear that there was a major opportunity for Randstad to add a new service to its portfolio. At the time it was offering ‘operational’ services such as recruitment of support staff and payroll management – however, we found that universities were also open to outsourcing ‘pastoral’ services such as student care, provided that the right partner could be found.
The Ultimate Result
The clearly defined end goal across the entire project was to impact positively on Randstad’s business performance, it was not research for the sake of research, as our Chairman David Willan explains – “We segmented the nature of the opportunity, we identified the true customer need, we identified the optimal offer and positioning. But to stop these becoming abstract concepts we always kept one overarching question in mind – what does Randstad need to do to grow market share?”
With these findings in hand, we were able to make a number of recommendations. The business has been re-named and re-branded, with a softer and less ‘corporate’ approach which highlights what Randstad Student Support can do to improve the student’s life. Randstad now articulates its offer in a more resonant way and has adopted a radically different engagement style. It has also re-focused its offer around a new portfolio of ‘pastoral’ services which complement existing ‘operational’ services. The results have been striking:
- New ‘pastoral’ services now represent half of income
- Market share up by 77%
- Number of clients served up by 56%
- 7,000 more students supported
Commenting on the work by Circle Research, Operations Manager Ashley Garner said, “As a result of the research, we went right back to basics to look in detail at what our story to customers is, how we tell the story and how we live it.” Managing Director Victoria Short adds, “At the centre of all our messaging now lies the disabled student, as they are the reason we operate.”
The final say however must go to Fergus, a blind law student in London, who was supported by three readers provided by Randstad Student Support. On graduating with a first class honours degree he said, “I was thinking of you all today at the degree ceremony, one of the best days of my life. I couldn’t possibly have achieved this without you – all those long hours of reading and your kindness and support over three years will never, ever be forgotten. There have been moments of tears and moments of laughter and joy, but in the end we got there – thanks to you”.