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Delivering a better student experience though ‘CARE’

29 August 2023

Arriving in student accommodation for the first time can be exciting – but also daunting. Jo Blair, Head of Quality and Standards at Unite Students, shares how a revamp of our customer service ‘CARE’ principles will help students to feel more welcome within our buildings during the 2023/24 academic year.


The CARE principles

Introduced in 2017, ‘CARE’ is the umbrella term used to refer to the service delivered to students living in Unite Students’ buildings, and a way in which we can create a ‘Home for Success’ for students.

The principles of CARE are:

  • Connect: When we connect with students, they feel a sense of belonging.
  • Act: When we act on what students tell us, they feel they are being listened to.
  • Respect: When we show students respect, they feel seen.
  • Encourage: When we encourage students, they feel that they can make a difference.

There’s a quote by poet, storyteller and activist Maya Angelou which I feel goes straight to the heart of our service delivery: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” We know what creates lasting memories for students in their accommodation and the difference that a positive, personalised interaction can make, especially on a tough day.


How we’ve refreshed CARE for 2023/24

The world is constantly changing, and so too are the students who live with us – so we need to change with them, including the ways in which we operate. We spoke to the teams who deliver our service on a daily basis so we could refine, simplify and improve what CARE looked like, particularly in a post-pandemic world where so much interaction is digital, but there is still a need for human interaction to combat issues such as student loneliness.

Following these discussions with our frontline teams, we have simplified what CARE means for them and linked the principles to tangible activity. We’ve also mapped out the points in the student journey where these principles can particularly add value. For example, ‘Connect’ links to the arrival and settling in period; forging a connection with students at the start of the year helps students to feel welcome and become comfortable with seeking out our team members if there’s anything they need.

Through the Academy, which provides training and development as part of our commitment to lifelong learning, we have provided structured learning programmes for our teams. These explore each element of CARE and demonstrate moments where we can bring the principles to life through videos, challenges and activities, as well as traditional e-learning.

The human touch is what really brings great service in student accommodation to life, but looking further ahead for CARE, digital is an important tool that can complement the service delivered by our teams. So we’re just starting our journey of looking at how we can use our digital platforms to apply the CARE principles throughout each point of a student’s journey.


What’s in a name?

One way in which we’re bringing the ‘Connect’ principle to life when students arrive is through sharing names when they arrive: “Hi, I’m Jo; what would you like me to call you?” It’s such a simple sentence, but something as small as this can steer an experience right from the get-go: it ensures our teams are familiar with a student’s preferred name and the correct pronunciation, promoting trust and goodwill on both sides.

In some cases, our students change their given name, and that could be for a myriad of reasons. We know that some of our students explore their gender identity, and the journey of this can include finding a name that best represents them. We are here to celebrate that with them, and using a chosen name is a small thing we can do to demonstrate that support in a real and tangible way. Our training includes learning to cover the importance and power of using a name, how to learn pronunciation, what happens if you make a mistake and how to recover from this.

We recognise that the story behind someone’s name is important. In fact, we have encouraged our teams internally to share these stories, and we’ve heard some wonderful and inspiring tales as a result – family heritage, chosen names, and links to literary works, historic events and different cultures. Some of these stories are funny, some are tinged with sadness, all are interesting and valuable to hear. A post about name stories on our employee social media platform Yammer has become one of our most popular posts to date.


Creating the special little moments

Another way in which we’re bringing CARE to life is by creating moments of surprise and delight. This means when we listen to what we are told, we truly listen and understand how to find the opportunity to make someone’s day.

That can be anything, from letting someone know a local place that provides the perfect Instagram photo opportunity, to hearing when a student mentions they have a birthday coming up and making sure we send a birthday card. It can even be just to let them know we are here for a chat, not just for the standard ‘landlord’ things like maintenance or parcels.

Our teams are not just a friendly face – they are the experts at what they do, the secret sauce that can elevate an OK living experience to something that’s truly great. All our learning is designed to help our teams promote a sense of community in our properties, integrating our students into their home so it’s a place where they can flourish and thrive, and letting them know that when they need us, our teams are available 24/7.


You can listen to Jo talking more about CARE, along with other sector guests sharing how they’re enhancing the student accommodation experience for 2023/24, in our latest episode of Accommodation Matters – available through all good podcast platforms:

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