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The Client

The University of Exeter is a public research university, offering research and study in the sciences, social sciences, business, humanities and arts.

The University originally went out to tender in 2018 for the provision of ceremonial gown services for its 23 graduation events annually. This included the provision for students to book attendance at one of the many events, hire or purchase gowns and book attendance for family members. The University also required the ability for academic staff and VIP personnel to be able to book attendance and their relevant attire for the occasion.

The chosen organisation was also required to provide all gowns, as well as a gown collection, robing and return service on the day. Graduation Attire responded to the tender, providing a proposal that was ultimately awarded, being the most economically advantageous offer above all others received. We have recently been reappointed as UoE’s supplier through tender competition this year.

Key Issues

Throughout the years leading up to Graduation Attire being awarded the privilege of providing its graduation ceremony and robing services, the University had experienced unsatisfactory performance of their previously incumbent supplier. This was namely as a result of both student feedback and observations from the University’s Graduation Team. Some of these issues concerned the general organisation of events in terms of how smoothly they were perceived to be running.

There were other issues that the University sought to address, the main one being the overall presentation of gowns. These were previously stacked in cardboard boxes. Frequently, the graduation team and the incumbent supplier would clash, due to boxes blocking access, for example. In addition to this, the overall presentation of gowns was lacking, due to them being folded and transported in the cardboard boxes, resulting in a creased appearance.

Another area that the graduation team had noted was that gown stock was used ubiquitously by the supplier for all events, since the only unique element to student gowns was the hoods. This had resulted in lacklustre garments through overuse, as well as the need to replace gowns sooner.

With regard to academic staff robing, the incumbent supplier had not previously provided assistance for this as a service. Instead, staff would pick out a gown that had been laid out previously on tables and fit it themselves. This was certainly an element that the University had expressed a desire to improve on.

Crucial for the University was also that we would work well with other suppliers; for example, photography providers or the graduation ball organisers. Issues previously experienced were arguments over resources and access to facilities, such as elevators.

Queue management was another important area, with students experiencing long queue times and, therefore, affecting feedback and meaning less time to celebrate the occasion that graduation should be.

Finally, in terms of the booking website, the University ideally preferred their system to look a little more bespoke than previously, which was not specifically customised to the University’s needs.

Proposed Solutions

The key to our own implementation was firstly, and above all else, to listen to the client’s concerns and really learn from the mistakes that their previous supplier had made. These are often implied within the specifications of the requirement but not always explicitly stated.

Another important factor was for us to provide a very clear implementation plan. This allowed both parties to set out roles and responsibilities, as well as to give us a framework to work with.

The plan was to include a timescale for setting up, branding, customising and testing the booking website, so that students were able to book attendance at their applicable ceremony and hire or purchase gowns. Customisation of the website in this way aimed to help raise the University of Exeter’s already high profile.

In terms of the graduation event, we were to ultimately provide gowns delivered on rails to address previous issues experienced. This also meant that gowns could be crease free and readily presentable. In addition to this, we also allocated separate robing teams and spaces for students, academic staff and VIPs, meaning that we could provide a bespoke robing experience for all groups of attendees.

Another concern we addressed was the general look and feel of the event, bringing in LED uplighters, dressing the robing rooms, utilising spaces and dividers, and providing clear, branded, professional signs, as well as highly presentable Graduation Attire staff to assist. Additionally, in addressing the overall presentability of gowns, we ring-fenced gown stock that was newly produced and inspected, but for the exclusive use of the University, preserving the lustre of garments overall.

Results

During our first graduation event with the University, we were delighted to receive an email from the Graduation Team just half way into the event. The Team wanted to share some feedback with us and comments from the academic staff regarding the quality of service. This made us extremely proud to be recognised for the work we had put into the event.

Some of the feedback that continues to be noted is that academic staff members in particular were especially pleased with the accuracy of our robes, having been designed specifically for the University and not just generic gowns. This was as a result of our links with the Burgon Society, an organisation dedicated to the study of academic dress. This knowledge is ultimately incorporated at the design stage.

In terms of one of the most important areas, student feedback had the most dramatic effects. The University measured four quadrants for student feedback: ordering process, ease of collection, information from robing staff and robe return. Every one of these quadrants increased in positive feedback and decreased in negative feedback following the change of supplier.

Ordering process feedback increased in positive feedback overall from 92% to almost 97%, while ease of collection scored just over 97%. In terms of information from robing staff and robe return, the feedback sought to find out who was very satisfied, as opposed to those who were either somewhat satisfied or dissatisfied; these figures jumped by almost 13% and 6.5%, respectively. This has been one of the key successes of the contract and we hope to improve further year on year.

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