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An employee for Unite Students displaying their new student-centred proposition and experience

Unite Students Experience Vision

Using service design to drive the shift from property landlord to lifestyle proposition

The challenge

Unite Students saw an opportunity to compete against other student residences and local private landlords. The goal was to use a service design approach to create and market superior products and services and enhance the student living experience.

The outcomes

The Engine Service Design team worked with Unite Students to define an ambitious vision for a student-centred proposition and experience to be designed, developed and delivered through a three-year programme. Together we created and modified twenty-eight new service experiences, spanning people, technology and campus design. Engine also created a ‘Service Style’ training programme, which has now seen over 1000 staff trained.

Client: Unite Students Duration: 18 months

The UK’s leading operator of purpose-built student accommodation provides homes for 46,000 students in 133 properties across 28 university cities. To compete with other providers, including private landlords, Unite Students has to provide more than a roof and room. It met it’s objective to create a uniquely memorable experience of student life for its campuses’ residents.

unite students service design by engine 06

Service design to envision a future to secure investment from the board

The Unite Students team had completed a brand positioning exercise; next, they needed to understand how to translate the refreshed brand into a value proposition and service strategy. The Engine Service Design Team worked with them to define a vision for service and a singular view of the target customer journey (student journey), around which they could plan and mobile colleagues and partners. Critically, we were able to create a compelling case to secure board-level buy-in and commitment to implementation.

Developing a unique service style for the front-line

Those employed in Unite’s properties are there to look after the building, but more importantly, the students, with many living away from home for the first time or having travelled from overseas.

Delivering a consistently excellent service, with evolving roles and across a diverse range of properties, required the elevation of staff from building caretakers to student advocates; this needed a clear framework, communications, training and on-going support and coaching from leaders. The Engine Service Design Team developed ‘Service Style’ and comprehensive training for campus staff, which included a clear description of how to deliver a game-changing Unite Student experience and, importantly, how to spot students who may require support.

Student Ambassadors and virtual tours for a unique customer experience 

To help young people looking for student accommodation get a sense of what Unite Students accommodation has to offer, we created the new role of Student Ambassador; recognising that the best salespeople are the students themselves. Engine developed the role, created and delivered the training to a pilot group of Ambassadors at the Bristol campus before being rolled out. To make the experience accessible to students overseas thinking of studying in the UK, we also piloted several new digital products, including a Virtual Tour platform, allowing prospective student tenants to ask questions and book video tours with Ambassadors around the facilities.

‘Through the three years, Engine helped us engage with senior stakeholders and build momentum to deliver the experience and helped us build our own internal service design capacity, which eventually took over their role.’

‘Engine were engaged for the long-term, working with Unite Students to execute a three-year roadmap of new product and service offers, while growing our client’s internal customer experience capabilities’.


‘The Engine team are great. Smart, responsive, energetic and highly flexible; focusing on getting the job done and making a difference.’

3 year roadmap

28 service solutions

All front-line staff trained

Have a similar challenge? Get in touch with the Engine Team

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Here’s how we do it

Insight to vision

Identify the difference between what you do today and what your future customers don’t yet know they need. Reimagine the future.

Insight to vision

Design to pilot

Unlock new value by imagining, designing and piloting services and experiences your colleagues are inspired to deliver and your customers will love.

Design to pilot

Plan to mobilise

Mobilise your organisation with a plan to change, build or buy what’s needed to deliver new services and experiences.

Plan to mobilise

How we can help


It's working, but not well enough

When legacy issues and disjointed ways of working are impacting your customer experience and critical metrics, you need a trusted partner to guide you.

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Think differently to stay ahead

When you need to think differently to stay ahead, but you’re unsure how to differentiate your customer experience, you need a trusted partner to guide you.

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Do something genuinely new

When you spot an opportunity to disrupt your industry with a new product or service, you need a trusted partner to guide you.

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Customer Driven Transformation

How design-led companies get more of the right services to market faster

engine book customer driven transformation

“For any who seek to improve their services, let this book be your design-led guide. It will enable you to truly transform your service, by staging engaging, personal, memorable and even beautiful experiences.

Download a free copy of the first two chapters of our book.

With this book, the authors show you how to instil an outside-in approach to strategy; moving away from a management approach that’s technology, marketing or resource optimization-led, to one that is customer-inspired and experimental with innovation.