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Schools need to rethink their CRM approaches: many colleges and universities are only using CRM for marketing, ignoring vital service and sales components.

While many colleges and universities have deployed CRM, they are not taking full advantage of the technology.

CRM can bring so much to the higher education market, according to Tim Copeland, CEO at DemandEngine, a CRM consulting and interactive marketing services firm dedicated to colleges and universities. Copeland adds that many schools have deployed CRM systems "for all the wrong reasons."

Copeland asserts that at many schools, CRM is just a tool to help send more email to prospective students. "That's not true CRM," he says.

According to DemandEngine's research, the goal for CRM deployments at most U.S. schools is to simply boost enrollment (67 percent) and automate communications with prospects (65 percent). Other purposes include measuring marketing results (46 percent) and reducing the overall costs of marketing and recruitment (27 percent).

Sadly, while improving the student experience was cited as one of the top three goals in 48 percent of deployments, and retaining more current students factors into 19 percent, few schools are using CRM to do this, Copeland says.

Brian Niles, CEO and cofounder of TargetX, a provider of CRM systems for the college and university market, agrees. "Higher education has typically not been very good at maintaining relationships with current students," he says. "[Colleges and universities] need to maintain information and be more proactive to keep the student enrolled at the school."

Resistance from users, unfamiliarity with the technology, poor planning, and a lack of support from top executives continue to be the biggest barriers to expanding CRM systems at most schools, according to DemandEngine's research.

These factors are compounded by the organizational structure at most schools. "No one department owns the student when he is enrolled," Niles contends. "It's part student services, part financial aid, part residential life, part the registrar, etc."

Each of these offices and departments could potentially be using a different system, further complicating matters.

What's at stake? The simple answer is that colleges and universities could find it harder to compete. Over the years, recessions have eroded states' contributions to public colleges and universities. In fact, states are spending 28 percent less per student on higher education nationwide in 2013 than they were in 2008, when the Great Recession hit, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Today, the cost of a college degree is so overwhelming that 71 percent of American families are worried about how they will pay for it, according to a recent poll by GfK North, conducted for TheStreet's Mainstreet. As a result, more families are questioning the value of higher education, forcing schools to change how they attract and keep students.


Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU), based in Marietta, Ga., gets this and is responding by leveraging its cloud-based Recruitment CRM system from TargetX to affect every stage in the recruiting process. It includes a tool to create student profiles, tools for email broadcasting and helping students file forms online, and an event manager for scheduling campus tours. Recruiters can run their own reports, generate letters and labels, and produce prospect lists for department heads, all with a few mouse clicks.

"We're doing much better connecting with the right students, and our CRM is a big part of that," says Gary Bush, SPSU's director of admission and recruitment. "It's really nice to have everything in one spot to connect with the right students in the right way."

The application, he adds, has made recruiters more effective, the call center more efficient, and communications with prospects more targeted. As proof, SPSU last year saw a 28 percent increase in freshman enrollments, a 25 percent increase in transfer students, and a 16-point jump in the academic profile of its freshman class. This year, the school expects to see at least a 10 percent increase over last year's new student numbers.

Taking it a step further, universities are expanding their use of CRM as an admissions tool to a retention tool. Bob Stutz, corporate vice president for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, has begun to see several large colleges and universities use Dynamics CRM "for the students' full four years at the university ... for everything from customer service to tracking grades and more."

"Schools are looking at taking care of students [who] are already in the door," says Joe Burkhart, director of higher education solutions at Oracle. "There's an increasing demand for services to existing students."

This evolution has picked up steam in the past 18 months or so, and involves taking systems beyond the admissions office to include everything from financial aid and class schedules to dining halls, dormitories, and even parking, according to Burkhart.

"Schools are now planning and thinking about [using CRM for] managing the entire student life cycle," he states.

At SPSU, Bush has identified that as a goal in the not-too-distant future. While his TargetX system is still only used for recruitment,"we are looking at expanding our retention efforts with it," he says. "It could also go into our alumni relations."


Among the schools where this focus on student retention is starting to unfold, live Web chat is one of the main channels being employed. While live chat can be a great marketing tool, it's also helping schools to stay in touch with an always-connected and always-online population of enrolled students.

According to LivePerson, a provider of chat technologies, live chat's potential stretches far outside of the admissions and financial aid offices. It could, for instance, help a student writing a term paper in his dorm connect with someone in the library to facilitate requests for interlibrary loans, reserve books or periodicals, or answer reference-related questions. It could support distance learning by enabling remote students to meet with professors, who simply log into the system during regular office hours. It could provide a channel for students to interact with their academic advisors or career development counselors. And it could be used to cultivate alumni relations and fund-raising.

Trident University, which offers online bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree programs to more than 7,000 students from around the world, relies heavily on chat to engage with students and prospects. The school, which is based in Cypress, Calif., attracts more than 130,000 unique online visitors a month to its Web properties. LivePerson's chat offering allows the school to reach them while they're on the sites.

"With LivePerson's solutions, we're able to provide personalized, real-time support to busy students in their channel of choice, wherever they are," said Andy Vaughn, chief operating officer at Trident, in a statement. "Digital engagement has been a tremendous success. We've also seen a huge reduction in call volumes to our student hotline."


Another digital technology is also helping schools address student issues and concerns quickly and cost effectively. Web self-service through knowledge bases that enables students to find answers to their questions at any time is quickly becoming a common component of most college and university Web portals.

Georgia State University in Atlanta, for example, uses CRM technology from Parature for this purpose. The school offers an online knowledge base with roughly 800 data elements and links that can provide answers to questions on various topics, ranging from enrollment services to course offerings, student accounts, and resetting campus email account passwords. All of the information contained in the knowledge base can be searched by category or keyword.

If students can't find answers on their own, they can create help desk tickets that Parature routes to the appropriate department for a response. The system also helps administrators track and monitor tickets.

Prior to installing Parature's technology, the school's 32,000 undergraduate and graduate students had to call, send an email, or walk into an office to get the information they needed. "Now, with Parature, they have 24/7 access to self-help" from one central location, says Shari Schwartz, the registrar at Georgia State. "Our hope is that a lot of students will use this before calling us."

And while call deflection is a legitimate objective, the ultimate goal of the online knowledge base "is to provide a quick resolution to any student question," Schwartz says.

"Students are always looking for automated ways to get information. They are used to these technologies already; we just wanted to make it easier for them," she adds.

St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia also uses Parature to support its student knowledge base and online portal. The knowledge base contains 442 articles. Students can also submit inquiries through email, which Parature's solution can track and monitor. The school's staff can analyze student support efforts using Parature's reporting tools to see which questions students are asking the most.

The Parature solution was initially rolled out to St. Joseph's IT department and then to the Office of Enrollment Management, which includes several departments, including financial services and student records. "We're using it to manage inquiries from students around billing, financial aid, and registration. The service crosses all three areas," says Sarah Fevig, director of Hawk Central, St. Joseph's centralized student portal.

"Questions that come in can be coded by category and the type of question, which is valuable data for us," she adds.

Since the system went live last August, almost 29,000 unique questions have been routed to school personnel for a response, and Fevig hopes that number will go down as the online portal expands. "We are beefing up the knowledge base so students can get the information they need without having to interact with our counselors," she says.

Call deflection is also a goal behind the university's use of the technology. "We have seen a significant drop in the number of calls missed" because all the counselors were busy with other students, says Maureen Carver, executive director of student records and financial services in the Office of Enrollment Management at St. Joseph's. "We're handling calls better, and as a result, call volume has gone down. If [a student] called three times with an issue before, now he's only calling once."

Both Carver and Fevig credit the CRM system with higher student retention. "Retention did go up this year by about a point. It's not a lot, but it is on an upward trend," Carver says.


While Copeland and others see the growing use of technologies like live chat and Web self-service as encouraging, they contend that colleges and universities still have a long way to go. "Are schools buying CRM? Yes. Are they federating all of their interactions with students to understand the full student life cycle? No," Copeland says. "They are starting to apply technology to a problem, but are they getting at the heart of their individual relationships and streamlining or improving their overall relationships with each student? No."

While chat and Web self-service are helping address student concerns in the short term, these interactions are not being tracked or logged into a central system that covers the entire campus, Copeland laments. "It is unlikely that the interaction [a student] had with the financial aid office is accessible to someone in the registrar's office," he says. "I haven't seen a school where they are federating all of their student interactions into one system. All that data resides in one local office, and it's not pulled into a central system that hits all the touch points."

In fact, in a study of 119 schools conducted recently, Copeland's company found that 21 percent had deployed CRM software in just one department.

A notable exception is DePaul University in Chicago. DePaul deployed CallCopy's cc:Discover call center suite roughly three years ago when it set out to establish a centralized, one-stop contact center for answering phone inquiries from its more than 25,000 students on three campuses. CallCopy's call recording, quality assurance, and speech analytics serve as the backbone for DePaul Contact Central, a single source for information from financial aid, student records, student accounts, and other departments. With cc: Discover, DePaul was able to consolidate eight inquiry lines into one.

As a result, DePaul's Contact Central has nearly tripled the number of calls it is able to answer. In the first year alone, the school was able to improve first call resolution from 79 percent to 92 percent, reduce call handling time by 30 to 40 seconds, and increase customer satisfaction from 77 percent to 93 percent, according to Susan Leigh, associate vice president for enrollment management and marketing at DePaul. A big contributor to that is the speech analytics, which helps determine why the student is calling and routes the call to the appropriate department if a live agent conversation is required.

Another exception is DeVry University. The school, which operates 96 campuses throughout the United States and Canada, is using Oracle's RightNow cloud solutions to provide current and prospective students with fast, accurate answers to their questions, regardless of how they choose to contact the school, whether via phone, email, or the Web, or the nature of the question. The school claims that 98 percent of student issues are resolved within 24 hours.

Dave Trafton, DeVry's online student services manager, says Oracle RightNow has helped the school become much more responsive to student needs. Moving forward, he expects DeVry to expand its student interaction options by leveraging additional channels, including online chat, Web self-service, and mobile.


Admittedly, not many schools are that advanced. Burkhart says of the nearly 5,000 colleges, universities, and trade schools in the United States, only about 40 or 50 could be considered CRM thought leaders. "The rest are still trying to wrap their hands around [CRM]," he says.

What's more, only a handful of schools currently marry student data with their CRM systems, adds Dave Richter, U.S. sales director for higher education service automation at Oracle.

"We're still in the early stages in higher education in figuring out what CRM means and what it can be," Copeland maintains.

CRM took years to catch on in the business world, and universities are definitely behind the curve, Copeland maintains. "CRM has been a difficult beast for corporations to master," he says. "In higher education, there will be more investments in it, but I do not get the sense that there will be a massive shift any time soon."

But, then again, that just might be for the best right now. "If you do not have a clear focus first, CRM will flounder," Copeland states emphatically.

News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at
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Author:Klie, Leonard
Publication:CRM Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 2013
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