How Contextual Relationship Building Transforms Enrollment and Retention
Close or Dump. That was the sales mantra used by enrollment advisors at a local education provider. Simply stated, it was collect revenue (directly, financial aid, company PO, etc) that day, or stop talking with the prospective student.
Although this provided a revenue stream and focused the advisors time on easy-to-enroll students, this mantra left out those prospective students that have extended questions, approval timelines, or were completing additional research into schools.
On the other end of the spectrum is the process of having a mailing list of course offerings, and having names that have been on the list for 20+ years without enrolling in even one class. So where is the happy medium? A relationship.
A relationship with the student has been manifested today with CRM software, such as SalesForce.com, Destiny One, ACT, etc. This software allows advisors to enter basic information about the prospective student (name, email, phone) along with fields of interest (degree, certificate, area of study) and record notes, emails, etc with and about the student. In addition, prewritten, automatically-sent emails can be sent to touch base with the student on a frequency based upon their level of interest.
This automated process allows advisors to use their time more efficiently while still maintaining—from the student perspective—a relationship with the student.
What Does This Relationship Look Like?
What does this contextual relationship look like to the student?
First, it appears that the advisor remembers the student, based upon their ability to review notes before a face-to-face office visit, or review the notes while on the phone or responding to emails.
Second, it keeps the school top of mind with the student through the automated and personalized emails, asking about status, providing new information, and announcing changes and updates at the school.
Third, once the application process has been started by the student, the automated emails can keep the student in the loop as to the numerous steps that can be required for admission and enrollment the first semester.
Fourth and finally, it provides a written record of discussion highlights, emails, etc, and allows that information to be saved should future advising issues, questions, or future education (another degree, certificate, etc.) are relevant and beneficial for the student. In some cases, this information can be merged into the student information system (SIS) to provide a holistic picture for and about the student.
The Impact of Contextual Relationship Building In Other Industries
CRM software is not new to higher education, nor is it limited to higher education. Other industries have been using CRM for 20+ years, and sales staff knows the ins and outs of most programs. One of the best examples of the effective use of CRM can be found in the financial services industry, where financial advisors keep close tabs on investment accounts, balances and contact history. Think about the last time you called your credit card company, and how they knew you had recently been on a trip, had completed a balance transfer, or other oddly unremarkable event that they knew about, all thanks to the CRM.
CRM has also been shown to make a significant impact on the success of corporations. For one, CRM software helps organizations to build relationships with customers, which improves customer retention and has a significant impact on revenue. What’s more, relationship management solutions have been shown to create an increase of 42 percent in revenue and 20 percent in customer satisfaction, while also decreasing the cost of sales by 35 percent.
The bottom line is that by knowing your prospective students, keeping a record of your interactions, and genuinely caring about the student (not just seeing them as another butt in a seat or revenue head) can provide increased enrollment for your institution.
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 Laura Horn and C. Dennis Carroll, “Non-Traditional Undergraduates: Trends in Enrollment from 1986 to 1992 and Persistence and Attainment Among 1989-90 Beginning Postsecondary Students,” National Center for Education Statistics, 1996, p. 25.
 Gary Grant and Greg Anderson, “Customer Relationship Management: A Vision for Higher Education” in Web Portals and Higher Education Technologies to Make IT Personal, ed. Richard Katz (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002), p. 31.
Author Perspective: Administrator