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Understanding the Benefits and Defining the Inputs: CRMs in the Modern Institutional Environment

The EvoLLLution | Understanding the Benefits and Defining the Inputs: CRMs in the Modern Institutional Environment
A CRM has the capacity to be a truly transformational technology for a college or university, as long as the institution commits enough resources upon purchasing the system to ensure it is fully integrated and set up to perform as desired.

College and university leaders today are working hard to navigate their institutions through tougher market conditions than ever before. There’s greater competition for students, more scrutiny of institutional spending and priorities, and higher expectations from students for their experience both inside and outside the classroom. In this environment, where resources are tight, back-end systems can play a crucial role in helping institutions deliver the experience and quality expected of them. In this interview, Christina Trombley reflects on the critical role a CRM can play in supporting institutional recruitment, retention and cost management, and expands on the importance of adequately committing to implementation and set-up of the system to ensure it performs as expected.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why are CRMs so important for postsecondary enrollment managers?

Christina Trombley (CT): Grant and Anderson (2002) define a CRM as “both a business strategy and a set of discrete software tools and technologies, with the goal of reducing costs, increasing revenue, identifying new opportunities and channels for expansion, and improving customer value, satisfaction, profitability, and retention.” People interested in postsecondary education have more choices than ever before, creating more challenges to making a permanent connection. The choices they have include much more than which institution to attend, including which programs they find of interest, what type of delivery format do they want, how to communicate, what type of college experience they want, where and how to get more information. Moreover, institutions must still find ways to connect with these potential students on a personal level, so the more information that can be captured for a potential student, the stronger the connection that can be made. A good CRM can capture, organize, and analyze all of this data, making the recruitment process that much stronger and more efficient.

Institutions are also getting much more aggressive in their recruitment of students, due to the burdensome budget constraints placed on the institutions. A critical piece to successful recruitment strategies is finding students who are a good fit with that institution. CRMs shift the focus from the product to the customer, increasing the opportunity to highlight the value proposition of the institution for those students. They allow for strong data mining to support those efforts, allowing recruitment directors to purchase well targeted lists of potential students that fit specific criteria. Most institutions, especially publically supported institutions, must make every marketing and recruitment investment count. Targeting specific groups that have potential for successful admissions and enrollments make the CRM a good investment.

Evo: What does it take to set up a CRM system to serve its unique role in a higher education organization?

CT: Like most investments, setting up a CRM system takes time and knowledge. CRM is an amazingly powerful tool which, if properly leveraged, can provide valuable insights about your potential and returning students, allowing you to develop stronger and more personal relationships. However, there are a lot of things to consider when implementing a CRM in higher education.

First, prior to implementation, the institution should have a strong, documented recruitment plan so that team leaders can identify where and how the CRM will support those efforts.

It will also take a strong team approach, including IT representation to ensure that this system can communicate with other systems already in place, such as the institution’s student information system. This is critical to view a student’s entire cycle from prospect to graduation.

It will also be able to assess the technical considerations needed to support implementation, such as issues with servers, cloud-based technology, web connections, etc. Within this team should also be individuals who will serve as a CRM manager and several power users. Depending on the CRM, systems can be used only in admissions or throughout the entire institution. Cost is normally a determining factor, but institution buy-in should also inform this decision.

Evo: When it comes to serving non-traditional students, how can an effective CRM make life easier for administrators and staff?

CT: Today’s consumers have become accustomed to a new level of customer service. Large companies have incorporated a buying experience that includes working with the customer, including anticipating their needs. Think Amazon, Netflix, most insurance companies—all of these companies provide a shopping experience that recognizes their customers immediately and provides a streamlined approach, including a recognition of who the customer is and the ability to recommend additional items of interest. Adult students coming back to higher education are no different. A CRM allows institutions to create similar a customer service experience, where the needs of the student become the focus rather than a rigid process structure.

For example, an adult student coming back to school, whether online or face-to-face, will probably need to interact with several different areas at the institution, including admissions, financial aid, advising, and the registrar. A CRM will capture each interaction with all of the information, allowing staff and faculty to see exactly what has happened to date and what still needs to be done, without having the students repeat themselves with each new interaction. In addition, a CRM will proactively alert different areas with necessary tasks for those students without input from them. Administrative systems become seamlessly integrated around the student/customer, rather than the student becoming responsible for each independent interaction.

Evo: Where are the limits of a traditional CRM in serving non-traditional and non-credit students?

CT: There are no limits for a traditional CRM in serving non-traditional and non-credit students—beyond what the institution is capable of implementing.

CRMs are able to provide a personal connection to potential students, a strategy that can become a competitive advantage for the schools that build strong CRM strategies. Even in the world of non-credit, creating a system that allows a student to access the institution as they need to without duplicating forms and registrations builds a stronger customer experience. A CRM will also capture that data, allowing administrators to leverage it when planning additional programs and coursework, and easily communicating those with the students. Increased efficiency will also help contain costs, which is always a benefit in cost-recovery programs.

An investment in a CRM should allow individual programs and institutions to measure its success. A business strategy supported by a CRM should increase revenue through improved recruitment and retention, reduce recruitment and administrative costs, improve customer service, yield quicker student conversions, and improve student satisfaction. An institution can use the processes and technologies of a CRM to gain a complete view of its customers and to implement activities that capitalize on this new knowledge.

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Grant, G. & Anderson, G., (2002). Customer relationship management: a vision for higher education. Web Portals and Higher Education: Technologies to Make IT Personal. (ed) Katz and Associates. Jossey-Bass for Educause.

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