Customer Relationship Management, popularly referred to as CRM, is not something most people imagine as being an important part of how colleges and universities do business.
But when you look at the populations higher education institutions serve, and their various levels of "customers"--students, faculty, alumni, and staff--it becomes clear that the relationship pyramid is no different than any other business. And because those relationships need to be managed, it's no wonder universities are jumping on the CRM bandwagon and employing CRM-oriented technology solutions (already in broad usage in the corporate sector). Such solutions will help them manage admissions, financial aid, recruitment, current student records/needs, alumni and donor interaction, and instructor communications--among other vital functions.
When the old legacy recruiting and processing system at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln wasn't keeping up with changes in the way the school conducted recruiting and marketing activities, administrators made the decision to invest in a CRM system.
With 22,000 students, UNL recruits students from around the country and around the world. The Admissions office needed to more accurately communicate with potential students and their parents through brochures, fliers, e-mail, and other collateral material. Additionally, the university hosts a variety of recruitment activities, outreach programs, campus tours, events, and counseling sessions for potential students, so tracking those interactions was of growing importance to recruiting staff. Hence, the need for some sophisticated technology.
An Admissions Recruitment Software Selection Team sat down to draw up a list of minimal requirements. The team included various recruitment, computing, and processing directors from Admissions, IT representatives, the recruitment coordinator from the school's College of Arts and Sciences, a Career Services director, and a Committee of Vistors representative. Following the list of minimal requirements was a wish list of bells and whistles--things their dream solution would offer.
At the time, UNL's Office of Admissions was using a homegrown system that was proving fairly inflexible because it allowed only Information Systems department employees to program a recruitment campaign prior to the start of the recruitment cycle. Any student added to the system after that time did not receive materials in the same manner that others did. The office was also relying on its IS department to kick off mailing campaigns, which required months of lead time and was a fairly inflexible setup when it came to last-minute modifications. The system also lacked the technology to comprehensively manage recruitment efforts and track interactions.
With these shortcomings in mind, administrators decided that, at minimum, the school needed a system that could produce flexible marketing campaigns, track interactions with students, and make students feel they were receiving personal attention during the recruitment process. "Personalization was a large part of what was missing from our old system, and for us, that was a big factor," says Deanna Reynolds, Functional Services coordinator for UNL's Office of Admissions.
After an exhaustive search, the school selected Talisma 4.4a (www.talisma.com), a CRM system that allows personalized communication with tens of thousands of student prospects, as well as information tracking and sharing among academic departments. Talisma is a Web-driven customer service solution that integrates
e-mail, chat, real-time collaboration, and telephony (phoning and dialing) applications with a multichannel interaction management platform (usable across "channels" such as telephone, e-mail, etc.), comprehensive analytics (to help identify and "segment" targeted markets and analyze trends, for instance), a fully integrated systemwide knowledgebase (to instantly find solutions and answers to user and "customer" queries, for instance), and a customer database.
At the time of implementation, Admissions office staffers were trained in groups by a Talisma training consultant. After a few key personnel became proficient in the new CRM system, they served as in-house trainers for the rest of the staff.
With the new user-friendly CRM system in place, the UNL Admissions office staff is able to more efficiently track interactions with students, and build campaigns and mail out information whenever the need arises. "We have much less lead time on our campaigns," says Reynolds. "And we never took advantage of e-mail to the extent we do now. Another plus: We now have the ability to choose what we want to e-mail, and what we want to print. There are some things we still want to do by paper, but now, we've got the choice."
Best of all, she adds, potential students perceive that they are getting personal attention from the recruiting staff. "Now we can be sending mailings to 20,000 students, but to the recipient, our information is so tailored that it looks like it's just coming to them. It's very personalized, which is exactly what we needed."
As for bells and whistles, the new system came with those, too. It records everything in a student record, which is then stored in a centralized processing system. This allows personnel in other academic departments campuswide to access information on students--from their very first contact with the school. UNL's primary student information system, SIS+, interfaces with Talisma, allowing application information to be imported on a nightly basis via batch processing. What's more, SAT, ACT, and PSAT scores are seamlessly imported into the Talisma system so that recruiters can monitor test scores and target potential students based on their results.
Reynolds says that overall, she is pleased with the new system. "We are thrilled with the performance of the software in only its first year of implementation."
In the mid-1990s, after studying demographic projections, the University of Houston's board of regents decided to anticpate the city's growth, and expand the school. The caveat: They wanted that growth to be economical, and managed in a way that wouldn't involve adding more campuses, buildings, or administrators. Instead, they decided to integrate Student Services across the main campus and three sister institutions, thereby allowing for better efficiency in the Student Services area and more room for additional student populations.
With 34,000 students at the central University of Houston campus and 17,000 students scattered among the Clear Lake, Victoria, and Downtown institutions located fairly close to one another, the old legacy systems being used at each were creating a good deal of redundancy. If a student was taking courses at more than one campus, she had to register and pay tuition at both locations. Situations like this made it clear that in order to meet expanding needs for services economically and logistically, the university needed to adopt a systemwide solution that would put everyone on the same page.
From 1995 to 1997, the school looked at several CRM solutions, but found no system able to fully meet all of its specific needs. In the end, administrators selected PeopleSoft's Enterprise Learning Solution (www.peoplesoft.com), a vertically specialized, Web-based system with the ability to integrate the internal operations at each school and combine databases from all institutions. Although the system didn't have everything the school needed right away, says Stephen Webb, manager of Student Enrollment Systems for the University of Houston system, they decided the odds were that PeopleSoft would fill in those gaps over several releases and versions. Still, for UH, the solution bundled many of the school's needs into one package, which meant that the university didn't have to employ separate database administrators to run three or four different solutions. With this kind of setup, says Webb, "You may have a technical support team, but they're all training on the same product. That way, they can move back and forth and help each other."
UH trained early on the new system, but that proved to be less productive than Webb expected. "When we went live, those who were trained forgot, so we had to train people again, and that's expensive," he says. Nonetheless, staffers were once again sent off to class; some were trained to become trainers for given subject areas.
For UH-Clear Lake, project team members converted data from the old system to the new, and the PeopleSoft system enabled automated transfer credit for the first time. Unfortunately, data quality issues from the old system were not fully discovered until after the campus went live, which meant the school had to undergo a nearly year-long data-cleansing activity and retain the old system for some functions longer than administrators had planned. Still, as a result of the installation, the Clear Lake campus benefited a great deal, especially from the post-installation data cleansing.
In addition to streamlining communications with students, faculty benefited by being able to get additional reports on student populations never before available with the school's former systems--reports such as academic standing, course demand analysis, enrolled students by major or adviser, and grade distributions by instructor or school. Today, a large percentage (estimates are up to 90 percent) of UH-CL students use the new system's online self-service functions such as registration, credit card and installment payment, admissions status, grade retrieval, class requirements and scheduling, and transcript ordering.
When Florida Southern College in Lakeland started using a learning management system for online course registration, it worked so well that administrators wanted to bring CRM to other sectors of the campus.
The initial intent of offering online registration was to stay current with the technologies being used by students elsewhere. The school felt these technologies were being demanded by their constituents, and wanted to communicate with them in a meaningful way that met expectation.
"We wanted to make the learning management system available to everyone," explains John L. Thomas, director of Information Services for the college. "We weren't having problems with our legacy system, but we needed a way to allow students online access rather than force them to stand in line for what they needed."
A small college of 1,800 full-time and 700 part-time students, Florida Southern was already using Jenzabar (www.jenzabar.com) products for online registration, so adopting the Jenzabar Internet Campus Solution (JICS) as its campus-wide CRM solution was a natural choice for the IHE.
In deciding to install the JICS program, ease of use was a major factor. "We really needed to get the learning management piece in there quickly, and we needed it to interface with the online registration system we already had in place," says Thomas. "We're a small school and we don't have staff to program that type of interface, so the fact that it was Web-based was a huge benefit for us."
Data transfer programs were written and maintained by Jenzabar, says Thomas. The transfer programs are run on an hourly schedule and are manually verified. Aside from this initial human involvement, he says, it's a hands-off operation.
Because of their long-standing relationship with Jenzabar, Florida Southern was already a beta site for the JICS implementation, so several Jenzabar staffers were on campus for the installation and training. They loaded the software and then led several training sessions. Because the school was a beta site, there were some issues along the way. But the vendor resolved them within a few days, so no time was lost, Thomas reports.
Since the initial installation, the IS director has assumed the staff training function and trains new faculty on the use of the system. He notes, "Because many of the features in the Learning Management System (LMS) work in a similar fashion, and because it's all point-and-click, it's easy to learn and use." That notwithstanding, one of the significant challenges for Thomas (as system administrator) was learning about SQL databases, which was something new for Florida Southern.
Communicating to faculty about the new LMS system and how they would access and use it was another hurdle. "We had limited time at the end of summer before the fall term started," Thomas remembers. "Based on our schedule, and the need to get the information to all of the faculty, it was a challenge," he admits.
Even with installation and training complete, there were still some issues with transfers that related to how the data was either being entered in the administrative system or how it was being loaded into the new system. But in the end, the issues were resolved, and lo and behold, transfer is now one of easiest parts of the system, Thomas reports.
For the students, the biggest difference lies in the ease of daily communication. Students can register online, look at grades, submit address changes, look at account information, and even make payments online. On the classroom side, students and faculty can access class lists, enter grades, post handouts, track attendance and coursework, and hold discussion groups in real time.
While it's tough to measure return on investment for the new system, Thomas says staff are spending less time on registration tasks and more time advising students. Importantly, he adds, students no longer stand in line to do anything, and online registration has soared to 90 percent.
As for user resistance, "I was pleasantly surprised at the number of faculty that began using the LMS right away," says Thomas. "And on the CRM side, we have seen a number of improvements to the system because of user involvement. A number of user suggestions have been incorporated into the product," he notes. For example, the school wanted to improve prerequisite checking so that students could not sign on for a prerequisite and succeeding course in the same term. Jenzabar not only improved the system for Florida Southern, but because the school was a beta site, the function now works better for other IHEs, as well.
An advising component is yet to be integrated into the Florida Southern CRM system. Currently only open to faculty, the new advising function will allow students to see which courses they've taken, what they need to take to meet graduation requirements, and what will happen to those requirements if they change their major.
For Florida Southern--and for so many institutions of higher ed now exploring the use of CRM on campus--the possibilities for streamlining campus business and student life are defined only by need, imagination, and commitment.
C.L. Gaska is a freelance writer based in Waunakee, WI. She writes about business, technology, science, and travel.