Auxiliary Services

Help on the Run

Help on the Run Students continue to embrace mobility while auxiliary services move to here, there, and everywhere.

A junior at a large university returns to campus after spending the summer at home. She has registered for classes, unpacked her stuff in her new dorm room, and is set for the year to begin. Suddenly, her cell phone rings to indicate that she's received a text message. No, the message isn't from her buddies, asking her to join them for pizza; it's from the campus bookstore, informing her that for the next 24 hours, she can receive 20 percent off all merchandise with the school's logo.

This scenario might have been a campus retailer's fantasy two years ago, but not anymore. Nowadays, college and university auxiliary services departments are turning to these types of technologies to move a host of programs and offerings into the mobile environment. Bob Hassmiller, executive director of the National Association of College Auxiliary Services, says that this kind of mobility is the wave of the future—for students and institutions alike.

At New Mexico State University, the campus bookstore, for instance, recently inked a deal with Mobile Campus to send students special offers via text message. The new program cost $4,000 for up to 40,000 messages spread over the course of the school year.

"The reality is that the students are out there teaching us about the best way to interact," he says. "If we're going to reach out to these kids, we have to do it through the medium they're all on."

As Hassmiller notes, these trends are driven by students themselves. A July 2007 study by Youth Trends indicated that 95 percent of college freshmen come to school with a cell phone or other handheld device, and 78 percent of them have sent a text message in the previous week. As these technologies have become increasingly prevalent, institutions have responded accordingly. Today, every school with an eye to the future is investing in mobility.

But while the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech last April prompted many school administrators to rush to adopt text-messaging services so that they could communicate with students during emergencies, auxiliary services departments are embracing mobile technology more slowly. At last check, only a handful of departments were doing anything with mobile technology. Still, Mark Nelson, digital content strategist for the National Association of College Stores, says the number should grow in the months and years to come.

"Today, [auxiliary services in the mobile environment] are bleeding-edge," he says. "Two or three years from now, everyone will be doing it."

Special Offers via SMS

The future is right now at New Mexico State University, where short message service (SMS), also known as text messaging, is all the rage. The campus bookstore, for instance, recently inked a deal with Mobile Campus to send students special offers for sale or discounted items via text message. According to bookstore Director Carleen Cirillo, the new program cost $4,000 for up to 40,000 messages spread over the course of the school year, and launched in September.

Cirillo says the bookstore deal is linked to a larger contract the university signed with Mobile Campus (see "Enabling Mobility"). As part of the broader arrangement, all incoming freshmen are required to sign up for an emergency messaging service controlled by the school. But the newbies also have the option to receive special text-message offers from vendors in and around Las Cruces, where the school is located. The bookstore's offers fall into this latter category.

"Vendor messages are available to everyone, but students must sign up to receive them first," says Cirillo, who expects anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of newcomers to sign up. "This way, we're not sending anybody anything they don't want to get."

The messages themselves will contain fantastic offers. Cirillo says that when the bookstore wants to get rid of surplus hats or T-shirts, store managers can send a text message to enrolled students offering a one-time discount of 20 to 30 percent. Other promotions might include an additional percentage off book purchases with proof of SMS offer, or a special free item for those students who purchase $50 worth of merchandise and show the cashier a particular text message.

Perhaps the only downside to the service is that it doesn't automatically track redemption. In order to see how many students are taking advantage of text-message discounts, Cirillo must reprogram the bookstore's point-of-sale (POS) terminals with a special key so that cashiers can record when customers are using SMS deals. Online orders with SMS discounts present additional challenges; Cirillo is considering assigning each message a one-time discount code so students can't share discounts with their friends.

"This technology is so new that I think there'll be a bit of a learning curve in terms of what works, what doesn't, and where our customers might be able to take advantage of us," she says, noting that she expects to see modest profit increases from the service over the course of the year. "By this time next year, I think we'll have the whole thing pretty much figured out."

ENABLING MOBILITY

AS HIGHER EDUCATION institutions become more interested in communicating with students in the mobile environment, the number of vendors offering services to facilitate these broadcasts has grown exponentially. Campus Technology profiled mobile marketing company TeamUp Mobile in the September issue (see "Gaining Acceptance"). Another company making waves in the marketplace is Mobile Campus.

The company's core product is MC Notify. Institutions require users to sign up for the service and receive campus notifications from school administrators about everything from computer shutdowns to street closures. Users may then choose to opt in to separate messaging for campus groups and special offers from campus vendors and the college store.

Dave Liniado Dave Liniado, the company's VP of university relations, enrollment, and merchant development, says the basic service is completely free to students, though standard text-messaging rates apply. He notes that the service also is free to colleges and universities, and is underwritten by sponsors, vendors, and other merchants who pay to send their blasts.

"Considering that students stay informed and schools get a powerful SMS platform, I'd say everybody wins," Liniado says. "The best part is that it costs both parties absolutely nothing."

Since Mobile Campus launched earlier this year, the company has attracted 14 higher education customers, including the University of Florida and The University of Texas at Austin. At both schools, Liniado says that roughly 30 percent of eligible users have agreed to opt in for offers from merchants. Company officials say they expect this number— and the number of customers overall— to increase in the months ahead. If it does, Maritz Research may expect to see higher opt-in indicators in its next study.

Improving Grocery Delivery

Officials at the campus store at Duke University (NC) already have figured out how to incorporate handhelds to process on-site delivery transactions for the institution's Uncle Harry's General Store delivery service. The service, which began four years ago, enables students to shop online for food items from Uncle Harry's central campus store, and arrange for store employees to deliver those items; students pay upon delivery of the items.

Until recently, however, the service did not accept credit cards. The problem had to do with internet protocol (IP) addresses. Because Duke's campus is so big, the campus had a number of different wireless zones, and the old handhelds the school was using were incapable of registering new IP addresses when they went from one zone to the next. Brian Buttram, associate director of Duke University Stores, says that since the old devices couldn't maintain an internet connection, deliverers were not able to process credit card transactions in the field.

"We were forced to accept cash, check, or payment via DukeCard," he says. "I think the fact that [deliverers] were incapable of handling credit card transactions actually turned a lot of people off."

This summer, Duke invested in 10 new MC70 handhelds from Symbol Technologies (now owned by Motorola), which maintain a persistent connection to the internet— making it possible for the delivery service to process credit card transactions anywhere on campus. Employees were expected to roll out the new toys in September. With the tools, Uncle Harry's employees ring up a student's online order back at the store, but suspend it before they head out with deliveries. Once they deliver the food, they recall the transaction online, have the student approve the final credit card charge, and complete the transaction on site.

Buttram says this approach makes it easy for delivery personnel to recalculate a bill if customers decide at the last moment they don't want something they've ordered (under the old system, these changes required a new transaction entirely). Still, he notes, the improvement is more a move to enhance convenience than an attempt to drive sales. The MC70 devices cost $2,500 apiece, and Uncle Harry's delivery service only does $10,000 in revenue each year.

"Do I think more students will try out the service? Yes," he says. "Do I think we're going to rake in the profits? Not for a while."

Tracking Campus Shuttles

Considering that the three campuses at Arizona State University are anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes apart, shuttle bus service is a pretty key part of life for those students who need to travel from one campus to another. The schedule dictates that buses run between the school's main campus in Tempe and its east and west campuses every hour on the hour. For years, though, if a bus got stuck in traffic or was late, waiting passengers were stuck at the bus stop, wondering if their ride ever would arrive.

This past summer, the school's Parking and Transit Services department set out to change the system once and for all. Piggybacking on existing wireless service on buses (provided by Verizon Wireless), auxiliary services officials added global positioning system (GPS) technology to the vehicles, enabling passengers to see where each bus is and when it will arrive. Program Manager Juliet Nelson says the initiative was a way for the school to keep passengers in the know.

"Most of the phone calls I get during the school year are ‘Where's the bus?' or ‘Where is it now?'" she gripes, noting that on particularly bad days, she'll log as many as 100 of these calls. But now, she says, "People don't have to call me to find out where it is—they can see for themselves."

Under the new system, passengers will be able to use their web-enabled phones and laptop computers to look up exactly where campus shuttles are located at any given moment. In most cases, the buses appear as blips on a campus map that is updated once or twice a minute. While the system does not estimate travel times, it does provide an accurate picture of which bus is where. With this information, Nelson says users can determine how much longer they'll have to wait.

Down the road, the system may become more sophisticated, too. Nelson says ASU technologists are working with Verizon to develop technology that utilizes the GPS data to estimate travel times. Once this component is constructed, ASU technologists anticipate a voice-oriented system that passengers can call to hear the estimated arrival time read to them over the phone. Nelson says a text-messaging component to the service may not be far behind.

"Once we get this up and running, we'll look at ways to make it even more user-friendly," says Nelson. "Ultimately, our goal is to develop something that makes everyone's life a little easier."

Are we getting ahead of ourselves? Nearly two-thirds of 1,062 college-aged consumers polled in 2006 said they likely would not subscribe to offers sent to their mobile phones or PDAs. And only 5 percent of respondents subscribed to texted offers of any kind.

Down the Road

Despite innovations like these, the push to move auxiliary services into the mobile environment isn't without naysayers. Most critics assail the effort as inherently divisive, since there are some students on every campus who don't have cell phones, PDAs, or other technologies necessary to take advantage of these programs. Others are concerned that their institutions will spend thousands of dollars to embrace mobility, and then students simply won't subscribe.

A number of these concerns are based in fact. According to an August 2006 study by Maritz Research, nearly two-thirds of 1,062 college-aged consumers said they likely would not subscribe to offers sent to their mobile phones or PDAs. The study also indicated that only 5 percent of respondents said they currently subscribe to texted offers of any kind— a surprisingly low number considering how many members of Generation Y text each other regularly.

"Text messaging seems to be popular for personal matters, but not as an advertising or promotion tool," says Gloria Park Bartolone, division vice president at Maritz. "While there is growing retailer interest in mobile marketing, this tells us retailers need to be relevant to this audience to make it an effective channel to communicate."

If anyone understands the reasons for student apathy toward SMS subscriptions, it's Tony Ellis. Ellis, director of education for NACS, keeps a blog titled "The Retail Muse", on which he opines about everything from sales to advertising in stores of all kinds. Ellis explains that students are skeptical about subscribing to text-messaging services because of so many negative experiences being bombarded with junk mail and spam.

He adds that in order for higher education institutions to move auxiliary services into the mobile environment and make good use of technologies such as SMS, school officials must understand that no user will tolerate redundant and harassing messaging. His advice for others considering a move into this arena is to formulate a textmessaging strategy that revolves around concise messages, infrequent blasts, and an open invitation to opt out if a service becomes too much.

Notes Ellis, "It's important that promotional or less-than-personal text messages be requested by the recipient, offer real value, and be few and far between."

::WEBEXTRAS ::
More on the changing face of auxiliary services. Location-aware services go mainstream. Best practices for mass communication technologies.

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