Interview

Tips for Selecting a Campus CRM tool

As competition for students increases, colleges and universities are looking more and more to customer (or constituent) relationship management software for help in remaining competitive. CRM tools are starting to be used in new ways, according to Datamonitor Lead Analyst Nicole Engelbert. In the second part of this two-part interview, she talks about how DePaul University in Chicago is setting a new bar for creative use of its CRM software. She also suggests how schools should plan ahead for their own CRM rollouts--and top things to consider in selecting a CRM tool. (Note that the first of this two-part series can be found here.)

The most difficult aspects of a CRM product, Engelbert says, and yet one of the most important, is its ability to use past interactions to inform future decisions. "If the solution doesn't have good analytics," she says, "frankly, it's not really a CRM solution, it's just a tool."

Campus Technology: Is there a school you can point to that is a real star in terms of how it is using CRM?

Nicole Engelbert: Yes, DePaul University in Chicago. In a word, they get it. I was blown away by the types of things they are doing there. [For example], they quantify student satisfaction on their campus with regular surveys and by tallying data from different surveys. They measure it regularly, and, if it slips down or up, they take action.

Now, is it perfect? Probably not. But they haven't let perfection be the enemy of good.

They're being extremely proactive. And, as a result, they're getting exciting results in terms of improved retention because happy students are far more likely to refer friends, family, and neighbors to the institution. They're also far more likely to be active and contributing alumni after they graduate.

What's really important and potentially relevant about DePaul for other institutions thinking about this approach is that they see constituent relationship management on an institution-wide basis. They have a vision for what it will look like. Even before they think about the technology, they have the strategy, and it touches everyone. What does student satisfaction mean on our campus? What does service to students mean? What does it look like? What does it need to be?

That's where other institutions should be looking--at an institution-wide strategy for constituent management and then at finding a solution that supports it. Not adopting a tool or an application for admissions and then trying to build it out over time.

In no way am I saying you need to jump in with two feet into the deep end of the pool. But the small steps you take early shouldn't necessarily impede the longer-term vision.

CT: When you look at schools that are successful with CRM, do they tend to be institutions that are less divided into so-called silos, or that already have successful ERP systems, for example?

Engelbert: It's hard to say which comes first. But I can say that if your [enterprise resource planning] and [student information system] house isn't in order, that needs to be sorted out first because the CRM system rests on top of it to some degree. So you might want to finish up that upgrade or new installation before thinking about CRM. That said, if you want to do it hand-in-hand, some institutions have had great success with that.

CT: What is a CRM system typically tied into? For example, if I have a portal that students can use for registration and so forth--is that typically tied to my CRM system?

Engelbert: Historically, unfortunately, CRM has been a standalone system. That's because it's been a point solution in admissions, and institutions have struggled to connect it to the student information system, and have had to deal with awkward transfers of data....

However, we're seeing a new approach.... SunGard Higher Education has launched their Banner Enrollment Management suite, where CRM exists within the student information system. It's now the same database; there's no seamless transfer. That's very exciting. We're seeing that with Oracle's [PeopleSoft Enterprise] Campus Solutions, and also with their PeopleSoft CRM for Higher Education. It all works together.

CT: What are the top several considerations in choosing a CRM product?

Engelbert: My checklist for a CRM solution [includes]:

  • Workflows. There should be an automated workflow functionality within the solution, for enabling end users to move from dealing with the routine to focusing on the complex or the irregular. An automated workflow makes that possible.
  • Multichannel capabilities. The solution should support the slew of ways that millennial students want to engage with their institutions. It should have the ability to manage relationships via phone, text message, in person, mail, and on and on. That list is growing daily; we're starting to see CRM vendors bringing in ways to manage relationships over social networking sites. Although they might not use or need all of them right now, institutions should choose a solution that [works in] these different channels.
  • Analytics and reporting. The best solutions will enable end users, regardless of their technological savvy, to be able to fairly easily understand what works and what doesn't in terms of how well a campaign is progressing, how likely it is that this student will enroll, or what specific needs this student has based on the 10 interactions we've had with them.... That's the hardest [aspect of] CRM--using past interactions to inform future ones. If the solution doesn't have good analytics, frankly, it's not really a CRM solution; it's just a tool.
  • Role-based workspaces. When a director of admissions logs in to the application, versus when a provost does, or a development counselor logs in, they should each have a very different view of the application. They have very different needs, and they're likely to engage with constituents in very different ways. If the solution tries to be all things to everyone, it's just a mess. It's difficult enough to change behavior without making the solution difficult to use or adding too many bells and whistles. The best solution will provide a workspace that's tailored to the users.
  • Support the lifecycle. Finally, the solution needs to support the entire student lifecycle. If the application can only support development or the IT help desk or the call center, it's not a tool that will grow with the needs of the institution over time. Look for something you can use today, tomorrow, or five years from now. Implementation is hard, so it's best to do it once and have a solution that grows with your needs.

CT: I can see how implementing a good CRM solution can be a challenging project.

Engelbert: It is. But thankfully, a lot of the solutions on the market are getting better and better. They're more higher education-specific than they've ever been. Their need for customization is significantly reduced, and solutions are far more configurable and flexible than ever. More and more vendors are offering applications on demand, where they host the solutions, so the need for ongoing maintenance is greatly reduced.

So the hurdles are coming down. The challenge is that the people and strategy issues remain.

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