Case Study

DePaul Sets the Bar in Student Relationship Management

When colleges and universities consider a constituent relationship management (CRM) initiative, they all too often focus on the technology while failing to consider the underlying philosophy behind CRM. That's according to Audrey Bledsoe, who is manager of CRM technologies at DePaul University in Chicago. At DePaul, which has been cited for its strong CRM program, "we look at CRM from a philosophical approach," Bledsoe said recently in discussing what's behind the university's laudable--and somewhat unusual--CRM successes.

Bledsoe said that DePaul was the first institution to truly exploit the possibilities of CRM for higher education when it launched its program in 2003. Given that, other institutions may want to look to DePaul as an example of what a successful institution-wide strategy for CRM looks like and how it can work.

DePaul has been called out elsewhere for its CRM prowess. In an October interview with Campus Technology, analyst Nicole Engelbert cited DePaul as an institution on the cutting edge in successfully using CRM. Of DePaul, Engelbert said, "In a word, they get it. I was blown away by the types of things they are doing there." Engelbert, a lead analyst with research and analysis firm Datamonitor, cited DePaul for quantifying student satisfaction with regular surveys, then taking proactive steps based on the data, resulting in improved retention and better alumni relations, for example.

Bledsoe was quick to attribute part of DePaul's success to institution-wide buy-in--something that Engelbert cited as a critical success factor in implementing CRM. DePaul's approach illustrates the importance of that factor. In fact, the impetus behind the original rollout, Bledsoe said, came from a vice president of IT "who was passionate about CRM and saw a vision and need for implementing a strategy and philosophy [around CRM]...."

DePaul, which has used PeopleSoft since 1999, is currently running a number of Oracle PeopleSoft modules, including human resources, financials, and CRM. For CRM, DePaul is using two PeopleSoft CRM modules: Online Marketing and Support.

The marketing module is used to help with retention efforts. But using the marketing component to attract students to the university is just one side of CRM at DePaul, Bledsoe said. Once students are enrolled, the support component becomes important as well. "We measure just about everything," Bledsoe said, citing both student satisfaction and student "pain points" as general examples. For example, frequent surveys of students might include questions on what they would like to see specifically in their particular college, as well as overall at the university. Other questions might include this: How well is your student advisor working for you? Has that relationship been productive? Do you know who it is? What else could he or she be doing to help you?

DePaul's student surveys tend to focus on the first year because it is so critical to student satisfaction and ultimately, retention. DePaul asks its first-year students regular, specific questions to determine if there are factors that might keep them from completing their first year. The questions look for key flags during that first year that indicate whether the student is on track to complete four years. In that way, Bledsoe said, "we stay one step ahead in our retention efforts."

Bledsoe admits that initially, explaining and encouraging the adoption of CRM methods across campus was a challenge. "It wasn't an easy task, getting our constituents to understand what we do." That effort involved explaining to administrators just what the CRM program would offer to those colleges and departments interested in participating. "It was purely a voluntary thing.  We knew as we pulled this program together that we would have to go out and sell it." The biggest challenge, Bledsoe said: Getting potential users to understand that students are customers. Her team's approach was "to keep reminding everyone that our commitment is to our students, that they are our customers."

To the CRM team, that means that on an ongoing basis, "we listen, we understand, we spend a lot of upfront time understanding business functions.  We offer some techniques, and we offer the technology to help. We spent a lot of time going out to each area and getting them to understand what we offer."

Bledsoe's advice for others: Start small and grow. DePaul began its CRM efforts with a small multicultural group within student affairs that wanted to boost their retention rates. When that pilot program quickly showed success, word of mouth generated additional interest from other groups.

Future plans, Bledsoe said, focus on continuing to encourage CRM users, whether administrative, staff, faculty or students, to understand that CRM as a tool and a philosophy can help grow the student body and "help attract the student we are looking for.... It's a vehicle for keeping us competitive.... "We look at this as our contribution to one of DePaul's important strategic goals, which is retention."

Also, she counsels, know both your constituents and your users, including their business processes. Finally, she advises, follow "the eighty-twenty rule"--the first 80 percent of effort should be spent getting users to understand and articulate their business needs and processes, as well as the techniques and philosophies of CRM. Only then should the technology itself--the software--be selected and implemented.
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