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What Channel Are You Recruiting On?

New media like one-to-one chat, managed e-mail, and personalized Web sites supercharge the recruiting arsenal—but also create a need for more comprehensive communications management.

I’ve never met Brad Carlstedt, a frontline customer service staffer at the CRM (customer relationship management) product and service provider Talisma Corp. ( I haven’t talked to him on the phone, or even sent him an e-mail. But he is one of the people at Talisma I feel I know personally; we got acquainted using one-to-one chat (not to be confused with free-wheeling, multi-participant chat rooms; one-to-one chat is one of an integrated set of CRM technologies that Talisma provides to higher ed, to aid recruiting efforts). In fact, this is the first time I’ve written about an interview I’ve conducted by typing in a chat session. (You can see part of the actual transcript of my discussion with Brad in the box, page 44.)

Chat ’Em Up

Now, a good part of Brad’s job is to persuade people to adopt Talisma’s CRM software and services, but he could just as easily be recruiting prospective students on your college or university Web site. I came across the chat feature while I was browsing the Talisma site. I clicked on a link that offered me the instant gratification of having a Talisma expert help me navigate the site. When Brad came online, he was able to answer my questions, redirect my browser to pages that answered my questions (“co-browsing”), and even help me fill out Web forms.

One-to-one chat is one of the innovative communication channels that have recently become available to higher ed recruiting. It joins a growing arsenal of new modes of communicating with prospective students (such as e-mail, Web forms, portals, and Web self-service) that have begun to supplement traditional media like phone, fax, viewbooks, and postcards.

And sure, it’s easy to get caught up in arguments about which medium is king, but the reality is that each channel fits well in certain circumstances. Chat combined with co-browsing is especially good for leading people to the resources that they can’t locate on your Web site; for answering quick factual questions; and for helping people fill in complicated Web forms, such as financial aid applications. Chat avoids the delay involved in getting help via e-mail, or the frustration of talking on the phone to a counselor who can’t see what you have on your screen.

Still, people have doubts when it is suggested that they use chat for recruiting. Daniel Sears, director of Product Management and Alliances at Talisma, says he has heard them all: “‘I can’t staff it.’ ‘I will be inundated with chats.’ ‘Nobody will e-mail or call me on the phone.’ ‘My frontline folks don’t type well.’ All valid concerns. But he insists that the heart of the issue is to apply the right kind of communication to the problem at hand. “A phone call is an inefficient way to respond to an interested prospective student visiting a Web site. E-mail, phone, chat, and the Web should all play a role in your inquiry response and recruiting strategy,” he says. Schools have found that the Talisma tools let fewer staff handle the same functions, freeing them to be deployed elsewhere to provide more personalized help.

“E-mails are a lost lead unless you track them.”
—Rick Burnette, Florida State U

Chat is exciting and may be the next big thing in recruiting, but it is still a bit avant-garde at the moment. Only the most advanced enrollment management operations are beginning to experiment with it, although it has taken solid hold in commercial environments where delivering customer satisfaction is the driver. On the other hand, managed e-mail and personalized Web sites are new recruiting media that have already come into wide use.

Can You ‘Manage’ E-Mail?

Managed e-mail encompasses a lot more than just generating masses of personalized electronic messages; it also includes tracking all of the responses in a unified record for each constituent, analyzing the content of the incoming e-mail, and either replying automatically or routing the messages to the appropriate counselor.

Ball State University (IN) is currently experimenting to find the right balance between e-mail and printed communication. Nancy Prater, Web Content coordinator, reports that the university used to mail out a printed piece to 60,000 prospective students, but it was expensive and the return rate was only 3 or 4 percent. This year, she says, Ball State purchased a list that included e-mail addresses for many of the targeted students. They fed the e-mail addresses into Vignette’s Dialog software ( and created customized communication flows to match the students’ interests. “We are trying not to inundate them,” says Prater. “But we send them information that may be of interest to a sophomore or junior, depending on their class. If they reply, they may get another e-mail keyed to their response. Or, if they don’t reply, they may get a follow-up message.” Students who don’t list an e-mail address find a traditional envelope in the mailbox. The good news: The response rate for Ball State’s new multi-channel effort has increased to 5 or 6 percent.

Florida State University deals in even bigger volumes, with up to 300,000 prospective students a year. FSU, too uses Talisma CRM to put powerful tools in the hands of student counselors who reply to the e-mails, and may make use of 180 canned “personalized” responses. The system also scans incoming e-mail content for important keywords. A mention of “honors” or “financial aid,” for instance, routes the e-mail to an appropriate specialist. An expression like “frustrated” or “upset” bounces the e-mail directly to a supervisor.

Impressive ROI

Talisma CRM is part of an integrated enrollment management strategy that has paid off handsomely for FSU, according to Rick Burnette, director of Student Information Management. He claims the university saved $150,000 in postage alone, last year. But more importantly, he says, in the first six years of the effort, FSU has simultaneously increased the size, quality, and diversity of the freshman class. First-time-in-college applications are up 75 percent, the percentage of applicants accepted has been reduced from 72 to 44 percent, and the average SAT score has risen 55 points.

And it’s not just about using e-mail instead of the postal service, says Burnette. “E-mails are a lost lead unless you track them somehow. Otherwise, you don’t know who contacted you,” he explains. The best reason to employ a multichannel CRM: To make sure that every communication with a constituent, no matter what channel it occurs on, becomes part of the institution’s knowledge base about that person.

The Supercharged Web Site

Even though e-mail has become a vital channel in the recruiting process, some institutions are redesigning their Web sites to reduce the likelihood that a student will ever need to send an e-mail in the first place. These supercharged Web sites are bristling with active links and forms. They collect enough information from the browsing students to automatically send them the detailed information they are seeking, or to help them instantly sign up for a campus visit. The clincher is to make the actual application process a cinch by calling up an online form pre-populated with information the student has already provided on previous visits.

D'es it put students off when the Web site asks them to volunteer information about themselves? Not according to Elizabeth Gierach, managing director of Admissions at St. Xavier University (IL). “It’s a culture young people are accustomed to. They understand what the online college search process is like. Nowadays, everything is electronic.”

My first co-browsing chat opened my eyes to its recruiting potential.

St. Xavier has made a considerable investment in bringing its Web site in line with this new concept of personalized service. “Students expect a level of service from a university that even exceeds their other interactions in life. Sadly, this hasn’t always been the case,” says the university’s VP for Enrollment and Student Services, Steven Murphy.

That was one reason why the university asked LiquidMatrix Corp. ( to help it redesign the aesthetics and navigation of its Web site. LiquidMatrix also incorporated its ActiveAdmissions software into the site, which helps capture information from visitors, and provides the capability of transferring that information seamlessly to the campus’s information system. Datatel Corp. ( recently acquired LiquidMatrix, and since St. Xavier is a long-standing Colleague user, the university expects to benefit from the relationship between the two companies.

“Our phenomenal enrollment growth—50 percent over five years—began with the decision to be an information-driven culture, not to be afraid of what we saw with the numbers,” says Murphy. “That growth was simultaneous with our adoption of Datatel’s Colleague. Going with LiquidMatrix is another step toward having that kind of culture and marshaling the best, most contemporary ways to make it happen.”

Although St. Xavier is only in its first recruiting season using LiquidMatrix, the university is already seeing results. The rate of converting inquiries to applications is 34 percent for inquiries originating with LiquidMatrix, Murphy reports—far above the yield from other sources. Maybe that’s because the new Web site greets the visitor by name, remembers his interests, and picks out a spotlight feature on a student, faculty member, or other topic it thinks will interest its visitor. It tells its visitors when campus tours are available, and lets them sign up by clicking a button.

“It is good service,” says Gierach. “I want the students to land on a Web site that looks like us; a virtual reality. But we’re not finished. Because college search choices are being made online, the site has to be as good as it can be.”

There’s no doubt about it: Today, recruiting campaigns are waged in a technology milieu that is moving at the speed of light. The days of a channel communication (send a viewbook to every student who inquires) have been replaced by campaigns of managed, multimodal interactions. And I’m thinking that can be a lot less intimidating than it sounds, when the “interaction” on my computer screen is with a friendly, helpful guy named Brad.

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