The importance of CRM systems in Higher Education
by Thijs van Vugt & Mykolas Knasys
If you ever wondered what customer relationship management systems are and why should higher education institutions consider purchasing one – this article is for you.
Higher education institutions (HEIs) are experiencing vital changes in the way they operate and interact with their ‘customers’, i.e. students, their parents, alumni, employers and staff members. Higher education clients are demanding more attention and instant service and so proactive universities are turning to technology – customer relationship management systems – to cater to this demand in an effective way.
Higher education CRM systems normally serve three key audiences: prospective students, current students, and alumni/donors. This article is focused on prospective students’ audience.
But first, what are CRM systems? CRM systems are software applications used to automate and manage communications with prospective and current students, employees, alumni, donors – everyone in your institution’s community. Customer information, such as lead’s/customer’s name, gender, educational background, telephone, email, marketing materials, social media and any other relevant information across different channels is compiled into a single database enabling easier information access, allowing to personalize and customize messages and the channels used to deliver the message to the student in a timely manner. Every interaction with the “customer” is tracked by the CRM, all in one place.
CRM systems are extremely beneficial to HEIs. Some of the core benefits of using a CRM system are described below.
Firstly, utilizing a CRM system drives faster service. Emails and other types of communication channels may be automated in order to speed up response time. It may also help at identifying trends which become feedback for marketing, admissions or other departments included in the process. Furthermore, CRM systems provide real-time numbers, data, and graphs that may be useful in decision making. For example, the CRM system is capable of showing an exact number of interested male/female students that come from, let us say, China. Additionally, you may track every aspect of a student lifecycle. For instance, where in the recruitment process a prospective student is lost.
Another useful and widely used feature of a CRM system is workflow automation. This feature will make sure that you never forget to respond or follow up on an enquiry ever again. The system may be automated in such way that tasks are assigned to a relevant staff member automatically. For example, once the student requests a brochure, relevant department will be assigned a new task in the CRM database – to send the brochure.
Tracking is yet another great feature that comes with the most of the CRM systems. It enables institutions to track which website(s) a certain student used to find your institution. This allows for smarter marketing budget planning, allocating resources to the most effective marketing campaigns.
Experience with CRM at some universities
There is no better way to show the effectiveness of utilizing CRM systems than to hear it first hand from the institutions that are using CRM systems. Here Andy Ball from Westminster University said that:
“One of the first successes with our CRM service was the implementation of the digital event management system. By utilizing online booking forms, confirmation and reminder e-mails, and providing tablets for scanning barcode registrants, we are able to offer an improved user experience whilst also harnessing better quality data for our marketing efforts. Before the advent of the digital solution, the post-event reconciliation of data would take several days of manual entry, copying names from paper to our Student Record System. Now, with uploads to our CRM direct from our event tablets, we are able to complete our data process and follow-up with our attendees and non-attendees within an hour.”
Natalia Antsiferova from Stockholm School of Economics also shared how utilizing a CRM system benefited her institution:
“The CRM system has helped us to focus on the right recruitment activities and structure the communications with our prospective and admitted students. Among other things, we can now reach the right audience, target prospects with personalized content and invite interested students to the events related to them. We can now also track the level of engagement of our targeted groups and see if any amendments to the message/content are necessary. Overall, using a CRM system has been definitely a great improvement for our recruitment and admissions processes and a great help to our team.”
Finally, Raluca Tasca from BTK University of Applied Sciences in Berlin added the following:
“The CRM system is a great tool for managing and exactly targeting the great number of leads and prospective students we receive every day for our German universities and academies. Regular reporting help us identify trends, adapt our workflows, analyze the success of our marketing campaigns and plan effective campaigns for the future.”
While implementing a CRM system is quite costly and time-consuming, the return on investment is clear as soon as enrollments start flowing in as students respond to outstanding service.
Despite clear benefits of utilizing a CRM system, there were some unexpected findings in the higher education market. While many proactive institutions do use CRM systems, a research conducted by StudyPortals and iE&D Solutions revealed that 59% of the surveyed HEIs do not use a CRM system, the main reason being lack of knowledge about these systems, with the lack of budget being the second major reason.
These findings encouraged StudyPortals and iE&D Solutions to compile a detailed report comparing various CRM systems on a number of features, as well as pricing, communication, integration, user-friendliness, customizability, support, and functionality. Furthermore, the report provides an overview of the current state of CRM in higher education industry.