Contextual Communication at Scale: The Transformative Capacity of CRM

Today’s students are incredibly diverse and have sky-high expectations of their colleges and universities. Used to the kind of personalized and contextual service delivered by companies like Amazon, students today are looking for their postsecondary experience to mirror what they see in other industries. In this interview, Belinda Elliott-Bielecki shares her thoughts on the capacity for CRM systems to help institutions meet students’ needs over the course of their entire lifecycle with the institution and reflects on what the future might hold for CRMs. The EvoLLLution (Evo): With such a wide array of students and stakeholders coming through the door-from working professionals to summer campers (and their parents)-what does it take to provide each learner with personalized and relevant communications and a seamless experience?

Belinda Elliott-Bielecki (BEB): It is critical to keep our messaging focused on the unique needs of the individual. To do so, we employ a variety of tactics to keep the interactions as personalized as possible. Personal phone calls and emails are an important part of the strategy. Once we understand the client’s needs and interests, we communicate information that is relevant, keeping them informed of the details, the benefits, how to register, etc.

Communication continues once the student is in the course or program. We send a welcome orientation letter via the CRM upon registration, and follow-up with various course check-ins to see how they are doing, announce important deadlines so they can’t be missed, and a congratulatory note when they finish. Once they complete their program, we keep in touch and let them know about other offerings that may be of interest, based on their past enrollments and inquiries.

A Customer Relationship Management System has made it easier to provide a more personalized experience for our learners. We can do this on a wider scale through criteria-based targets. We send personalized, specific, relevant messaging that aligns with the individuals’ interests. A CRM allows for a seamless experience for the learner and smooth operations within our unit.

Evo: What impact can that personalized and seamless experience have on lifelong retention of adult learners?

BEB: This is simple-a personalized and seamless experience demonstrates to our clients our desire to have a lifelong relationship with them. At UNB we believe learning is lifelong, so it’s not a matter of simply having a student register and being satisfied with that. Our goal is to have them return to us and to have a seamless and rewarding experience every step of the way.

The dedication and constant communication to our clients are what impacts retention. The student is receiving the individual attention they deserve, and with our personalized focus, they always know what to expect next. Any issues they may encounter can be addressed immediately.

Evo: How can an effective CRM make life easier for administrators and staff working in continuing and extended education divisions?

BEB: First and foremost, an effective CRM can save staff time-hundreds of hours of time! Through our CRM system, personalized emails that previously would have been sent individually are now automated. Our team can manage the lifecycle of the student, effectively market to the student, see a comprehensive history of all communication that has occurred with the student, all through the CRM.

From a marketing point of view, the best part is we can also see statistics on what communication the student responds to. With this info, we can tailor messages based on the recipient’s behavior. If they open an email and clicks on the links, they are more likely to be interested than someone who doesn’t engage. The person who opens the email is considered to be a warm or hot lead, which prompts our business development folks to follow-up with a phone call.

Staff are also able to manage key accounts (stakeholders), create reports and automatically share with relevant parties. Connections of each client can also be managed. For example, we can view the companies with which our clients are associated; we can see their sponsors, supervisors, invigilators, and professors. All of these connections allow us to communicate better with the student, by understanding their other relationships. This also helps us to serve our corporate clients better.

Evo: How could CRM systems evolve or be adapted to better allow colleges and universities to serve their non-traditional audiences?

BEB: One thing that we have heard a lot about lately is Artificial Intelligence technology. An AI Assistant built into a CRM system would enhance the student experience to a level we have never seen before. Having said that, we are satisfied with our CRM. Compared to enterprise systems designed for university traditional audiences-18- to 22-year-old, full-time students-the CRM does a great job to fill the gaps and help us to serve our non-traditional audiences effectively.

If we find the system can’t do something we want it to, we can make product enhancement suggestions. If our supplier thinks our suggestion would be valuable to others, they make the change. The support level and ease of contact with a CRM provider are crucial.

It is also critical that your CRM provider can adapt to current legislation rules, such as Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL). If legislation cannot be met, then the CRM team will have to come up with a workaround, which is not ideal. We were fortunate when CASL came into effect, we were ready with minimal effort. It was all thanks to our CRM!

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