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Focusing on Service in the Registrar's Office - Part 5: Constituent Relationship Management

J. James Wager, Consultant & Education Strategist

May 22, 2017

Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) is a strategy enabling the school to manage interactions with potential, current, and prior students.  CRM includes the delivery of service through multiple communication channels achieving highly interactive student engagement. 

In a much broader context, the “C” in CRM refers to “customer”, a term that many in higher education find to be inappropriate.  Many of the early applications of CRM systems were within sales organizations whereby the CRM was tracking typical sales activities and forecasting a win/loss probability of making a new sale.  In recent years, CRM systems have gained a strong foothold within the higher education sector.  All the major student information system software providers have incorporated CRM applications into their suite of services and have strategically used CRM components to improve the student-system interface.

The overarching approach is to capture, analyze, and act on constituents’ history and interaction with the school.  The intended outcome is to strengthen relationships: convert the admission prospect into an enrolled student; to enable the enrolled student to achieve their desired outcome; and to retain a strong and lasting relationship with alumni.

A hallmark of CRM systems is the compilation of information collected from a range of different communication technologies including telephone, websites, live chat, email, text, direct mail, marketing material, and social media.  Different student audiences will demonstrate different preferences to these communication channels.  Currently enrolled students may find email to be old-fashioned while admission prospects may prefer social media communications.  The goal is to use CRM to meet the needs of differing constituents.

Some Examples

One way to better understand the use of CRM systems is to examine specific applications some schools have improved through their use of a CRM system.  Here are a few examples:

  • Analyze prior prospect-to-enrolled conversion data at each/any stage of the life-cycle together with the school’s enrollment goals to identify key predictive factors.
  • Incorporate call center capabilities to improve student satisfaction.
  • Provide staff with reporting analytics to correlate anonymous website visitors, and prospects interactive history with marketing campaigns, automated communications, and direct mailings.
  • Provide lifecycle reports of prospects as they progress through the admission funnel.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of targeted, multi-channel communication plans to the resulting registration and actual participation in the event.
  • Establish an ongoing communication plan between the student and their academic adviser including student self-service capabilities, advisor progress monitoring, appointment scheduling, and alert generation.
  • Provide interaction history across the lifecycle of the student from prospect through alumni/donor.
  • Monitor social media and report on trending issues that positively or negatively impact the school’s performance and reputation.

The Components of CRM

There are multiple components represented by a CRM system.  From the school’s perspective, these components coalesce to form a holistic environment by which processes and opportunities can be measured and managed, trends and behaviors can be identified, and predictable forecasts can be formulated.  From a student perspective, this results in a highly effective and efficient overall experience of interacting with their school. 

Software.  Special CRM software is required to aggregate student interactions.  This software is typically in addition to the school’s basic student information system.  The coupling of CRM and SIS software will vary depending on the software provider(s) selected.  For example, Ellucian’s® CRM solution components are tightly coupled with its student information systems, such as Banner®.  The Oracle PeopleSoft® approach is different and enables API level integration with CRM products such as SalesForce® and Microsoft Dynamics®.  Regardless of the approach, the purpose of the CRM software is the integration of data.

Cloud Based.  CRM software is extensively cloud based, as contrasted to on-campus installed.  Higher education is at an interesting technology cross-road.  Some argue the need for on-campus installation due to privacy regulations; other will argue for the technological and potential cost advantages of cloud based services.  In the realm of CRM software, software developers have taken a very strong position in favor of cloud based solutions.  Schools considering the adoption of CRM solutions need to examine this issue within their overall information technology environment.

Management.  Every CRM solution requires proper management, work-flow development, and decision-making involving school staff.  As depicted in this simple illustration, there are multiple points of decision that need to be configured for the school.  It is important to recognize that configuration of the CRM is different from writing software code.  Configuration, rule writing, and work-flow development utilize editing tools provided within the CRM software.  These are powerful tools that likely will require special training to create “CRM super users”.  To achieve a successful CRM implementation, the school needs to organize, interpret, and discern the best fit of the CRM to the school environment. 

Privacy.  With the emphasis of internet technologies and social media, CRM installations need to have a strong focus on student privacy and security of personally identifiable information. 

Constituent Relationship Management systems may not be the right solution for all schools.  But, the adoption rate of CRM systems is on the rise and new technological capabilities are increasing rapidly.  As part of the school’s student service initiative, CRM’s are one aspect to consider.

In the next article, I will examine the issues surrounding staffing and organizational structure of the Registrar’s Office.

Part 1: The User Experience
Part 2: Continuous Quality Improvement
Part 3: One-Stop Student Service
Part 4: The Sphere of Influence
 Part 6: Staffing and Organizational Structure

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