It’s a scenario that plays out at universities across the nation daily. A prospective student requests a prospectus, and the admissions staff dispatches it. Perhaps there is some follow-up, and maybe, if the stars align, the student makes the journey from enquiry to application to actual enrolment. For the most part, however, universities have traditionally made little, if any, formal attempts to manage enquiries, seize on interest, and engage students in such a way that they make that commitment. Which means they are not capitalizing on initial interest.
The first step on the journey
The scenario described above was the situation that the University of Leicester found itself in several years ago. As Helen Pennack, then Head of Marketing Communications, recalls it, the university decided to mystery shop its prospectus process. It was a rather eye-opening experience.
“We found that it took up to three weeks for prospectuses to be sent out, and when they arrived, they were in unbranded polylopes with sticky labels for the address and sometimes in brown envelopes with names and addresses handwritten on the front, so it was not very professional looking. Moreover, it wasn’t being managed through any kind of a database. We had no record of who was requesting prospectuses and therefore who our market was.”
It galvanised the university to take action. Going forward, Marketing would be responsible for the packaging and dispatch of prospectuses. A member of the university’s IT services was tasked with creating a basic database and an online prospectus request form.
“In designing the database, we decided that we not only wanted to send out prospectuses, but also send customised and personalised letters,” says Pennack. “We also wanted to be able to send a follow-up email.” With these small but significant steps, the University of Leicester began its journey toward a robust, comprehensive CRM solution.
A rudimentary entry into CRM
Though relatively simple, the university’s first foray into CRM was, by all accounts, a success. Traditionally, Leicester had done well in terms of filling places, attracting students with an average A Level score of BCC. Now, it was generating more placements with AAB students – a notable improvement in quality.
“Over the past few years, we’ve risen in the league tables, and our performance in national student survey scores has been the best in the country. Thanks to our CRM capabilities, we have been able to communicate those successes to prospective students. I think it’s that which has made the real difference.”
Yet, the rudimentary CRM system had its limitations. For one, it was only a simple database, and was not integrated with Leicester’s student records system, which meant the university was not able to engage prospective students at every stage of the journey to enrolment.
“We were able to communicate with people who had requested a prospectus, or booked an open day. We wouldn’t know if someone went on to make an application, so we weren’t able to acknowledge that. We could continue communicating with them, but we didn’t know if they had completely lost interest in the university. So those who made an application, but hadn’t previously requested a prospectus or booked an open day, we weren’t able to communicate with them at all.”
Pennack says the university also made an attempt at dialogue with post-graduate applicants through the database, using data extracted from the student records system, yet it proved ineffective. She estimates they were only getting about 75% of the data from the records. Meanwhile, the university was interested in deploying more channels for communicating with prospective students.
“We wanted to be able to offer the personalised portal that a lot of organisations use in managing relationships with their customers. That’s when we decided we needed to invest in a proper CRM system – one that could be integrated with our student record system. Azorus was the only supplier who would hand-on-heart promise that they could integrate a CRM system with our student record system.”
A pure partnership
In any undertaking of this nature, there are bound to be challenges. This marked the first time that Pennack had worked with a software company, and she had clearly defined expectations as to what the solution should deliver in terms of capabilities. Those expectations resulted in Azorus making various upgrades to its CRM system to accommodate Pennack, a consideration she greatly appreciates.
“I imagine it would have been difficult working with another supplier because I don’t think we would have received the kind of personal attention we have experienced with Azorus. If anything, we have probably been quite demanding at times as a client. I suspect that, had we made the same demands we made with any other supplier, it would have been particularly costly for us. That wasn’t the case with Azorus.”
Whatever the challenges or demands, Pennack’s assessment of the relationship with Azorus is one of true collaboration and partnership. “We were quite determined about what we wanted to do with our CRM communications. Azorus adapted and developed its system to accommodate that. The end result has benefited us, but I believe it also has been beneficial for them, and for their other clients, in terms of the functionality they are able to offer.”
The great leap forward
The journey to a comprehensive CRM took time, yet Pennack professes she is very pleased with the outcome. “What we have now is a system that enables us to communicate with all prospective students in a variety of ways – print, email, portal, and Facebook.
For the first time, we are able to communicate confidently with students throughout the entire journey, including applicants, which I think is significant. That ability to communicate with someone from the moment they request a prospectus through to registration and know all the decisions they’ve made along the way, is vital. We weren’t able to do that before.”
The data available to Pennack and her colleagues is also more holistic, which means better market knowledge, enhanced strategies and improved results in student attraction and registration. “With the new CRM, we have the capacity to analyse whether people who visit the university on an open day are more likely to register than those who just request a prospectus. I think the market intelligence we’ll have will be hugely beneficial for us in the way we recruit students.”
Ready come what may
The timing of the CRM implementation couldn’t have been more serendipitous for Leicester. Rising fees and the 2011 release of a government white paper on the future of higher education have set out some serious challenges for the nation’s universities going forward. Pennack regards the new system as fundamental in the university’s response, because it will elevate Leicester in the eyes of potential students in a more competitive marketplace.
“I think recruitment will become tougher because the introduction of higher fees will mean less demand to an extent and certainly higher expectations about the ‘service’ a university should offer. Certainly, some of the items proposed in the white paper – the freeing up of number controls by allowing unrestrained recruitment of AAB students – will have an impact on us as a university. There will be placements where students are taken away from us and put into the market, and we’ll have to win them back from our competitors. It’s going to be challenging and very competitive indeed, certainly for the sections of the market we are keen to hang on to.”
Pennack continues: “I think universities know they need to implement CRM in order to make them competitive in recruiting students. I think we as a university are up there with the few who can say ‘we’ve got a really comprehensive CRM system.’ I think that will make things much easier in times that will prove very challenging for us.”
The journey continues
Though the CRM system is in place, Pennack envisions further evolution, with more personalisation and customisation driven through every channel of communication. The university, she stresses, will be looking to Azorus to make that happen.