Hitting the Books
When the news broke that Princeton University computers tapped into a Yale University Web site 14 times earlier this year, it immediately cast doubt on the ethical fortitude and intelligence of Princeton's admission office. It also spelled out the critical nature of acquiring, managing, sharing, and protecting student information at universities and colleges. That importance, which also applies to other information flowing through educational institutions, also exists at high schools and elementary schools, which, along with their higher-education counterparts, are registering greater interest in and enlisting more resources for CRM strategies, systems, and applications.
"We're seeing an uptick in self-service portals like those that allow students to go online to check grades, get course descriptions, obtain transcripts, and register for classes," says Kevin Scott, senior analyst with AMR Research in Boston. "You might not think of those capabilities as a traditional CRM application. But if you look at students as one set of a college's customers, certainly the college builds a relationship to make their lives easier, in part by providing them more information more easily."
Many CRM vendors agree with that assessment. "Colleges and universities are moving to the sweet spot that the commercial marketplace was in about two or three years ago," says Ron Police, senior vice president of Oracle's sales operations for higher education. "Our pipeline is growing every month."
Call centers, marketing automation, and analytics mark the areas of greatest interest to educational institutions, although marketing automation appears less important to the kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) market. However, some public school districts plan to strengthen their teacher-recruiting processes with analytics and marketing automation.
In addition to K-12 versus higher-education differences, there also exist nuances between public schools versus private schools and perhaps most important, significant distinctions between implementing CRM in a corporate setting and in an educational environment. Just ask the former corporate IT managers who have recently transferred their expertise to universities and school systems. "On the first day of our training sessions, we sometimes have to say, 'This is a mouse, you push this button, and if you hold it down, you can drag,'" says Phyllis Chasser, senior data warehouse analyst for the Broward County School District, in Florida. Others with key CRM implementation responsibilities lament the difficulty of selling the system to a wide range of end users by justifying the cost of new functionality that, for example, results in improved high school math scores, a better quality of university applicant, or online cafeteria menus.
Compared with the corporate world, educational institutions serve a larger and more diverse set of customers: students, parents, teachers, administrators, academic advisors and guidance counselors, department heads, maintenance, finance, and alumni, to name most, but not all. "The typical initial response to the word customer in education is that it is not broad enough," says Dr. Jeff Tanner, associate dean of Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business, in Waco, TX. "The term constituent is used intentionally to recognize that we're really talking about very different groups and to make the point that ROI is not always financial."
'C' is for 'Constituent'
When Indra Bishop joined the University of San Diego (USD) from Siebel Systems, the senior CRM consultant's first move was to internalize the term constituent relationship management. Her second move, she says, involved "getting our arms around what CRM would mean to the entire university, what different constituents wanted, and which pieces would give us immediate benefits."
USD went live with the first of many phases of its tiered Oracle CRM (Marketing Online, TeleSales, and Sales Online applications) implementation this past May, when the university's first applicant marketing campaign generated a 2 percent response rate from 50,000 emails to undergraduate prospects. Although several non-CRM factors suppressed the response rate, Bishop says, the campaign enabled USD to hear from more than 1,000 students who in past years the university had no means to interact with, other than through a prohibitively expensive direct mail campaign.
The main recruiting objective for USD and other universities is to increase the quality, rather than the quantity, of admitted students. USD Law School, which this fall became the university's second group to implement Marketing Online, recently fielded 4,500 applicants and admitted 1,300 of them to yield its freshman class of 320 law students. Boosting the quality of admitted students, as well as the likelihood that those admitted will accept the offer (and go on to graduate from the program), helps reduce the number of admitted students, and as a result the cost of communicating with them and wooing them to accept. Carl Eging, director of admissions for the law school, plans to reduce print and postage costs by roughly 50 percent through Oracle's CRM applications.
In addition to targeting enrollment management, USD Law School also has sharpened its event-management capabilities. Prior to its CRM investment the law school would mail marketing materials to 10,000 LSAT-takers announcing its presence at recruiting events offered through the Law School Admission Council. "We used to get about a 1 percent response rate to that," Eging says. "And printing all those pieces cost a lot of money."
With its new CRM capabilities USD Law School narrowed its focus to 800 LSAT-takers (whom the analytics deemed to be of higher quality and a potentially better fit for USD Law), emailed them information, and received a 7 percent response rate. "While that's a small CRM step, it marks a major change for us," Eging says. "Much of our IT infrastructure probably should have been replaced five or six years ago."
And that's the case across the organization. "We have not taken the approach that we're simply installing a product," Bishop says. "Our provost was very interested in having analytics capabilities so we could analyze which of our target segments provide the best students to USD. But we're also maintaining that CRM focus as we put in place new infrastructure and business processes. We think big and start small."
'H' is for 'Help Desk'
Although some private K-12 schools have invested in CRM applications, most CRM decisions in public K--12 schools are made at the district level. Based on facility count elementary schools often represent a lion's share of the constituents. At Decatur Public Schools in Illinois, for example, MIS Director Max Burgstahler oversees IT operations in two high schools, several administrative buildings, four middle schools, and 17 elementary schools. Like most other school districts, CRM--in the form of customer service applications--entered Decatur through the IT department and, specifically, its help-desk offering.
"We consider the student our ultimate customer," says Burgstahler, who with a staff of 12 provides PC and network support to 2,000 computers across the district. "The number one service we provide to customers is a relationship. We let them know there is someone here, we know about their problem, and we're working on it. As we close out these items, we communicate the resolution back to the customers. We're also able to track activity and trend some of our problems. So, we can look at our system and say, 'We're fielding a lot of questions about our email system, is it time for some training?' If so, we deliver that training."
The customer-facing component of that functionality is basic in CRM terms: email. When users--almost entirely teachers and administrators, although students with email addresses can also query the system--have a problem with their computer, the network or a particular application, they send an email that automatically opens an incident report in the Unipress Web-based solution Decatur Public Schools uses.
"One of the constant challenges we have in the educational world is that a lot of the software is designed for older operating systems," Burgstahler notes. So, updated computers and operating systems often result in problems for lesson-planning and grading software written for Windows 95 and even DOS. Judging from a recent survey those problems are resolved quickly. Students and administrators who used the new help-desk service indicated by a four-to-one margin that it had improved their experience. Another win resulted from some rudimentary data mining, in which Burgstahler's staff noticed a high frequency of printer problems. Since those problems required small, inexpensive, but time-consuming repairs, Burgstahler chose to outsource printer repair. "That has freed us up to do more of the critical network type of work for our customers," he says.
'A' Means 'Access for All'
In Florida's Broward School District the definition of customers, like everything else, is a little larger. The district is home to 270,000 prekindergarten through 12th grade students, 140,000 adult (continuing education) students, 38,000 employees, and more than 250 schools.
"We're extremely customer oriented," senior data warehouse analyst Chasser says. "If you're outside our little group you're our customer." That descriptor covers students, parents, administrators, guidance counselors, department heads (e.g., dropout prevention, psychological services, strategic planning, maintenance, finance grant writing), and even the media. "All the statistics about our schools in the papers and on television come from us," Chasser says.
Before linking those customers to a database (called TERMS, with a front-facing reporting solution from Brio), it often took principals, guidance counselors, and teachers up to 20 minutes to print out information spread out on dozens of different screens requested by students, parents, or other teachers. "Now it takes no more than three minutes or three seconds, depending on the student, to get that same information," Chasser says. And new information entered into the reporting tool is updated on TERMS nightly.
All students in the district have access to the data warehouse, as do all teachers, counselors, and, by the end of this month, parents. "We've lined up libraries and other public spaces with computers," Chasser says. "In a district as large as Broward there are quite a few families who don't have a computer, and we need to meet their needs." She and her staff are ironing out the security issues of granting access to the reporting tool via any Internet connection.
In meeting the needs of Broward's other constituents Chasser's staff and the reporting tool have achieved impressive results. Attendance records are updated daily, which has increased the accuracy with which the district can enforce a Florida state regulation that requires students with too many absences to lose their driver's license. "When a student approaches the number of allowable absences," Chasser explains, "he or she immediately receives a warning letter." In the past that notification system was much less disciplined and required a manual, on-screen review of each student's record.
Quicker access to automatically updated records also enables teachers and administrators to swiftly identify the adult who should be contacted in the case of a student injury or discipline incident.
When the district's testing department considered buying a $107,000 test report from an outside vendor, Chasser's group was able to study what the report provided and then develop a similar tool internally for about $2,000 in time and salaries. That translated to savings of more than $100,000--and the report can be modified to fit other tests.
Other benefits include quicker access to more accurate (i.e., up-to-date) information for grant writers within the district, and deeper information on standardized-test performance to teachers. For example, when a high school math teacher looked deeper into his students' relatively disappointing performance on a standardized math test, he saw that they did poorly on the graph-building portions of the exam. "He told me, 'I never thought I had to put much time into the graphs, because that seemed to be the easy part of the process,'" Chasser says. "So, he's more focused on teaching graphs now."
In coming months Chasser intends to increase the amount of personnel information reported into and stored on the database. "We spend a fortune recruiting 8,000 to 10,000 new teachers each year," Chasser says. "When we run reports that show most of our people are coming from Atlanta, that might mean that we spend less money advertising in Philadelphia and more on our Atlanta recruiting efforts."
Broward's mantra, Chasser asserts, "is that data will make a difference in student achievement." And that translates to a different type of return than most ROI objectives in the corporate world. Yet, test scores, attendance records, and other nonfinancial metrics help measure not only how well institutions develop their students' intelligence, but also the real return on their CRM investments.
Eric Krell is a freelance journalist based in Austin, TX.
sidebar: The ABCs of ROI
Educational institutions have so far focused their CRM activities on improving customer service and strengthening their recruiting efforts. As a result typical returns tend to include efficiency gains and more effective marketing campaigns:
Arizona State University credits a Brio solution with playing a key role in winning a $500,000 federal grant and reducing the IT department workload so two full-time data warehouse employees could be reassigned to work on other systems.
At the University of Pennsylvania, the Wharton School of Business's computing division, using a CRM solution from Talisma reduced per-case response time to its student and faculty constituents from about 10 minutes per case to fewer than two minutes per case.
Spain's Open University of Catalonia reports its administrative team is 40 percent more productive in responding to 40,000-plus student and alumni inquiries, thanks to a Siebel solution.
University of San Diego Law School improved response rates to event marketing campaigns from about 1 percent to 7 percent by targeting students who are a potentially better match for the law school. It also expects to reduce printing and postage costs associated with recruiting efforts by 50 percent.
Seventy-five percent of Decatur, IL, public schools' end users indicate that new help-desk reporting system improves their experience.
Broward County (FL) School District saved more than $100,000 on a testing tool by using a data warehouse and reporting solution to develop a similar tool internally. The district also reduced the time it takes to access complete student records from about 20 minutes to three minutes or fewer, and can now grant one-click access to student records to all students, teachers, administrators, and parents in the district.