Friday, September 24, 2010

CRM and Customer Service

Students have a desperate need to be in touch, to be in direct contact with others. There is something about their sense of being somehow isolated within a very connected world that drives them to crave contacting and being contacted. Texting. Twitter. Facebook. Flickr. MySpace. Cellphones. They feel driven to communicate and be communicated to.

They wish to be engaged and to engage with others. It actually gives them great pleasure to be connected as it would for anyone really. We know that people who are connected to others in some continuing way have better, happier lives. That is the basis for people joining groups for example. Being a member of the group can increase a feeling of belonging, of being engaged with others and bring pleasure.  Just being around others helps solidify our sense of being alive and having some value. If someone wants to communicate to and with you, you must have some significance to them or they would not tweet, or text or call.

I was just reminiscing with one of the best TV shows ever and certainly the one which had the very best pilot ever – Hill Street Blues.  In the second episode, two partners who were shot in the first episode are estranged; no longer engaged in one another.  It was not getting shot together that bothered either one. What did bother one character completely was that the other never called him when he was in the hospital.  He did not communicate with him. It is also a running sit com joke that “you never call your mother.” Now of course that’d be “you never tweet or text me.”

Communicate with Them
Consider that one thing college students want from their school is to feel engaged, to feel the school values them. So one way of showing value would be to stay in touch with them. To communicate as much as is possible to reach out and show students we are engaged in their lives. That should help retention after all. And it would, if done correctly.

Colleges and universities do communicate regularly with students but with the wrong messages and information. From the first contact as a potential student through the actual enrollment when the deposit comes in, universities send communications to students that woo them into coming to the school. They focus on the individual and work to get the potential student to agree to a formal engagement through enrolling that could lead to a future marriage with the college, university or school. We send informative and marketing love notes to show how much we appreciate the potential student.  

Then once we attract a student to say yes and enroll at the college, we become the abusive fiancĂ©. Form the point of engagement the communications become formal, cold forms to fill out and bills to pay. The personalization that was so key to getting to the “yes” is only shown in mail merged ‘dear occupant” letters and especially in bills. Bills are the most personalized and impersonal communication sent since each must be tailored to the student’s particular fiscal demands of the school. But believe me, the receipt of personalized bill is not a pleasant experience.

There are schools that do text and tweet to students. But not well. They just send them all general tweets and information about school like “Finals next week. Good luck” or “Final payments for semester due Fri.” Wow, who wouldn’t be thrilled at that?

Students want communications that are for me and not for everyone. They are after all self-focused. They want information. Tweets or texted that applies directly to them. They do not want to just be part of the crowd. They want to be part of a crowd that is them and others who are focused on a topic, idea, pastime, person or the such. For example, a knitter wants to hear about knitting or a movie buff wants to just hear about the latest movies or a fan of Lady Gaga or a band want to hear about her or the band playing close by. Or an environmental sciences major wants to hear about things related to the major. A new discovery. A scientist announcing something relating to environmental science.  The students will be even more appreciative to hear about things that relate to their specific interest in their major. For example, of they are minoring in stream ecology, a professor at the university publishing a paper on the effect of currents on crayfish and where to get a copy of the study might pique their interest. What’ll really do it is an announcement that a former student just got a promotion or a job or grant or that a professor is seeking lab assistants to work on a new grant and they can apply.

Wow, that’s building connections for retention.

CRM A Very Useful Technology
But, how can a school cut the information that finely? How can a college target announcements to specific students. Or how can a university put out  an announcement about a new grant for only those interested in the effect of current change on crayfish without doing a hell of a lot of scut work and digging? That kind of data slicing is just too much to do. A school would have to assign a whole team of people and more to try and gather up that information to be able to send out email, tweets or the like to target students and campus employees. That just does not seem possible to do.

Well, it is if you haven’t heard about something called Customer Relationship Management (CRM). CRM is both a process and software that allows a client like a college to gather in information, have it sorted by interest or if the system is good, by any parameter you set. For example, if a college wanted to send a grant announcement seeking lab assistants with at least honors grades  to those who could be interested in stream ecology it could have the system do the search form stream ecology majors or minors who are in their senior year and have a grade point average of at least 3.0. The system would search through all the data in the system and come up with a list of email or tweet addresses to send the announcement to. Then the CRM system, if it is a robust system would send a pre-written email, tweet or whatever  out to all who fit the parameters.This is communicating correctly.

The university is in constant contact with students this way with information they would deem pertinent causing them to feel the school is engaged and focused on them. CRM is the tool to be able to do that.

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