Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Some Technology of Customer Service and Retention

Imagine you owned a gold mine with large nuggets lining the walls of the mine. But all you had to dig the nuggets out were your fingers. Yes, you might be able to scratch a few nuggets out but then you found you did not have a smelter to process the gold. Well, you could ask the college to help. You’d set up task forces. get committees going and some faculty would write papers for you on the history of gold smelters in the Gold Rush; the chemical properties of gold, gold versus human capital as an economic strength and of course gold as a metaphor for oppression in the poetry of the Victorian period. The committees and task force would produce why the college is not mining the gold and a recommendation that the university look into setting up another task force to evaluate gold mining tools and a request for release time in their reports that would be filed within a year or two. 

The reality is that every university, college, career and community college has just such a mine. A mine of great value and future wealth. A mine that could increase both enrollment and retention. A mine lined in millions of bites of data just sitting there waiting for you to use it. And unlike a gold mine, this data mine keeps increasing its raw materials every day, every hour, and most every minute as the school collects data on itself and its student body collectively and individually. And all a school needs to do is mine it. And there are tools out there just waiting to be used to bring the gold to the surface and then transform it into very useful material that will bring immense value to the school.

The tools fall into two categories of data miners and customer relationship management and the best of the tools such as one I will discuss do both to create usable information that will increase enrollment and retention.

Data Mining
Data mining at its simplest is using computer programs to create data and extract patterns from the data collected. For example, when a school enters al the information about students from their applications into an MIS system like Datatel or Banner, that is the start of creating the mine from which data can be collected. But like a gold mine there are not just nuggets of the valuable stuff, there is plenty of dirt, stones and even iron pyrite in among the gold data.

In a college data mine, there are millions of terabytes of information on the students, the institution and everything else entered into the MIS system. The valuable data needs to be sorted out from the piles of unneeded distracting datasets and terabytes of numbers and unwanted data.  For example, when a school wants to learn about the interests of incoming freshmen so they can try to focus on their interests during orientation, someone or something needs to sort through every bit of information gathered on student interests to be able to create a pattern that can inform the design of orientation. This can be done by hand of course and some schools are still doping that. Manually going through piles of paper to pull out information from the question “What do I do for fun?” Some schools may have put the question on a survey with five choices. Then the system can be asked to spit out the results of the survey but of course that limits students to pre-determined interests. The survey is a simple form of data mining but a limited one. Data can come not just from the student’s application but from a lot of sources from the initial inquiry on…such as SAT, ACT, GRESS, GMAT, inquiry forms, etc. The application is not actually the start of creating the first nuggets of data in the mine, it is the very first interaction the school has with the student. By the time the student applies the mine should actually be fairly large, especially if the school is using CRM for recruitment…which many schools are today.

A real data mining system would be able to analyze every bit of information students might have entered into the system and then break it into patterns of interest say by gender, age, town of origin, major, minor, how many will be taking English 101 on Tuesday and Thursday, and so forth. Data mining pulls out all the gold and even sorts it into categories and patterns.

It has great uses in higher education in many areas such as admissions and retention. In admissions a person could use data mining to study application and admission yields from different geographical areas.  It could see that some towns or cities provide greater yields than others indicating that perhaps more time should be spent working that town to increase enrollments; or inversely greater effort needs to be out into turning applications from low yielding areas to enrollment. It could be used to see what towns produce the most applications and then which applications from those towns turn into shows.

When I was a college chancellor and we wanted to expand our admissions reach into new territories, we data mined our information. We determine the geographical, social and characteristics of the last three enrollment pools. We discovered that the students tended to be from working class background, towns of less than 36,000, suburban, families that earned less than 80,000 a year.  We also learned that our new students came from areas with mixed racial populations with prominent African-American population segments. Finally, we also discovered that our students were predominantly from areas in which college attendance was not very high so they were often the first to attend higher education.  With that information mined from our own data, we were able to target populations that matched our demographics to increase the probability of enrollment success.

Obverse, if we were seeking to differentiate our student demographics we would use the information to target populations and areas that could yield new students that were different from our current population.

We also used data mining to discover which advertising worked best to motivate student populations to contact the college. After identifying what our on-campus population was like demographically for business majors, we mailed out direct marketing to families in areas that fit the demographics. The date mining created target markets for us.  Our return from the direct market effort was 27% points higher than a random test mailing. .

We were also able to use data mining from a simple program named Leadwise to create predictive models for students from particular high schools in particular majors. This was part of a retention effort to admit students who came from areas that showed better success than those who did not. We were not simply looking to make the initial admissions numbers but to increase retention to graduation. What we found by using a sophisticated data mining program was that students from one high school who entered this major did poorly in composition and were prone to drop out of school within six weeks. That allowed us to first try to reinforce the developmental aspects of composition for these students. That worked a little but they still dropped out in numbers that were larger than any other high school group we studied through data mining. So we worked to direct these students into other majors in which they seemed to do better.

The data mining is what allowed us to make these calls and we made them not from a feeling in the belly but from accurate data. Data mining allowed us to not only increase admissions and show but to build a retention rate that was between 70 and 74% placing our little school in among the elites of higher education and increase our revenue so we could then engage in the next piece – CRM (customer relationship management) which increased retention even more.

The predictive modeling we were able to do was significant to our show and retention success. We were able to maintain a show rate, the percentage of students who apply, put down the deposit and actually show by adding to our stitch in effort from some data mining. We knew what students from certain areas would likely need to be abler to make it to school and stay based on the patterns we were able to discover from mining the data. We also had a brilliant stitch in manager who did an excellent job of working with students to get them to come to school. She was able to get a show rate that was often 90+% of all those who had applied. That was excellent.

Data mining would also allow a school to predict the class sizes of consecutive courses such as a foreign language. For example, the data could be mined of all students who took French 1-4, when they took it and how many dropped the courses, what their majors were, when they dropped and what their social demographics were. The model could show then that 100 students started French. Twenty dropped after the course. Ten were undeclared majors; six were majoring in science related areas and four were English majors. The remaining students were humanities, English, sociology, French, German and Chinese majors, with six in other areas. The data could then show that after French 2, thirty more students dropped out or did not re-enroll. Their majors could be plotted and so would those of the remaining students. The same for French 3 and 4. Let’s say that going into French 4 there were only nine students left and they were six French majors and 3 from liberal arts areas. In rough terms, the model would show that there was a 90% drop in enrollment from French 1 to 4.  This would be able to tell a school how many students are needed in French 1 to get a class of say ten in French 4 as well as predict how many students would be in French 4 based on majors. If this program were run for a grouping of cohorts, say five years of French 1 to 4, a very certain and sophisticated predicative model could then be developed that would show how many students need to start French 1 to get ten in French 2,3, and 4 as well as predict the class sizes based on majors.

Imagine the power of a planning tool that could do that? No need to imagine, get a data mining tool but get one that also has a CRM component to fully do the trick.

CRM and Customer Service

Customer relationship management has become a powerful retention tool that every college should have yet they do not. It is a very powerful technology that provides a long list of benefits all of which will help then school manage and increase enrollment and retention as well as some other administrative functions from predictive modeling sending out emails to targeted groups of students.

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, if 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. Now how to do it.

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.

CRM is both an approach to working with the college’s primary customers and software that allows a client like a college to gather information, have it sorted by interest or if the system is good, by any parameter you set. It is governed by three primary components –
1.                     processes,
2.                     people and
3.                     technology

Processes: A Customer Relationship Management approach is a more student-centered and business-oriented way of thinking. CRM integrates diverse pertinent data about students, admissions, marketing, attendance, classes, courses, grades, years in school, majors, minors etc. to reveal and develop useful information the college can use to be more successful in attracting and retaining students among other functions while creating greater student satisfaction with the school
People: CRM can be an effective means to help overcome the walls that separate silos since information must be shared and areas that may not have communicated before will have to work together to perform function. CRM will certainly have benefits for students and the college’s bottom line but can and usually does provide benefits within the workforce which can see its workload reduces as technology does work that could have taken hours and even days of painstaking analysis to get done.

Technology: The software to get CRM to get the work done. (In the rest of the article I will be using a CRM package Retain CRM by Hobsons to illustrate points on the value of customer relationship management. I have chosen Hobsons package because in my opinion it is the most robust and complete one and after studying leading packages I believe it is the best for college use.  Not only does it accomplish CRM tasks but has a strong data mining component built into it as well. I receive no compensation from Hobsons by the way)

Some Examples of What CRM Has Done for Colleges
If for example, a college wanted to send a grant announcement seeking lab assistants in the senior year with at least honors grades in two specific courses 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. That is a simple example of what CRM can do. Email certainly is one component but is only one component – although a primary and popular one. CRM is increasingly personalizing text,  web portal content, personalized letters/brochures, Facebook, relevant tele-counseling conversations, etc.

I spoke with Shelby Wallace, Norwich University (VT) Director of the Center for Student Success who told me that CRM is a powerful tool the University uses to predict when a student might drop out and intervene to save him or her.

A little background here. Norwich University decided that it had to increase retention at the school.  It did so by having some consultant groups in to test various aspects of the university’s performance. We were asked to do the customer service for retention part.

Since the work, the University has had some amazing results including the largest entering class in the history of the school but more important is the 35 additional students retained. That means that population is also up since admissions was not just refilling emptied slots. We are of course pleased to have helped out and it was reported that customer service has definitely improved on campus. But that was not the whole factor to the solution.

The University really focused on retention and crated a whole new structure with Shelby heading it to increase retention at the University. One tool they used was the technology of CRM and in particular a package put out by Hobsons called Retain.  This package does all the CRM things any school could want some of which were discussed ion an earlier article posted.

It should be noted that Norwich has the proud distinction of being the first private college to offer officers training at a college. It was the creator of what would also become ROTC. So it has been an innovator since its beginning.

One of the exciting things it does is allows schools to develop predictive models that can help them pinpoint students who the model indicates may be candidates to drop out. . The information it pulls together can then be sent to faculty and advisors who can step in and provide the identified students the help or attention they need to stay in school.

Retain cuts through the data to identify certain characteristics that Norwich students who have dropped out exemplify. It can help pinpoint the times that students drop out and the attributes of the students who dropped out at the identified times. For example, when we did our study of customer service and retention we found out that a number of students dropped out after first semester sophomore year.  They seemed disillusioned by some of the things that had been occurring to them as members of the military-oriented student population.

With CRM, the University could not only pinpoint when the students were dropping but the characteristics of students who did and might drop. They then could intercede with the identified students and work to keep them in schools. They could also identify the characteristics of students who did and could drop out. These were fed back into the Retain CRM package and the University was able to identify those students who fit the characteristic and use the system as an early warning device. A good CRM package also sends the data into an existing MIS system such as Banner or Datatel as does the one Ellenburg uses.
Norwich was able to build email lists of students who fit all sorts of specific criteria such as major, minor, grades, courses taken, from a particular state etc. The lists were then generated and they would automatically send out emails with information that applied to the students. As a result, the University could send out emails to a specific set of students who could actually be interested in the subject matter. No more spam.

Central Washington University also used CRM to increase retention by targeting groups at risk. They used Hobsons EM Retain for a multitude of purposes after budget cuts reduced their ability to including the ability to:
• Determine which students are leaving CWU before graduating, when they are leaving, and why they are leaving
• Recommend strategies for increasing CWU’s first-to-second year retention rate from 75 percent to 82 percent within two years
• Recommend a strategy to engage all members of the campus community in CWU student success and retention
Using CRM Ellensburg was able to communicate with more students and more consistently than ever before. They also found that using CRM in the Hobson Retain program, they were able to increase the University retention rate by seven percent in two years reversing an attrition growth.

The University transferred every routine communication from the registrar to the CRM system while making the communications more robust and vibrant. They ere also able to move people whose job it was to send these emails and other communica6tions to more productive roles in the offices. They were also able to personalize the communications to students taking away the dreaded “dear occupant” syndrome.  Finally, they were able to track every communication to see if it were opened and read to assure its strength of customer service. Sending a message that is not opened is equal to not sending it at all. So they could resend or send a different message to those who did not open the first communication. The University could also automate its communications with parents, faculty, staff and others using the Retain CRM program.

CRM. Pretty powerful stuff.

If we had a piece of technology that would have given us even more productive and predictive information we would have done even better in retaining students in the college I was president of. . If we had a really sophisticated data mining and CRM combined tool like Hobsons Retain, we would have done even better. And if we had used Leadwise fully to identify interests and student needs earlier, combined with its data mining capabilities we would have had a show rate in the 90% range every time.

Leadwise is a planned data mining tool that is customized for each and every client. It sets up a survey for students that asks them specific questions about the interests, motivation and goals that can be used to help with stitch in and show as well as building larger data mining scenarios. Leadwise asks students a set of questions that the school has worked on with the Leadwise representative; usually 10-15 of the questions.

Leadwise matches student interests from a questionnaire to a college’s catalogue and marketing materials to generate a fully personalized College Plan focused specifically on that student’s interests and goals. Leadwise simultaneously takes the details the student enters and sends it to the admissions department as a self-qualified lead in script form. The individual responses to the questionnaire are compiled in a Marketing Management Data Base to inform marketing decisions based on what potential students want and are viewing.
Leadwise personalizes college catalogues and materials while also generating informed leads that convert to enrollments. The program digitizes college catalogues and marketing materials so that when students complete a brief questionnaire on their background, goals and interests, a fully personalized, on-line “college plan” is created and sent back to the student’s computer. The questionnaires include basic information such as name, etc but also obtains information on radio, magazine, movie preferences through higher tech information like pod casting or mobile webs. The pages all use the student’s name combined only with that information he or she wants. Each section is also personalized to the college using the pictures and welcomes from administrators, faculty and others.

Leadwise also generates a self-qualified lead in the form of “sales sheet” from the questionnaire providing the details an admissions representative needs to help the student decide to enroll at the school. 

All of this is great but the program also has a data mining section that helps target marketing for the school. The program adds the individual details from each student’s responses into a data base that the school can use to inform its marketing decisions. So for example, if a college decides to ask where the student learned about the school or what marketing piece the student recalls, that information is stored in a data base from which the college can data mine to better target its marketing. 

Leadwise™ is a flexible system that is customized and personalized for each school to integrate it into the college’s visual identity. It has been shown to increase applications and interest in enrolling by 14% and has cut admission’s representative time by as much as 34%. This allows admission representatives more time to follow up to increase show rate or enroll more students.

If this piece had value for you, you will want to get a copy of The Power of Retention by clicking here NOW 


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