CRM & Higher education: relationship building in the cyber age.

CRM & Higher education: relationship building in the cyber age.

I’ve been working within higher education for nearly three years now, but more recently and specifically within International Student Marketing & Recruitment. My role mainly entails communications management and dealing with international prospects worldwide on a daily basis; from initial enquiry – to establishing contact – nurturing the lead – and finally, to conversion.

While the process sounds smooth, anyone involved in student recruitment will tell you it’s usually painstakingly slow, taking anywhere between 6-24 months to complete this cycle …and that’s if you’re lucky!  Some leads go cold, defer their entry or just choose somewhere else to study – all after your sustained efforts in having built relationships with them. But that’s the roulette wheel of recruitment; you can’t win them all.

So the conversion cycle can be protracted and uncertain. And with the volume of enquiries that universities tend to generate in any given year from student prospects in the thousands, it’s important in today’s age that their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system can track and trace every line of communication with an enquirer and pinpoint what stage of the ‘student journey’ they are at – or are not.

 

Gecko’s client forum. credit: @geckoengage

I traveled to Edinburgh a few days ago, to visit Gecko HQ, one of the organisations pioneering CRM development. It was their first ever client forum; a chance for higher education institutions across the UK to meet, hear upcoming product enhancements and share organisational feedback and experiences with the Gecko team. It was a fairly casual affair, 20-25 university representatives meeting up in an open-plan office, where Gecko techs worked busily away in the background. Only established in 2012, Gecko is a surprisingly young newcomer to the arena of digital marketing, yet they seemed only to be emboldened by their nascencey rather than timidly hopeful.

Gecko HQ

After a routine tea & coffee reception, we were ushered into a smaller glass-encased room, where we heard introductory remarks from CEO and Founder, Matt Lanham. It was really his words that are the basis for this blog. He spoke about communication; but particularly in the subtext of today’s cyber-social age of instant information, and how the global consumer culture is putting universities on the back-foot in creating tailor-made and personalised communication content for each student.

Paraphrasing Matt, he said:

“Most of the students coming through now have never lived without a smartphone. They have never lived in a world without Facebook, Whatsapp or Twitter. They are digital natives with the world at their fingertips. And so, today’s CRM is perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.”

In a world where all information ever recorded is now “Google-able”, universities need to do more than just blindly process personal data, they need to interact with it and foster relationships with it. The student journey needs to become more than a transaction. It needs to become a two-way conversation whereby the student feels they are receiving personalised communication based upon the information they allow the university to have. That’s where Gecko excels beyond most CRMs.

Gecko’s uses something called “conditional logic”, and it is intertwined throughout its software capabilities. It allows users to tailor communication content to recipients based on the information they supply. So, if an enquirer registers for a university event and expresses an interest in – for example Law – users can tweak the conditional logic so that the student receives a QR code event ticket, information about the many courses aligned to Law, and information about other relevant events and courses that the student might be interested in. That is conditional logic in its most basic expression.

But it means, for organisations dealing with thousands of enquiries, that specified and personalised content can be automated, and ensures the enquirer receives only the relevant information that they are interested in, not spam. The more conditional logic you apply, the more personalised the content, and the easier it is for the enquirer to trust and familiarise with your brand. The problem with many other CRM systems is that they focus on process and procedure, instead of relationship building. CRM systems were never intended as anything other than a data management tool. But data management is not sufficient enough for universities to keep ahead of the curve when it comes to recruitment and marketing. It was Matt who noted that, only very recently, CRM systems were finally able to make their software mobile-optimised, despite 60% of all internet browsing in the UK being performed by mobile. So CRM systems are having a tough time catching up with the curve – trends move too often and too fast to become complacent.

 

 

Matt’s words and sentiments certainly got me thinking about communication, and how much of it is actually wasted by broadcasting generic and unspecified information to users. I remember when I was a student – and I suppose I still am – being inundated by waves of e-mailing spam, either by internal university communications, or otherwise which I would swiftly swipe left into my trash folder without even opening it. Matt’s words certainly also made sense shortly after the event, when I was browsing on Booking.com for city breaks away (conveniently inspired by my encounter with the cultural delights of Edinburgh), only to receive an email three minutes later informing me of “fantastic deals in Edinburgh for you, Conán!”.

Or maybe there’s a very fine line as to how much relevant information people want to receive from companies. The Booking.com example certainly did feel a little odd, if not plain weird, but perhaps its instantaneous timing hindered its effect on me slightly. Either way, I think we can agree that communication – digital, verbal, or otherwise – is a very powerful tool and has the ability to very quickly form opinions and assumptions, therefore handling it appropriately is the key to building successful and genuine relationships.

 

Conán Meehan is an MSc in Communications & Public Relations student and Executive Assistant for International Student Marketing & Recruitment at Ulster University. You can follow him on Twitter @ConanMeehan

THE BANALITY OF NUCLEAR THREAT: My Time in Korea

THE BANALITY OF NUCLEAR THREAT: My Time in Korea

Just a few weeks ago I was packing my bags, preparing to head off on a little bit of an adventure in Asia. My brother, who has lived in South Korea for five years now, had invited me to visit him in Seoul, where he’s currently settled.

And although it meant missing one or two classes from my Communications & Public Relations course, I figured the travel experience would be worthwhile, despite it being my fourth visit to South Korea (and second visit in 2017!). Okay… So I love to travel, and I’m especially fascinated by Korea; its history, its culture, its economic dominance in Asia, and of course, its love for Kimchi (a sort of fermented cabbage delight).

But as I was packing, I couldn’t help be aware – even nervous – of the fact that I was about to spend two weeks essentially locked in the crosshairs of Seoul’s nuclear neighbour just 35 miles north of the city. At a time when tensions on the Korean peninsula are at an all-time high – North Korea’s recent ICB missile test, Trump’s twitter tirades and ‘declaration of war’, as well as the US Army’s show of strength dangerously close to the border of North Korea – a vacation in South Korea was seemingly ill-advised.

Closing my eyes, sticking my fingers in my ears, yelling “la-la-la-la-la-la-la”, I went anyway.

And what I found was remarkably the opposite to what I had expected before setting sail. I mean, I had been to Korea several times before, but not when relations had manifested into physical or visible acts of provocation. I was expecting to witness a subdued Korean people living in an atmosphere of extreme uneasiness, almost as if conflict could kick off at any moment between the two Koreas – or at least that’s how CNN portrayed it.

The reality however, couldn’t have been further from my expectation. I found a Korean people apparently unfazed by the recent hostilities on the peninsula. People I met were either happy to greet a tourist, or just too busy glued to their smartphones to even care. Nobody even bats an eye when a Korean soldier in uniform uses public transport. Their concerns appeared to be much simpler; a few minutes-late subway train was considered much more of a catastrophe than the threat of mass nuclear annihilation.

Korea1
Nosedive: Subway passengers using their smartphone on their commute.

Besides, my visit to South Korea coincided with Chuseok, a major thanksgiving festival and week-long public holiday for all Koreans. I’m told it’s a pretty big deal. So maybe spirits were relatively high, with people being simply too busy with family festivities to even fathom the possibility of all-out warfare.

Or maybe Koreans have become so accustomed to the threat of nuclear annihilation that it has now become part of the norm, almost banal. Similar to the violence during the Troubles; no matter how horrific the event, it just became expected and part of the daily narrative.

But as with any trip to South Korea, my brother and I visited the final frontier between North and South Korea: the Demilitarised Zone, or, ‘the DMZ’, if you’re cool.

Ironically named, the demilitarised zone demarcates the physical border between the two Koreas, and despite it intended to be a neutralised area, its actually the most heavily militarized border on the planet. So it’s a bit of a misnomer to say the least. Tourists are required to go through several security checks before embarking on the guided tour, and we were even made to sign a declaration of responsibility in the event of our deaths.

The tension on the DMZ is palpable. Soldiers from opposing Koreas engage in an incredibly tense standoff from the safe havens of their respective jurisdiction, and we were even lucky enough to hear the distant mumbles of propaganda music played by North Korean soldiers, in an attempt to intimidate tourists visiting from the Southern side of the DMZ.

Korea2
The Demilitarized Zone demarcates the physical border between North & South Korea. (22/09/17)

Upon returning (safely) from the DMZ, I asked my brother’s fiancé how Koreans really feel about the threat of conflict breaking out on the Korean peninsula and whether she thinks the U.S are helping or exacerbating the current situation. Sun Joo Choi, 35, from Boryeang, outside Seoul, told me,

“Most [South] Koreans really aren’t very concerned about the threat by North Korea. People having been living with this threat for so long that they no longer take it seriously. They are far more concerned about what is happening locally with our own politics in South Korea than they are with a rhetorical threat by Kim Jon Un. But the U.S are definitely not helping to resolve any tensions right now.”

So if that is true, that people aren’t at all fazed by North Korea’s nuclear programme, have the media got it wrong? Are they slightly misjudging the current public opinion in South Korea to the recent hostilities? Do they care more about the bread and butter issues than they do about North Korea? Or does a genuinely credible nuclear threat actually exist on the Korean peninsula as to warrant extensive media coverage?

Or maybe, more accurately, as the Guardian reported, some South Koreans are far more worried about the threat of U.S President Donald Trump, than they are their nearest neighbour.

 

Conán Meehan is an MSc Communications & Public Relations student and Executive Assistant for International Student Marketing & Recruitment at Ulster University. You can follow him on Twitter @ConanMeehan