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

My year in the Weapons Industry

My year in the Weapons Industry

If you had of asked me “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” while I studied for my GCSE’s, the answer would have been somewhere in Liverpool studying Advertising or Graphic Design. All my career prospects revolving around the idea being able to see a Liverpool game whenever I wanted and drawing cartoons. Immature and hopeful thinking, especially as I have never been the best student, “Curtis has plenty of potential but just needs to apply himself” a phrase that my dad was sick of hearing year on year at parent teaching meetings.How things have changed. I never thought back then that I would be where I am today. Although on the surface a lot is still the same; I’m still working in the same job I had when I was 16 (Shout out to Peacocks) My friends are still the same as when I was sitting my GCSE’s (lads, lads, lads) .. But what has changed is how much I’ve grown up and mainly just in the past year. Even my harshest critics in my dad would have to agree somewhat… although I get the feeling he won’t be completely convinced for a while yet.

What has changed in the past year? Well I spent the last year on Placement at Thales UK for my placement. An opportunity I am very grateful to have got. Last August in typical Curtis fashion I had left getting placement until the last minute. Two interviews later and I was starting my chapter as Internal Communications Intern for a company I knew very little about never mind the industry they are in. Thales is a global company with sites located in England, France, Australia, Germany, USA and Northern Ireland. In Thales Belfast or AOW we focused on Air Operations and Weapon Systems. As you may have guessed this is an area in which I have absolutely no background in, unless you count all the hours I dedicated to playing Call of Duty while at school. (It absolutely does not count). Luckily I wasn’t hired to know anything about Engineering or Weapon Systems.

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I was tasked with creating the Role of Internal Communications across the business line. I effectively became the point of contact for Internal Communications for 500 plus employees.

For someone who had only ever worked in bars and clothes shops this was a daunting task at first. I found myself frantically re-reading all of my notes and beginning to panic thinking I was not up for the job. To be honest it was those notes that really got me off and running within Thales. I carried a small notebook around with me gathering information on everything from every person I met from different fractions throughout the business. When I say everything, I really mean it literally. I even made note of what people looked like as not forget their name. It was this almost psycho level of detail that allowed me to create an extensive SOSTAC analysis in which to pitch to the leadership team.

The morning of the pitch I suited up got in extra early to arrive in and find that Fridays are actually ‘dress down Fridays’. As I stand there dressed to the nines while literally shaking with nerves, I make my pitch and much to my surprise I am greeted with a wave of compliments and support. It was from that moment on I knew to have confidence in what I was doing, the content I had learned from the lectures in the past two years had actually paid off! (Who knew that paying that £3,000 a year was anything more than an excuse to go out 4 days a week?!).

I then began to implement a series of my ideas, a lot of them through trial and error and it was then I learnt the importance of time keeping and how important it was. For years I have heard teacher moan and cry about these aren’t assignments you can’t do the night before and well I had a very big wakeup call when I had bit off more than I could chew and determined not to let my new employers down, I found myself working straight through the night trying to meet the harsh deadlines I had set for myself and when I found myself nodding off at my desk the next day, I learnt the importance of planning.

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While in the most part my time at Thales was plain sailing even with my incredibly cringe worthy and ‘puntastic’ email blasts and embarrassing myself to the tune of ABBA at the staff do.

I then began to grow into my role, becoming more and more involved with every aspect of the job. From seeking more responsibility in joining up with the corporate section of the business; by getting involved with air shows and All Employee Road Shows. To becoming a member of the Charity Group and the Society working group and helping them with their many fundraisers and allowing me to use a more creative side and also get some training from the Graphics team in creating posters and newsletters.

At times working in Thales seemed surreal, I felt like it was a dream that I was going to wake up from at any moment. Meeting Astronaut Tim Peake, Being sent across the water to spend a few days working in London and Southampton, training on a military helicopter simulator, attending an air show, meeting members of the Malaysian government and royal family and not to forget being asked to represent Thales at the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards. There would even be model missiles left on my desk in the mornings…

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No day was the same and rarely boring! Although I can’t pretend my head wasn’t turned when my housemates made their regular appearance to FLY Monday’s… I’m still a student after all.

I had fully expected to be making Tea and Coffees and doing the jobs that no one wanted, so I was over the moon to be granted the freedom to do my job my way. My manager was supportive from get the go, I can’t thank Thales enough for the role they have played in getting me to this stage of my development as Public Relations professional.

Who knows maybe I’ll be back one day?

Curtis Cregan is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be contacted on Twitter: @CurtisCregan17, and Instagram: @CurtisCregan7.