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CRM: Managing Students or Serving Them?

Second in a series about CRM

As we noted in The Amorphous CRM, Customer (or Constituent) Relationship Management means different things at both the strategic and tactical level depending on one’s perspective. Although CRM solutions for Higher Education vary by vendor in their approach, one thing all CRM systems share is the promise to increase value by bringing more efficiency to relationship management.

But when dealing with students is it about managing the relationship or is it something else? I find it unlikely that the answer to the question “What does my institution want to achieve?” is “ Better and more efficient ways to manage the student relationship”.

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Providing the Right Service
While I believe it is useful in some contexts to think of and treat the student as a customer, it is not useful to think of it in terms of a vendor/customer relationship the way a commercial business does. For one thing, a commercial business generally has as one of their goals to increase sales. For a commercial business, CRM is a sales and marketing tool for opportunity management, call center integration, and maintaining an up-to-date accurate 360-degree view of the customer. In short, sales force automation.

In Higher Education it makes sense to talk about managing a relationship with prospective students. It makes sense to talk about managing a relationship with alumni. It makes sense to talk about managing a relationship with former, current or future donors. But colleges and universities are not primarily interested in managing relationships with their current students. Their core objective is student success. A properly implemented CRM that provides a comprehensive, near-real-time view of each student and enables students to access services when and where they need them should, therefore, directly support student success initiatives.

And I believe that student success initiatives are all about making services easily available to students and ensuring they use them when needed.

The Student Perspective
My colleague, Jim Ritchey, has written about the Student Centric CRM and the need to focus on the student experience. Using CRM to provide services that have a positive impact on the student experience requires key decision makers to shift their perspective from focusing on what the institution thinks it needs to one to that focuses on what students need, want and will use. A CRM system supporting student success initiative should:

  • Provide targeted services to students
  • Provide those services at the time they are needed
  • Make those services available where students can and will access them (mobile, social media, etc.)
  • Collect data based on previously established metrics in order to determine whether student achievement goals are being met

To sum up, while customer management works as a model for automating donor, alumni and recruitment relationships, the focus when automating student relationships should be providing and managing services for students.

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