In 2009, Griffith University developed a vision for a student administration system that would manage the student lifecycle in its totality—from initial inquiry to alumnus. Using a customer relationship management (CRM) system the University wanted to improve interactions with every student through streamlined administrative processes, faster and more transparent inquiry management, and more accessible information.
The vision included a dedicated team of staff to assist future students with their unique admission inquiries. As inquiries are dealt with the team would capture contact details and interest areas for each prospect. This would then provide valuable information for targeted marketing and communications campaigns that would ultimately increase applications to the University.
On completion of graduate degrees, students would be encouraged to further their studies using a simple, supported online admissions application process. And, when it comes time to leaving the academic environment, the CRM solution would provide the information and means for Griffith University to remain in touch with the alumnus, keeping them informed of University news, activities, and campaigns.
It was a vision embraced by the institution’s academic, administrative, and business staff. All that was required was to make it happen.
The University’s first step was to choose a CRM system. Michelle O’Brien, Project Manager, Griffith Relationship Management, Student Administration at Griffith University explains, “The problem with many IT projects is that it can take a long time to get them up and running, and to get any value out of them. RightNow proved to us that with their CRM solution this wouldn’t be the case. We didn’t have to integrate anything and it wasn’t going to take a year to start seeing results. The solution didn’t involve a huge amount of cost in terms of staff and the software has such depth and flexibility that we could see it would achieve a lot of the things we were after.”
Before beginning work on the project ,O’Brien and others at Griffith canvassed the CRM experiences of other Australian universities, some of which were already using RightNow for similar student administration purposes. “The overarching advice we received was to approach the project incrementally,” O’Brien says. “They all said to start small and then build.”
With this in mind, Griffith elected to begin by developing “Ask Us”, a small RightNow knowledge base that would provide vastly improved self-service functionality on the University’s website. O’Brien says, “Much of the content required to answer student questions already existed in a variety of University websites but there were so many places to search that it was difficult for students to find what they were after. This meant a lot of phone and email inquiries were being generated because the students couldn’t navigate the complexity of websites. The approach we took was not to duplicate content. Instead, we created short and sweet answers to questions that then directed the user to more comprehensive information. It was a case of addressing a query as simply and quickly as possible before sending the user off to the right place for more information.”
Tracking functionality was added to enable students to monitor progress of their queries, and seven Student Center generic mail-in databases that had been used to manage email queries were also routed into the CRM system.
It took 12 weeks to build and launch the knowledge base, and just one month for web self-service to reduce inbound email traffic by 56 percent. Over time this figure has averaged out at a 47 percent reduction in email traffic even with the addition of five more generic mailboxes that were routed into the CRM system in subsequent months. It was an impressive
result that dramatically reduced simple email demands on Student Center staff and which has allowed them to dedicate more time to resolving complex and difficult student queries.
“Our self-service rate for current students now averages at 96.3 percent with response times for incidents dropping significantly. 75 percent of inquiries are responded to within two working days of receipt,” O’Brien notes.
The success of the “Ask Us” knowledge base quickly led to additional CRM developments. The reduction in workload within Student Administration allowed five staff to be redeployed to create a Future Students team dedicated to responding to prospective student inquiries. To support them, the CRM project team created a tailored future student knowledge base complete with incident management functionality.
The Future Students system allows the University to capture information about prospective students including their name, email address, educational background, and course interests. “This gave us the ability to begin campaigning to a cohort that we had not previously been able to reach,” O’Brien says. The University’s External Relations department welcomed the new data and used it to launch its first CRM-based campaign in December 2010. Since then there have been many more successful campaigns to prospective and current students.
By using RightNow for the campaigns External Relations staff can see how many emails are opened by their audience. They know whether a recipient clicks through to other web pages and what those web pages are. If only a small percentage of emails are opened during a campaign, staff reinforce activity using additional channels of communication such as text messaging to create a more robust communication strategy.
In January 2011, the system was extended with the deployment of Timetrade, an online calendar system. This is being used to allow high school staff and students to book campus and school visits online.
Also in early 2011, the University went live with a new inquiry management capability. Used by Student Center staff and program advisors it assists in the capture of contact and subject matter information including the recording of any important advice provided to students. It also contains scripting and workflows to ensure a consistent experience for current and future students, regardless of whether the inquiry comes in by phone or over the counter.
“This has enhanced our marketing contacts considerably whilst also creating a robust inquiry management system,” O’Brien points out. “Many time-consuming and outdated practices such as the manual recording of counter and phone statistics and reliance on multiple spreadsheets for registering EFTPOS transactions and other items have been abolished due to the introduction of highly creative workflows.”
While the benefits of these changes for students are obvious, they have also had a substantial impact on the University’s own practices. O’Brien explains, “Every roll out and every development of the RightNow system has been linked to a restructuring or realignment of business units and business processes. It was one of the key things that was mandated from the beginning. With the CRM system we had the opportunity to change and each roll out of new functionality has been a vehicle to achieve this. We don’t just map a process and replicate it. We find opportunities to streamline.”
Performance measures point to the success of this strategy. 75 percent of current student inquiries are now answered within two working days. It’s a noticeable improvement on past efforts. Future student inquiries have similarly benefited. Self-service rates have sky rocketed with 96.3 percent of current students and 93.3 percent of future students finding the answers to their queries when they need them via the web. More than 6,100 additional contacts—or prospective students—have been captured through external marketing campaigns. This has extended External Relations’ reach and is increasing the potential student base for the University.
Despite the extensive use of RightNow, O’Brien says there are still more gains to be had. In the future broadcast emails and marketing campaigns will be employed to provide just in time information to students regarding important administrative deadlines and to assist with retention strategies. Use of the RightNow Communities module will provide a forum for keeping Alumni informed and in touch with the University. She also anticipates using communities to facilitate communication between research students and appropriate supervisors.
O’Brien believes that the staff and management reception for this far-reaching enterprise system has been exceptional, and that one of the major reasons for success is the involvement of a business perspective right from the beginning. “This has been a ground-breaking project for us in terms of having the academic and administrative arm of the University project managing an IT solution. Having this strength of involvement has enabled us to have the influence and trust we need to go ahead and develop changes in process,” she concludes.
Griffith University is one of Australia’s fastest-growing universities, with commitments to excellence in teaching and research. More than 50,000 students are enrolled in Griffith’s undergraduate and postgraduate degrees which cover the ten disciplines of Arts, Education, Business, Health, Law, Engineering, IT, Environment, Music, and Visual Arts. The University has five campuses is located in the South Eastern corner of Queensland.