The use of generic CRM systems within higher education is growing rapidly, at the expense of dedicated proprietary systems that are built for a specific task. The reason for this is that the use cases are changing very fast, as higher education goes through a period of rapid expansion and delivery change. In an environment where the intake profile for your students, or the delivery modality, is changing by up to 20% a year, the need for agility comes right to the front of mind. When universities are using the Microsoft Dynamics CRM system as a platform upon which to build a student recruitment or student attrition management system, they look for the ability to get projects going quickly, with flexibility for expansion and change in the future.
But there's a dearth of good recent information and research on the use of a CRM platform for explicit tasks like reducing student attrition, and often the exemplars come from other industries where similar challenges exist. That's one of the reasons why I keep an eye on CRM research from outside of education.
I noticed that William Band of Forrester (William is a Forrester VP and Principal Analyst with a focus on CRM) has shared his view on the top CRM trends for 2013. It was useful for me to look at this through the eyes of an education institution, to see how the trends would relate to using CRM for student retention and student recruitment.
This isn't going to replace the need to read William's 'Top CRM trends for 2013' blog post on the Forrester site, but here's my take on his key trends and what they mean for universities in Australia (the trend headlines are William's; my thoughts are in italics below each)
Forrester - The Top CRM trends for 2013
- Trend 1: Enterprises must navigate digital disruption
And the things we're seeing in Australia in retail disruption, created by a digital switch, are precursors to what we're going to see in higher education too – and that's clearly at the front of mind for many Vice Chancellors and university leaders.
- Trend 2: Companies will transform to become experience-driven organizations
This is absolutely true for Higher Education, where the current debate over the switch to MOOCs and distance learning has focused a lot of thinking on how to deliver a consistent, and brand-enhancing, experience for students even when they don't come to campus (and may never come to campus).
- Trend 3: Brands turn attention to [Customer Experience] CX design
As William says "Brands must understand and manage their customer experience ecosystems, which comprise all interaction points across customers’ journeys". In higher education this is a tricky challenge, as the student interactions with a university will take place across hundreds of touch points, and those interactions will be recorded in hundreds of different places. Sometimes that will be in disconnected systems, often it will be on paper. But to design a good customer experience, it will be vital to link those different interactions together to understand the student journey.
- Trend 4: Untamed processes will get more attention
This links directly to trend 3, as universities realise that to improve their customer experience, they will need to understand their "untamed customer management processes" (I couldn't help but think about some academic delivery as an example)
- Trend 5: Agile implementation approaches will scale to the enterprise level
I have no doubt that agile implementation is the way to go, and most projects I'm seeing involving CRM in education are entirely based upon it. So perhaps in this, higher education is leading the way!
- Trend 6: Social customer engagement will move into the mainstream
There's no shortage of people shouting about social engagement with students and prospective students, and what William adds in his analysis are five key questions to ask yourself about the objectives you're trying to achieve.
- Trend 7: Mobile applications will empower consumers and employees
This needs no comment – universities are already at the forefront of this – but the deep implication is to plan for a world where the university no longer controls the device, the location or the time that an interaction takes place with their CRM system.
- Trend 8: Marketing tech will drive customer engagement innovation
Higher education institutions are slightly behind the curve on this one, compared to other enterprise users, and often it's regarded as a separate area of responsibility. But linking recruitment and retention in the marketing cycle are going to mean linking the marketing processes more closely too – throughout a student's lifecycle.
- Trend 9: Navigating the customer analytics ecosystem is crucial
In classic understatement William says "the customer analytics ecosystem is complex and difficult to master", but there's some Forrester research for that
- Trend 10: Organisations will adopt flexible CRM management practices to capitalise on SaaS
To make this work effectively, innovative approaches are going to have to be undertaken with the business, not within IT. And I'm seeing this in every CRM discussion with universities today, where the cross-functional nature of the team means that we're always having a business-led conversation, and the implementation discussions include cloud, hybrid or on-premise.
- Trend 11: Customer experience disciplines will cut costs and boost profits
In a university this could mean a very different way of managing the student lifecycle, crossing across traditionally siloed disciplines.
- Trend 12: VOC programs will drive action and demonstrate results
Apparently 2/3 of organisations with Voice Of the Customer programmes say they are valuable, but 2/3 also say they don't deliver financial results. I really have no idea if there's comparative data for universities? But the underlying message is to ensure that there's a clear connection between listening programmes and student attrition and recruitment metrics – and holistic CRM platforms give you a way of doing this.
So, to answer the question I asked at the top ("Do the 2013 top CRM trends apply to education institutions too?") I'm pretty sure they do - although the good news is that most Australian universities are ahead of the trend in at least one of these areas, rather than trailing behind.