What Supports the Customer Experience?
The varied support mechanisms for online learners rely upon a corresponding variety of infrastructures – people, process and technology. At every step in the learner-as-customer journey, there is a web of integrated components that intertwine—and sometimes tangle—in order to create the experience designed to streamline customer support.
Institutions with small fully online programs often do not have processes set up to facilitate the learner-as-customer experience. Many programs at even mid-sized or large institutions (that may have scaled individual online courses but not fully online programs) often subject their fully online learners to processes created for on-campus students, often in an aging paradigm wherein all first-time, full-time learners live on campus and do not have other obligations like jobs, thereby having copious amounts of free time during the business day to walk back and forth between administrative offices. Not even those students who do have the time to do such things enjoy them!
This brief lecture describes many of the marketing practices that are widely used for fully online programs. Review this before proceeding. These activities rely heavily on data and require continual adjustments.
How Data Supports Customer Retention
Customer retention is critical as maintaining a current student is less expensive that going out and recruiting a new one – it is literally the purpose of the educational institution, and indeed it is a moral imperative. We are mission-bound to partner with the learner to support their development of skills, knowledge, and abilities to prepare them for success on their progress towards their goals.
This below segment is taken from an article on data and analytics in higher ed. Though it is from 2017, there has not been systemic progress at most higher ed institutions to leverage data to support the customer and retention experience at scale.
“We are smack-dab in the middle of an analytics revolution. The term “big data” describes the types and scale of data that are being generated in ways and amounts that have never been seen before. Over the last decade, data analytics has evolved from a buzzword to a multibillion-dollar business, and it has begun to permeate higher education.
Among the many uses, some institutions have employed data analytics to create more personalized approaches to advising. Others have leveraged predictive analytics to estimate the likelihood of student progress through courses and majors. Still others have used such analytics to combine data with teaching and advising to help improve student outcomes, particularly among underserved students.
Strong leadership and a recognition of the value of data-informed decision making are key factors in the planning and successful implementation of analytics solutions at the campus level. Still, data savvy presidents who have successfully tamed the groundswell of data and analytics tools remain the exception, not the rule. One only has to look to the retail sector to find examples of leaders who refused to or were late to harnessing their data and evolving their operations to find organizations that are withering on the vine.
But there are colleges and universities who have learned to strategically harness data in order to improve student outcomes, especially as external stakeholders place a premium on degrees and jobs. The last few years have seen institutions such as the University of Texas System develop creative data-sharing agreements with state and federal agencies that sparked the development of groundbreaking analyses and visualization tools at the intersection of student success and workforce outcomes. As the U.S. population continues to change and diversify, colleges and universities are also using data to identify ways to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a result of an effort to develop analytics platforms that began in the early 2000’s, Georgia State University has increased graduation rates by over 20 percent and closed equity gaps for low-income students and students of color” (Gagliardi & Wilkinson, 2017, para. 4-7).
The effective use of data can contribute to improved learner outcomes, but there are many systems behind those insights that are integrated and utilized in order to action on data. Most institutions have access to a lot of data, but without tracking the actual experience of the “customer-as-learner” – some of this valuable data can be lost. Though the “tech speak” of these systems might seem divorced from the customer (or learner) experience, keep in mind that every time a student is transferred from department to department, every hour they spend trying to fill out online forms, order transcripts, or even pay their bills, that is an hour they could be spending studying. Being able to target, track, and support learners can contribute to the economic mobility of those individuals, and also future generations of their families.
Relevant Technology Systems
There are a host of technology systems that are relevant to the learner-as-customer experience, including the CRM, SIS, data warehouses or data lakes, and others. You can find some brief introductory information on this previous page. Find an introduction to the systems that work together below.
CRM: Customer Relationship Management Systems
How do we know about prospective students? How do we target those students and the messages they get about our institutions? How do we ensure that learners are getting accurate information? That they don’t get bounced between offices? That they don’t have to re-state their situation with every person they talk to? CRMs can help organize those interactions.
CRM is the acronym for Customer Relationship Management – a system that can track interactions across the experience with the customer. In this video, even though it’s focused on “business-y” language, pay attention to what a CRM is, and how higher ed institutions might find value in it.
Some common CRMs are Microsoft Dynamix, Salesforce and Slate. What can you do with one of these CRMs? Check out how CRM Recruit (by Ellucian) can be used to boost enrollment. Listen for information about how data was needed and used. You’ll notice a lot of mentions about discovering trends, and providing insight so that the institution knows where to invest their recruiting dollars.
Nancy Mann Jackson, in this article from March of 2018, explains how the Fox School of Business implemented Salesforce in order to track both current and prospective learner populations.
“At the Fox School of Business, leaders implemented Salesforce, a well-known CRM tool in the business world, to help manage, track and share admissions and recruitment data formerly captured on individual spreadsheets. The new system allows the college to offer responsive customer service.
Any authorized staff member can jump in and get caught up with a student case if there is a question, says Boro. “Tracking current student activities and engagement was formerly closely held by each program.”
Fox also uses Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligence engine, to reach the appropriate prospective student populations and to gauge responses. Those responses are fed back into Salesforce and into collaboration tools such as Workplace by Facebook for later data analysis.
“We embarked on a crawl-walk-run strategy with our end users, doing show-and-tell demonstrations and identifying key staff to be our grassroots evangelists,” Boro says of the Fox School’s CRM implementation. “The graduate programs staff would agree that our college has access to better and more useful admissions information than ever before.”
Those staffers have begun making suggestions about new information to track. Boro continues to recommend how to collect data to explore insights across various campus functions.
“Over the last four years, the amount of data generated in our operations has increased by an order of magnitude, bringing with it many benefits and some unexpected ramifications,” he says. For example, the team can now track the effect that events, emails and other outreach has on interest, applications and yield.
On the challenges side, having so much information flowing in required his team to learn new skills in query and data visualization” (Mann Jackson, 2018, para. 11-17).
Some of the systems that track the customer journey (like the CRM) also have products that support recruitment. They do this by identifying types of prospects, and targeting messages that specifically speak to the needs of their prospects.