Continuing Education Program Improves Prospect Experience with Modern CRM Solution

One of the largest professional and continuing education departments in the United States struggled to relate with prospective students throughout a decision process that can be as long as 18 months. Its CRM solution was unstable and had data integrity issues, and some staff avoided adopting it. To improve interactions with prospects and students with a goal of increasing enrollment rates, the department wanted to help staff better understand a prospect’s learning interests and status in the decision life cycle. The department implemented Microsoft Dynamics CRM and has vastly improved uptime, data reliability, and adoption rates and slashed solution management costs. With this modern, flexible CRM solution in place, the department is on track to contribute to the success of self-sustaining continuing education programs and the university as a whole.

Business Needs

One of the largest professional and continuing education departments in the United States serves more than 96,000 annual enrollments and 41,000 students. This department finds that most of its prospective students take between 6 and 18 months before they decide to enroll in a continuing education course or program. Using an older customer relationship management (CRM) system, the department’s enrollment advisors and program managers found it difficult to understand a prospect’s status along the decision chain. Unable to segment prospects, they also couldn’t easily tailor communications.

Data integrity issues in the previous CRM product caused people to question the reliability of information. Some users were reluctant to learn the system, so adoption was low. Maintenance and support required almost one full-time employee (FTE).

Over time, the department realized the need to:

  • Improve the experiences of prospects and active students by segmenting them to personalize communications.

  • Move to an e-marketing strategy.

  • Adopt a strategic prospect funnel system that aligned with the decision cycle to increase enrollment rates.

Solution

To automate and consolidate interactions, personalize communications, and support email marketing, the professional and continuing education department implemented Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The department is running Microsoft Dynamics CRM in a virtual machine environment that takes advantage of Windows Server with Hyper-V.

The department chose Microsoft Dynamics CRM for its familiar user interface, which is similar to Microsoft Outlook; easy customizability; and because it fits with the organization’s Microsoft-based IT environment. This environment includes:

  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 for its enrollment system.

  • SQL Server Reporting Services for management reporting in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

  • Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 for financial management and student billing (go live is scheduled for December 2012).

Development staff integrated Microsoft Dynamics CRM with:

  • The department’s web content management system by using the solution’s web services.

  • The organization’s enrollment management system by using a third-party data translation tool.

A staff developer modeled aspects of the user interface and business processes after the previous solution to help make the transition easier for users.

Purposeful Relationship Development

Microsoft Dynamics CRM captures a record of all interactions in one place, regardless of the means of contact, whether over the web, on the phone, or in person. It supports tailored marketing communications that match a prospect’s expressed interests. ”A better experience can mean a greater likelihood they will enroll,” according to the Assistant Vice Provost.

Workflows automate and guide staff through certain activities that help solidify prospect relationships. For example:

  • An automatic notification reminds subject-matter experts to reply to a prospect or student’s inquiries.

  • A workflow helps ensure a smooth handoff from enrollment advisors, who answer basic questions, to program managers, who can provide deeper insight into instructors and course content.

By the time students enroll, the department has captured a tremendous amount of information that helps simplify the enrollment and registration steps.

Directed Retention

Once a student is actively enrolled, the department can communicate with them about the next courses offered in the certificate or program, which can help promote retention.

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*We are improving the quality of information that is available to our prospects and reaching a broader audience, and the users love it!*

Assistant Vice Provost,
Professional and Continuing Education Department, Major West Coast University

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The professional and ongoing education department is considering further tailoring and integrating Microsoft Dynamics CRM to integrate it with Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, which the department will use for billing and collections.

Benefits

It’s too early to enumerate the actual return-on-investment in terms of enrollment, retention, and revenue, but it’s clear the CRM software is helping the team effectively relate with and enroll prospective students. “We are improving the quality of information that is available to our prospects and reaching a broader audience, and the users love it!” says the Assistant Vice Provost.

Rapid and Widespread CRM Adoption

When the department made the switch to Microsoft Dynamics CRM, there were about 35 users. Within 60 days, however, the user base jumped to more than 100. “People reluctant to adopt the previous solution adopted Microsoft Dynamics CRM in droves because they realized how easy it is to interact with Microsoft Dynamics CRM through the Microsoft Outlook–based interface,” says the Assistant Vice Provost.

“Everybody at the university wants to see what we’ve done with Microsoft Dynamics CRM,” says the Assistant Vice Provost. “Our senior developer has had a revolving door, giving one demonstration after another.”

Lower Infrastructure Management Costs, More Uptime

The professional and continuing education department has slashed solution support costs. “I had close to one FTE in network operations dedicated to the previous CRM solution,” says the Assistant Vice Provost. “Now, we only need 0.1 FTE, and my staff can allocate the hours saved to important network management tasks.”

With Microsoft Dynamics CRM, the department no longer experiences issues with data integrity or system stability. “Uptime of Microsoft Dynamics CRM is 99.999 percent,” comments the Assistant Vice Provost.

Since implementing the CRM solution from Microsoft, the department experiences fewer frustrations in operations. “We recently recovered from a data center power outage in minutes. The previous CRM solution would have required several days to restore.”

Greater Success for Self-Sustaining Programs

By using Microsoft Dynamics CRM, program managers can target marketing efforts at the program level. With it, they can zero in on prospects and market to them with more personalized communications. “With Microsoft Dynamics CRM, we have a new level of personalized communication that helps foster enrollment,” says the Assistant Vice Provost.

In addition, the department can return more revenue to the university as a whole. “By using Microsoft Dynamics CRM, we are bound to improve prospect conversion and student retention to meet our own fiscal goals and contribute to those of our sponsoring schools and colleges at the university,” concludes the Assistant Vice Provost.

Customer Size: Large Organization
Industry: Higher Education; Education
Country or Region: United States
Solutions:
  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011
  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Microsoft Dynamics
  • Microsoft Sharepoint Server
  • Windows Server
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2
  • Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012
  • Microsoft Visual Studio Team Foundation Server
  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM
Organization Profile:

More than 41,000 students enroll in over 400 continuing education programs offered through a major west coast university’s professional and continuing education department.

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