Ambassadors Group is an education company with three subsidiaries: People to People Ambassador Programs, World Adventures Unlimited, and BookRags. To manage customer relationships, the subsidiaries relied on a custom-built customer relationship management (CRM) system. Over time, however, the system became too hard to maintain and customize, and to gain insight into customers required staff to call on IT to draw on disparate data sources from as many as 30 IT systems. To improve insight, ease IT support, and ultimately improve the customer experience, Ambassadors Group decided to deploy Microsoft Dynamics CRM. With a tailored deployment for each division, Ambassadors Group subsidiaries now have a 360-degree view into their customers. Furthermore, IT management is now greatly simplified, with the time-to-market for new functionality now as much as 440 percent faster.Situation
Ambassadors Group, an education company based in Spokane, Washington, is the parent company of People to People Ambassador Programs, World Adventures Unlimited, and BookRags. The company also oversees the Washington School of World Studies, an accredited travel study and distance learning school affiliated with Eastern Washington University.
Across its three subsidiaries, Ambassadors Group has 260 employees. The group’s largest subsidiary, People to People, provides students in grades K-12 with educational trips to seven continents. More than 3,000 of the school’s 5,000 volunteer teachers lead these trips, while a worldwide network of business partners and other educators help facilitate activities throughout each trip’s itinerary. Upon completing a trip, a student can earn college credit by passing a series of tests through the Washington School of World Studies.
|With Microsoft Dynamics CRM, we now have a 360-degree view of our customers, which helps ensure that when we talk to our customers, we know everything about them ….|
Director of Technology, People to People Ambassador Programs
Also focused on K-12 education, the group’s World Adventures Unlimited subsidiary is a travel organization that organizes and promotes international adventure programs for students on behalf of Discovery Education
. In addition, the subsidiary BookRags provides the online venue,www.bookrags.com
, where students and other individuals can access book summaries and notes.
To manage its three subsidiaries, Ambassadors Group relied on 30 different IT systems, among them a custom-built customer relationship management (CRM) system, SAP for financial management, and Travel Studio, a trip-booking system. Although the company had a CRM system in place, student, teacher, and partner information often resided in multiple systems, limiting business insight significantly. Says Chad Whisenant, Director of Technology for People to People Ambassador Programs, “If a student bought separate products from us, it was likely that each of those purchases were recorded separately and not associated with the same contact. Because of this, we lacked a complete picture of that relationship. We also were unable to easily associate that relationship with another person—for example, a sibling, classmates from trips, or teachers. In addition, we could only maintain a year’s worth of data at a time and that prevented us from effectively growing our student relationships into alumni relationships, which are an especially big part of the People to People culture.”
Relying on a custom-built CRM system also led to a number of challenges in IT. “The time-to-market for new functionality in our CRM system was between two and six months, which prevented us from being agile,” says Whisenant. “In addition, we were unable to integrate the system with the software we use every day—such as Microsoft Office—and over time, it had become too big of an application for both business users to use and for IT to manage.” With so many systems, company employees had to rely on IT staff to generate their reports, because they were unable to pull and consolidate information on their own.
Aiming to gain a 360-degree view into its student, teacher, and partner relationships, Ambassadors Group made the strategic decision to look for a new CRM system in 2010. In finding a new solution, the company sought one that would:
Ease IT support and development.
Work with Microsoft products and technologies, which were already a key part of the company’s IT strategy.
Fit with the company’s core business management systems including SAP and Travel Studio.
For its new CRM system, Ambassadors Group chose Microsoft Dynamics CRM after also evaluating both Salesforce.com and Siebel, which comes from Oracle. “We didn’t want Siebel because it required a massive IT staff to support and Salesforce.com was unable to integrate with our core systems,” says Whisenant. “Microsoft Dynamics CRM, on the other hand, could fit with SAP and Travel Studio and required a more widely available IT skill set, which would ease IT support and enable us to establish an agile business by rolling out new functionality and customizations rather easily.”
Working with Webfortis, a Microsoft partner, Ambassadors Group has since undergone separate, tailored deployments of Microsoft Dynamics CRM for each of its subsidiaries. Currently, 250 employees at Ambassadors Group use the software.
People to People: Students, Teachers, and Travel Together Under a Single System
|The customization at People to People for enrollment via mobile phone would have taken two-and-a-half months on our old system; with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, it only took two-and-a-half weeks—that’s around 440 percent faster.|
Director of Technology, People to People Ambassador Programs
The People to People deployment of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, while still in process, will provide comprehensive relationship management capabilities to the subsidiary. Beginning with a meeting with prospective student travelers, teachers will be able to enter those students as leads into Microsoft Dynamics CRM either via their mobile phone or a computer connected to the Internet. At this time, the teacher will also be able to quickly view how many travel packages are available so that a trip is not oversold. If, at that time, a student enrolls for a trip, that student can then do so either onsite with the help of the teacher or afterwards by using a computer or smartphone. For students who choose to enroll over the web, a series of workflows will feed student information into Microsoft Dynamics CRM. In addition, for phone-based enrollment, People to People has made a customization to the system that enables a customer service representative to record student details, including credit card information, in Microsoft Dynamics CRM. After the representative enters the information and finalizes the trip, Microsoft Dynamics CRM then initiates a series of workflows that moves the information to accounts receivable in SAP and to Travel Studio for travel booking. Microsoft Dynamics CRM will then send a confirmation email to the student with all related information for the trip.
Ambassadors Group uses Microsoft Dynamics CRM for its other processes as well. From enrollment to travel, a nine-month period will pass, bringing the student from the start of the school year to summer vacation and, ultimately, the trip. Over this period of time, students and teachers can communicate and interact on a variety of educational activities and meetings, all of which People to People staff can coordinate and track by using Microsoft Dynamics CRM. People to People staff will also soon make particular use of Parrot, an add-in solution from Webfortis that enables staff to search, manage, and market to contacts from Microsoft Dynamics CRM by using Facebook and LinkedIn.
While People to People staff works with Microsoft Dynamics CRM directly, teachers can access key information and functionality through a Microsoft SharePoint Server–based web portal called “The Compass.” Through The Compass, teachers can view their upcoming trips, class lists, and student information such as who has the proper documentation, for instance, a passport. Teachers can also use The Compass to manage their personal histories and biographies, which are available to students online. After the trip, a student becomes an alumnus in the system and People to People staff can continue to keep in touch, offering new travel packages or even engaging with alumni years later if they become a volunteer teacher for the company.
In future work, People to People aims to track its worldwide partners within Microsoft Dynamics CRM as well, enabling the company to more easily coordinate and track partner activities, such as an excursion to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef or walk the Great Wall of China. People to People also plans to upgrade to Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 in the near future to take advantage of the solution’s new business intelligence (BI) capabilities. Says Whisenant, “With BI in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, we will be able to see key performance indicators, such as how many fifth or sixth graders responded to a particular travel package we offered, without anyone having to run a report.”World Adventures and BookRag: Comprehensive Travel Management and Contact Management
World Adventures Unlimited’s deployment and usage of Microsoft Dynamics CRM varies slightly from People to People’s implementation. For example, rather than Microsoft Dynamics CRM feeding information to a travel system, World Adventures Unlimited’s deployment draws on data from the travel system, providing staff with the capabilities to manage all activities within a single solution. World Adventures Unlimited also makes extensive use of the marketing capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics CRM to analyze and group prospective students and existing customers into marketing categories that it can target with tailored communications and other marketing activities.
In sharp contrast, BookRag uses Microsoft Dynamics CRM largely for contact management and to support sales activities. BookRag’s sales team, for example, can capture potential and existing customers and then target them with offers and promotions.
Looking back at the three deployments, with one still underway, Whisenant says, “I see Microsoft Dynamics CRM as being a game-changer for our organization. Not only does it provide us with a comprehensive view into our customers, but we can also continue to grow it to meet our needs through its many additional modules or customizations.”
|Now, anyone in the business can run the report they need because the information is readily there and they can simply export it to Microsoft Excel and manipulate it however they want.|
Director of Technology, People to People Ambassador Programs
With Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Ambassadors Group has a CRM solution that it can tailor to the needs of its individual subsidiaries. Now, the company has a 360-degree view into its student, teacher, and, in the near future, partner relationships and has drastically eased IT support and development, enabling newfound levels of business agility. Improve IT Agility, Speed Time-to-Market by as Much as 440 Percent
In moving from its custom CRM system to Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Ambassadors Group has seen dramatic improvements in its ability to bring new functionality to market. Says Whisenant, “The customization at People to People for enrollment via mobile phone would have taken two-and-a-half months on our old system; with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, it only took two-and-a-half weeks—that’s around 440 percent faster.”Transform IT from Break-Fix Support to a Strategic Asset
Switching to the CRM solution from Microsoft has also eased overall IT management. Says Whisenant, “With our old CRM system, our IT team spent most of its time in a reactive mode of break-fix support. Now, with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, we can begin to change the mode of our team into a dynamic IT organization, where we can move staff from support to development and focus on bringing new solutions and changes to the system that can improve the overall business.”
In helping the team achieve a dynamic IT, Whisenant notes that Microsoft Dynamics CRM is significantly easier to train people on. He says, “With our custom system, there were no manuals and it took IT staff almost six months to become proficient with the system. Now, they can simply read the manual.” Gain Easy Access to Information, Improve Business Insight and Decision Making
After working with IT to draw on information from as many as 30 systems, Ambassadors Group staff members now have all the information they need available at their fingertips. With information readily available, employees can now approach their jobs more strategically and effectively. “Now, anyone in the business can run the report they need because the information is readily there and they can simply export it to Microsoft Excel and manipulate it however they want,” says Whisenant. “Because of this, we can react sooner with a marketing campaign or other initiative—for example, if we find out there is a low response rate to our travel packages by a certain age group or in a certain geography.”Improve Customer Experience
Most important to the Ambassadors Group subsidiaries, the comprehensive view it now has of customers has brought about an improved customer experience as well. “We’re a company that primarily focuses on selling a high-quality educational experience to our customers, so it’s critical that we provide that high-quality experience across all facets of our business,” says Whisenant. “With Microsoft Dynamics CRM, we now have a 360-degree view of our customers, which helps ensure that when we talk to our customers, we know everything about them—for example, if they have been on previous trips with us or have siblings in our programs.”Microsoft Dynamics
Microsoft Dynamics is a line of integrated, adaptable business management solutions that enables you and your people to make business decisions with greater confidence. Microsoft Dynamics works like familiar Microsoft software such as Microsoft Office, which means less of a learning curve for your people, so they can get up and running quickly and focus on what’s most important. And because it is from Microsoft, it easily works with the systems that your company already has implemented. By automating and streamlining financial, customer relationship, and supply chain processes, Microsoft Dynamics brings together people, processes, and technologies, increasing the productivity and effectiveness of your business, and helping you drive business success.
For more information about Microsoft Dynamics, go to:For More Information
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