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4 steps to optimizing CRM for student success

April 14, 2021By
4 steps to optimizing CRM for student success

A close relationship between a college or university and its students has never been more essential than it is today. With this in mind, we’ll explore 4 steps to optimizing CRM for student success.

Students who feel a personal connection are more likely to stay enrolled.

"At the Alamo Colleges District in San Antonio, Adelina Silva, the vice chancellor for student success, believes students who feel a personal connection are more likely to stay enrolled. She said the district has had about a million and a half direct communications with students since Covid-19 pushed classes online, many made by student advisors."

- Lawrence Lanahan - The Hechinger Report


Let’s face it, college is hard enough without pressures of a pandemic layered on, regardless of whether you’re a full-time student studying on campus or a part-time student juggling work and home responsibilities, along with your online classwork. Fully online schools or programs have had an edge over their on-campus counterparts as they designed their student services for online delivery rather than having to pivot without notice.

In part one of this series, I declared that 2021 will be the “Year of the CRM in Higher Education” as a result of conditions that have been ushered in by the pandemic, including the essential need to maintain contact with students and constituents, and the deferral of investments in other core campus technologies. Like the student experience, the CRM journey began in the admissions office. In part two of this series, I explore how CRM capabilities can contribute to student success, appreciating the fact that what constitutes success depends on the student and their circumstances. For our purpose, we’ll consider student success through the typical institutional lens: the average completion of an academic program in a reasonable period of time.

Say "goodbye" to data silos

My personal journey with CRM technology began some years ago with an on-campus visit by an account executive from one of our strategic technology partners. Unlike his previous visits, this time he came with an iPad and seemed to know a lot about me as a buyer and about my institution as a customer. After he left, it got me thinking… if a sales professional knows this much about me and my institution in order to do business with us, how much does my institution know about its customers (yep, time to come to terms with the fact that students are, in fact, customers)? Is it not irresponsible that sales professionals know more about their customers than the typical university does about its students? Even with a supposedly integrated student information system, there are many other silos of student data that are not integrated. Given that, there must be a way to build a more comprehensive ("360-degree") view of the student in order to better serve them and help them succeed in their academic pursuits. Turns out, there is, and it's called CRM!

At Traction on Demand, we approach change using a “crawl, walk, run, ride” paradigm. Let’s see how this applies to employing CRM to support student success.

Crawl: The “one-stop-shop” to optimize service delivery

One of the easiest ways to contribute to student success is by removing friction from administrative processes and helping students focus their energies on their studies rather than running from one administrative office to the next to solve a clerical error. Perhaps the simplest use of CRM technology to contribute to student success is the creation of a “one-stop-shop” with sophisticated case management, knowledge management, and live chat functionality to unite the transaction-processing aspects of student-facing services—from registration, financial aid, and billing to health services, residential life, and extracurricular and co-curricular activities. An intuitive user interface for the student that masks the complexity of the university’s internal operations and provides a comprehensive knowledge base of information to help the student answer common questions. All parties involved in the student journey can see the same information, including a comprehensive history as to how the case has progressed.

Walk: Insight of the student from all angles leads to better advising

A more sophisticated use of CRM that contributes to student success is creating a “360-degree view” of the student. This is so all who interact with a student have a consistent view of the most up-to-date information. One of the biggest limitations to holistically supporting students is siloed data. Higher education is notorious for implementing a dizzying array of systems that only hold a piece of the picture and don’t talk to other campus systems—aside from perhaps sharing identity information for the student.

Point solutions vs platform-based solutions

A word of caution: There are a number of point solutions for advising that are appealing at the surface but end up creating yet another data silo, which just adds another application to the mix that a select few can access and use. This is why Traction on Demand advocates for platform-based solutions rather than point-solutions. As a result, many interested parties can benefit from the aggregated data and more shared applications, all on a common platform. In this specific context, Salesforce Advisor Link serves as a strong foundation for a platform-based advising solution.

The success of a CRM depends on the breadth of data it aggregates along with the adoption of the system as an essential tool by those who service the student. When all parties from academic advisors, to instructional faculty, to those in student service functions, and beyond come together to ensure the success of a CRM, it becomes an instrument to the success of the student. Imagine if your CRM presented information ranging from activities and interests from the admissions application, to enrollment insight from the student information system, to discrete academic performance from the learning management system, to financial concerns from the financial aid system, to utilization data based on card swipes, and so on. It may sound daunting but it’s really not… all you need is a sophisticated CRM platform (enter Salesforce) and integration capabilities (your own, or an industry-savvy partner like Traction on Demand) and you’re off to the races!

Run: Automation enables better advising and engagement, at scale

Now imagine if, armed with a comprehensive view of a student, an advisor, or a member of the student services staff identified something concerning in reviewing a student’s data and initiated outreach to the student. Through automation, that same CRM platform can review the student’s profile, identify areas of concern, and take action—either by prompting the advisor to reach out to the student or by contacting the student directly via a preferred method (SMS, e-mail, social media). The Educause 2020 Student Technology Report highlighted “the majority of students who received early alerts and nudges found them to be very or extremely useful, and nearly all (92%) thought they were at least moderately so.” And since success begets success, the CRM platform can also send, or encourage the advisor to send positive reinforcement to the student when the student’s course average improves or after a good performance on a test or exam.

Ride: Make it ubiquitous

Once you have a single point of entry for the student to engage with his/her/their success team, that success team is equipped with a comprehensive view of the student’s engagement with the university paired with automation that’s enabled proactive nudges—next is sewing it all together. A sophisticated CRM can create a seamless experience where the student engages with the university at any time, from anywhere—and for the university to engage with the student at any time, from anywhere. All communications are personalized and delivered via preferred channels. The obvious solution is an engagement platform, like a portal, or a mobile app. But increasingly, conversational interfaces are becoming the user experience of choice for students, allowing the student to interact with advisors—human or “bot”—any time they need help. This will create a connected approach between the student and the institution to allow more time spent on successful completion of academic programs and less time on administrative tasks.

CRM is a mindset

What’s often overlooked is that CRM is as much a mindset and philosophy as it is a technology. It’s about organizing services and offerings with the customer (student) at the center. Students are well-served by institutions who periodically reconsider the services they deliver, reconsider them through a student lens, and reinvent those services to maximize impact. If institutions can align this with evolving students (remember, they are customers!) expectations, students will be set up for success in their academic programs and set up for a lifelong relationship with the institution.

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