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Pros and Cons of CRM Software in Higher Education

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Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software offers great benefits for higher education institutions and their students. The technology allows universities and colleges to streamline communications, effectively track student engagement, and provide personalized services. For students, it means receiving timely support and information tailored to their individual educational journey, thus enhancing their overall experience.

However, as the publisher of University Reviews by Students, I’m acutely aware of the importance of implementing CRM software effectively. When done poorly, there is a risk that prospective and current students will feel unable to engage with real people and become isolated from the institution. This can be incredibly frustrating and lead to costly administrative delays. Students often vent their frustration by telling others.

Approximately a third of the negative reviews on my University Reviews site are due to poor communication regarding admissions, subject selections, work experience placements, and grading. How do we avoid this? The key to effectively implementing CRM is not only to understand its benefits but also to recognize its limitations and the need for backup support staff.

What Is a CRM in Higher Education?

A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system in higher education is a software tool designed to manage the university’s interactions with current and prospective students, alumni, and staff. It serves as a central repository for data and streamlines communication efforts, allowing for more personalized and efficient interactions. The goal is to foster better relationships and enhance engagement through the entire lifecycle of a student, from applicant to alumnus.

CRM systems in higher education help institutions track the preferences and inquiries of prospective students, manage admissions processes, and maintain engagement with current students by providing services tailored to their needs. They are also invaluable for alumni relations, enabling the institution to build long-term relationships beyond graduation. A CRM essentially serves as a hub for managing all student-related interactions, underpinning efficient communication and support.

Benefits of CRM for Universities and Colleges

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The key benefit of a CRM for universities and colleges is its enhancement of student and staff engagement through streamlined processes and personalized communication. This technology is crucial in today’s competitive higher education landscape. Among the most popular platforms in higher ed are Salesforce Education Cloud, Ellucian, Campus Management, PeopleSoft Campus Solutions, and Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Higher Education.

1. Improved operational efficiency

CRMs introduce a level of operational efficiency that transforms the workload within universities and colleges. Administrative tasks are simplified, freeing up resources for more impactful work.

2. Enhanced communication

Communication is vital, and CRM tools elevate the way educational institutions connect with their communities. All communication channels are integrated, ensuring messages are consistent and timely.

3. Data-driven decision making

Decision making in higher education benefits from the data analysis provided by CRMs. Leaders can now make informed choices, backed by solid data, to steer their institutions forward.

4. Personalized student experiences

A CRM offers students a tailored experience, recognizing their unique needs and preferences, which enhances their overall educational journey.

5. Improved student recruitment and enrollment

Effective student recruitment and enrollment management is facilitated by CRM software, which provides a more personalized approach to prospective students.

6. Enhanced student engagement and retention

CRMs support ongoing student engagement and play a crucial role in retention, providing a comprehensive view of the student’s experience for better support and intervention.

7. Personalized communication and relationship building

The ability to personalize communication using CRM tools strengthens the bonds between higher education institutions and their students, alumni, and stakeholders.

8. Efficient data management and organization

CRMs ensure that data is managed efficiently and securely, providing easy access to up-to-date information across the institution.

9. Streamlined administrative processes

Through automation and integration, CRMs streamline administrative processes, making them more efficient and reducing the potential for error.

10. Enhanced collaboration and communication among departments

CRMs foster a collaborative environment, allowing departments within universities and colleges to share information seamlessly and work together effectively.

11. Increased efficiency and success

Adopting a CRM, especially one customized by a software development company such as Blackbaud, Genuisee or Oracle, positions universities and colleges for increased efficiency and success. They are better able to meet their strategic goals.

Related: Benefits of CRM in Higher Education

Disadvantages of CRM in Higher Education

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While offering a myriad of potential benefits, there are also risks and downsides to CRM if not implemented correctly. I believe the most common mistake is relying too heavily on the CRM once it is up and running. Things can do wrong when you force students to fit into your system without the flexibility to accommodate their differences, including communication preferences, unusual circumstances, and disabilities.

1. Cost implications

The investment in a CRM system can be substantial, and without careful implementation, it may not deliver the expected return. Costs include software and training expenses, and the time taken for staff to adapt.

2. Complexity and user adoption

A complex CRM system can lead to user resistance, especially if it’s not intuitive or does not significantly improve upon existing processes. Adequate training and a user-friendly interface are crucial for successful adoption.

3. Data privacy and security concerns

CRM systems handle sensitive data, and there must be stringent measures to protect this information. Ensuring compliance with privacy laws and accommodating students’ unique privacy needs are both critical.

4. Integration with existing systems

A CRM must integrate well with current systems to be effective. Poor integration can lead to information silos and inefficiencies, counteracting the benefits of the CRM.

5. Over-reliance on technology

There’s a risk of becoming too dependent on CRM systems, which could lead to impersonal interactions. It’s important to maintain a balance and ensure the technology is used to support personal engagement, not replace it.

6. Managing change and cultural shift

Introducing a CRM system can require a significant cultural shift. It’s essential to manage this change effectively, ensuring staff buy-in and maintaining a focus on the individual needs of students.

7. Risk of data overload

CRMs can produce a lot of data, which can be overwhelming and potentially lead to decision-making paralysis. Institutions need to have strategies for managing this data effectively.

8. Potential for increased workload

Implementing a new CRM system can initially increase workloads, as staff learn to navigate the new system and adapt to new processes. This should be planned for to minimize disruption and stress.

9. Downtime and technical issues

Any software system can experience downtime, and CRMs are no exception. It’s important to have contingency plans in place to handle outages and minimize their impact on operations.

10. Keeping pace with evolving technology

CRM technology changes rapidly, and institutions must keep their systems up to date to take advantage of new features and improvements while ensuring that these updates serve the broad and evolving needs of their communities.

By addressing these potential disadvantages with thorough planning and strategic implementation, higher education institutions can maximize the benefits of CRM systems.

My Advice for Students

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When, as a student, you understand that colleges use CRMs, you may appreciate why they may have difficulty handling an issue related to your education experience. They are trying to batch process activities involving hundreds or thousands of individuals.

Here are some of my top suggestions for avoiding frustration and getting satisfaction when dealing with university or college administration.

Reach out early and clearly. If you’re feeling lost in the shuffle, don’t wait. Reach out to the relevant department as soon as you spot a problem. Be clear about what you need help with, and provide as much detail as possible so they can assist you effectively.

Keep records. Whenever you communicate with the administration, keep a log. Save those emails and take notes during phone calls or in-person meetings. This isn’t just for keeping track of what was said; it’s your evidence if things need to be escalated.

Be proactive with portals. Make a habit of checking your student portal regularly. It’s often the quickest way to get updates on your admissions status, course enrollment, grades, and any other administrative processes.

Use your voice. If you’re hitting a wall, remember that your university likely has feedback systems in place. Use them. Institutions pay attention to patterns in student feedback, and your voice can lead to change.

Find allies. You’re not alone. Student unions and academic advisors can be powerful allies. They’re there to support you, so don’t hesitate to ask for their help.

Stay calm and patient. Dealing with bureaucracy can be frustrating, but keep your cool. A calm, reasoned approach will always get you further than an angry one.

Remember, your education is as much your responsibility as it is the institution’s. By taking these proactive steps, you’re not just navigating a system; you’re learning valuable life skills in communication and self-advocacy. Stay engaged, and you’ll find that many of the hurdles in university administration can be cleared with a bit of perseverance and the right approach.

Follow Andrew Lancaster:
The director of Lerna Courses, Andrew Lancaster, is experienced in analytics, technology, and business development. He has a PhD in Economics from the Australian National University. His writing helps people make informed choices about education and careers. He covers a range of topics, including university education, psychology, and professional growth.