University's international department digitalization: CRM systems
In the last issue of Education Export Magazine, I started talking about the tools that are necessary for the correct processing of applications — CRM, IP telephony, scripts for working with requests, etc. Over the next few issues, I will cover each individual topic in more details, and I am going to start with the most important thing — CRM.

A university with an established CRM system and a university without such system differ roughly like a wooden abacus and an electronic calculator. CRM-system automates routine processes and allows using employees' time for higher priority and creative tasks. It allows monitoring the recruitment rates and performance of individual employees in a real-time mode. In addition, such system is not only a strict supervisor, but also a loyal companion: data about applicants collected in a single place and ready-made scripts help to increase sales. If you were skeptical about implementation of CRM, let's figure out together how it happens in practice if there is no CRM system or it is incorrectly configured.

5 reasons why you should consider implementing CRM in your work

1. Employees use different services to work and communicate with applicants, often get confused in reporting and actions
As the international service develops, the digital set of services and channels for attracting applicants also grows: new messengers, marketplaces with lists of universities, promotion channels, and so on appear. As a result, the database with applicants is kept in a spreadsheet, documents are accumulated on the e-mail inbox or computer of some employee (or, even worse, on the computers of different employees), communication with them is carried out by phone, and information about admission is on the university website. Because of this, it is impossible to do any analytics, to plan the proposal and recruitment, too, and you have to update all these disparate databases manually.

But the introduction of a CRM-system allows you to put things in order. For example, let's take a look at an online store, which did not have a single platform for automation, and information about orders was passed from hand to hand on paper sheets — to a manager, a customer, and a supplier. When orders increased during the pandemic, it became impossible to handle them. So, the store integrated CRM with the website and service, connected IP telephony, delivery, and payment modules to the system. They have also set up a trigger email and text messages distribution, and the work with chats reduced into a single window. As a result, the manager only needs to make three clicks in the system to process the order. This made it possible to accelerate the time it takes to complete the sales funnel by 3–4 times, and the number of refusals in the first month decreased by 10%.

Attention! Implementing a new CRM-system can be difficult: employees get used to working the way they did and are not ready to learn new things. But almost all CRM-systems are built to be intuitive. They can manage orders, customers, and all communications in a single window. They allow you to launch an understandable loyalty program in 30 minutes and increase repeat sales.

Here I want to note that now is a good time for wide-spread implementation of CRM-systems in universities. After admission campaign was held entirely in electronic mode, the whole educational process carried out in a remote format, there is a lot of digital information, which makes it convenient to launch a CRM-system.

2. Applicants write to the university through social networks and instant messengers, but they are not answered
You have to give different employees access to the phone with installed WhatsApp of the international department, to an Instagram account, and to the database of all contacts, but no one has time to keep track of all accounts. Plus, there is always a risk that a new team member will do something wrong with them, and it will take a lot of efforts to re-store access. It also happens that employees open the message, but do not respond to it at once, and, in the end, it is lost among the other read messages. Finally, there is a phone that is torn from calls. It is not clear usually who will pick up the phone and handle missed calls.

A CRM-system is just required in order to combine and organize communication with customers, as well as remind employees to respond and call back to applicants, even if you use third-party services. Please note that more and more people are using instant messengers and social media to communicate on any type of activities.

3. It is complicated to plan a budget for a year or just for a recruiting campaign
As the capacity of the university grows (for example, the emergence of new English-language programs) or when demand rises in spring and summer, international services may feel shorthanded. But how many employees do you need to keep them busy? This is not always clear, especially if there are no actual tools for measuring work activity. The same goes for other areas of application — for example, advertising. You need to track the effectiveness of different channels in order to launch a customer acquisition campaign. This is often difficult, because the data is stored in different ad systems, and some channels — like outdoor advertising — are not tracked at all. To prevent this from happening, in a CRM-system you can record all the costs of promotion and evaluate their ROMI (Return on Marketing Investments), that is, what revenue each ruble invested in advertising brought. It doesn't matter how you attracted customers: through banners, letters or targeted advertising, your CRM-system will show not only the effectiveness of the channel, but also each individual advertising campaign, so that you can choose the most effective banners and keywords.

4. Employees are working, but how to evaluate their effectiveness?
Professionals spend all day in the office (or on business trips/classes/meetings), but clients are still lost somewhere. It is not always possible to track at what stage they are missed. It's time to start monitoring employee performance to steer their efforts in the right direction. Clear metrics and easy-to-use reporting tools should help with this.

Choosing the right targets and KPIs is critical. Modern CRM-systems allow tracking and adjusting dozens of different indicators. It helps monitoring the effectiveness and evaluating the work of employees against selected indicators (for example, the number of orders, progress of projects, the number of pending tasks, and the number of phone calls made per day, customers' feedback, etc.). Moreover, the system not only monitors, but also helps employees. It evenly distributes calls depending on the workload, tells you when to make a call to the applicant, and does routine things like sending template letters and adding information to the client's card automatically. For example, if a customer has submitted his/her completed application form at your landing page without attaching the documents, he/she will receive a letter with a reminder on this. In addition, thanks to the integration with the WhatsApp Business application, employees will not waste time sending customers information about the status of the registration and its movement — all this happens without human intervention and in a way convenient for the client.

5. Low conversion rate from applicants to students
Suppose the employees did not confuse anything: the applicant was informed on time, he/she was satisfied with the consultation and conditions of training, but for some reason did not get in touch anymore. What's the matter? It was worth supporting communications, using any reason: send an article/news about the university or a gift card for a holiday in time (for example, on some of the important holidays in the applicant's country of residence, why not?), remind of things when something put aside in the far corner of the table, advise a new major or a program which is often chosen by applicants from his/her region, inform about additional opportunities, offer to evaluate the work of the university structure, and so on. Before the implementation of CRM-systems, the marketing department often forgot about these important actions or was simply unable to make them.

Of course, the list of appeals could be kept in a regular spreadsheet, but when there are more than ten of them per day, confusion starts. Plus, there are no analytics tools in a spreadsheet. And a CRM-system allows you to track the entire chronology in one window — from the first application to the enrollment order and then the entire learning process. Marketers can also set up a mailing list for those who have not contacted for a long time, from a single window with contacts of applicants. After a comprehensive setup of the CRM-system, the number of failures can be reduced by several times.

The system allows you to monitor the entire sales funnel in one window. Through it, you can contact the client in one click. When it comes to calls, tasks are automatically sent to employees, and the system itself generates a batch of documents for admission and other documentation.

Retaining an applicant is easier and cheaper than attracting a new one. Therefore, a healthy university must invest in it in order to make students and their parents return again and again. But when there is no CRM or it is not configured, it is easy to lose both the applicant and his appeal, delay the deadlines, and generally confuse everything. Employees can lose data, make a mistake in sending a response message — as a result all applicants' interest disappears, a potential student leaves, the university incurs a loss, etc. This is confirmed by the figures: the most frequent reasons preventing organizations from working more effectively with customers, is a waste of time when processing applications (55%), mistakes of employees (19%), lack of integration between services (12%), fragmentation of information on customers and applications (8%), and an excess of Excel spreadsheets (6%). To solve or at least smooth out these problems, call for a CRM system. It knows what service can be provided and on what conditions, what additional services can be offered to the client, and so on. No time delays and minimal impact of the human factor: the system automates and simplifies processes so that specialists can process more requests and make it faster, they stop being torn between tabs and services.
After reading this article, you might think that CRM is a panacea and a solution to all problems. This is largely true, but it is a huge work to implement such a system. I would recommend allocating from 6 months to a year for implementation just to build customer cards, business processes, and specialists' functions correctly. But this is the right step towards digitalization of the university. We wish you strength and patience in working with international students, and we invite you to Education Export Center for professional advice and consultation.
Nikita Strelchuk
Director for Academic Relations, Education Export Center
Nikita Strelchuk, Director for Academic Relations, Education Export Center. Nikita completed his Management degree at one of the top Russian universities. He specializes in project management. His main scope of professional interest is entrepreneurial approach in academic organizations.