By Ed Brennen
When the Solution Center opened at University Crossing in 2014, it gave students a convenient, one-stop location to register for a class, pay a bill or apply for financial aid.
But bringing those services together under one roof took more than just a moving truck. Behind the scenes, it required the Information Technology Office to implement new customer relationship management (CRM) software that could integrate and track student data to streamline services provided by different departments on campus.
Now that the university’s chosen CRM platform, Salesforce, has been in place for nearly two years, the IT Office is working to leverage its tools and capabilities with even more offices across campus, starting with admissions, recruiting and career services.
“We see this as a strategic initiative, this idea of the ‘connected campus,’ ” says Associate Chief Information Officer Lori Dembowitz, who points out that deploying a CRM strategy to improve student engagement and service is part of the university’s 2020 Strategic Plan. “The Solution Center was a great way to start. It was a success and it gave us a solid foundation to build upon.”
The Solution Center was the vision of Dean of Enrollment and Student Success Thomas Taylor and Associate Vice Chancellor for Financial Services Steven O’Riordan. Backed by the executive leadership team, they received a $300,000 grant in 2013 from the Davis Educational Foundation to create a Virtual Student Services Center.
Richard Conley, director of IT enterprise applications, went to work implementing the cloud-based Salesforce software, collaborating with Doreen Bray, IT senior project manager for the Solution Center initiative. They worked closely with Solution Center director Tara Krch to bring about a CRM solution for this new student-centered department.
In its first year of operation, the Solution Center resolved more than 111,000 cases for students, a total that surpassed projections. But just as importantly, Salesforce provided valuable metrics that gave administrators insight into their business processes.
“A lot had been anecdotally known, but now we have hard numbers to back it up,” says Conley, who adds that by analyzing data on things like peak periods of phone calls, emails or walk-ins, or frequently asked questions, the respective departments can improve planning and communications.
“The most beneficial feature has been the ability to track why students are contacting us,” says Krch. “At any time, we can run a report to identify the number of students who have interacted with us and the detail of their inquiry. These metrics are a powerful tool as we work to continuously improve our services and the student experience.”
And when Conley and Bray couldn’t find a partner application that could handle the Solution Center’s line queue management, they tasked the IT Office’s co-op, junior computer science major Julio Hernandez, to design one.
“That’s the beauty of the Salesforce applications: It gives us the ability to configure the solution in a way that meets our campus business user’s requirements,” Conley says. “There’s a lot of great value that comes with us managing the local solution. We can build it toward what our campus wants and what it needs.”
“I would like us to be a center of excellence for how we manage Salesforce, so we can support the business offices with solutions,” says Conley, who estimates there are 100 users across campus.
The next challenge is to implement Salesforce into offices like admissions and career services. Eventually, it could be used to give the university a holistic look at a corporate partnership, from research ties, to scholarship donations, to co-ops, to employed alumni.
“It’s all about building relationships and taking care of each constituent,” Dembowitz says, “whether they be a prospect, student, employee or alumni.”