by Doug Peacock, Wayne State University
CRM and the New Algorithm for Recruitment
Students who plan to transfer from one institution to another will start the admissions process the usual way. They fill out either an application or an inquiry form. In the past, students simply would be informed of the transfer institutions’ decision and either transfer or look elsewhere. Such simplicity no longer exists. Now, there will be a barrage of attempts to recruit via phone calls, texts, and e-mails. Ten or more such efforts aimed at each applicant constitute standard operating procedure for most departments of admissions. To generate enrollment during these times of keen competition, universities/community colleges/private schools have taken a page from marketing and begun to use high-pressured sales tactics.
Let me illustrate with one example. While at a grocery store, wearing a shirt with my school’s logo, the cashier piped up, “I applied to that school and got bombarded. They called so much that they decided to go to another school. I apologized to the student, briefly explained the web in which she was tangled, and promised to untangle her. The gist of my explanation was that her name was entered into software called Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Through some algorithmic logic, the CRM produces the best dates and times to contact students. One student may be programmed to receive phone calls on days 1, 3, 5, 10, and 15 and e-mails on days 2, 4, 6, and 11. Text messages may also be a form of communications. The operator, not always/usually/or sometimes admissions counselor mark the interaction as either successful or unsuccessful. This procedure continues ad infinitum or until the institution reaches its enrollment numbers.
CRM is the lifeblood of transfer institutions, the 4-year schools and colleges competing for community college students seeking to further their education. If used correctly, it is a great tool. But when misused, students not only get bombarded with efforts to reach them but have bad/poor/uncomfortable interactions with professionals at the transfer school. Traditionally,they would introduce and discuss key features of the school and answer questions from both the prospective student and parent. Now, however, professionals at high pressure schools are guided by a script that, in all likelihood, was created by a consultant.
The high-pressure tactic of CRM might enable the professionals to reach their goal for the terms, luring in a certain number if bodies, and thereby keep themselves employed. Done properly and respectfully, recruiters should ask lots of questions, listen actively, and in that way discover the area of work and the corresponding degree that are right for the recruits. If such deliberation is absent in an interview, if students feel rushed and not listened to, they should ask themselves this question before spending thousands of dollars, “Do the institutional representatives have my best interest or those of the institution alone foremost in mind?” A good rule of thumb is that if recruiters detect hesitancy and invite either a supervisor or colleague into the interview, they unintentionally raise a Red flag that you should heed.
Behind the Scene of High-Pressured Enrollment Tactics
I have had the misfortune of being employed at more than one institution that expected its employees to reach impossibly high goals with the use of high-pressured sales tactics. CRM and its accoutrements are straight from Wall Street. For profit Institutions desperate for enrollment put students in awkward and uncomfortable positions with high-pressured and unrelenting sales tactics. Management monitoring CRM interactions does not allow for much flexibility in student-recruiter interactions. If incessant e-mailing, calling, and texting do or do not produce the answers expected, recruiters resort to a script designed by a marketing consultant.
In 2012, having acquired a fair amount of experience with traditional admissions, I made what I thought was going to be a successful career move. I was offered and accepted a position at an institution with high recruitment goals in new territory for their online programs. Excited that I would be able to help students enroll fully online with the details as well as with the larger considerations of transferring, hoping that I could somehow make experience as free of stress as possible, I was quickly disillusioned. The goals of the new institution were inflated, not at all based on traditional enrollment figures, the micromanaging was maddening, and the turnover was such that I would hardly get to know one person before another one appeared.
Job Hunting? Tips for Assessing the Sales Approach of Transfer Institutions
After accepting the offer at the new institution I looked back at the red flags that were up when I was interviewing.
At what institutions has your prospective supervisor worked? A lot of for-profit schools have closed; their managers ended up somewhere. So did their sales tactics.
What is the turnover? If every person or the majority of the enrollment team has been aboard less than a year, turnover is high and the red flag is waving.
Does the job title include the word “Sales”, “relationship building” or “Account”? If so, caution is in order.
Is information about the institution’s programs on the web? If you have to ask someone, suspicion is in order. Professionals are expected to call incessantly until students enroll, and while they may not, the less they can learn on the web about the institution the more likely that high-sales tactics will be effective.
Would you like some evidence of stability within the work environment? Life in high-pressured enrollment recruitment is much like going round and round in a revolving door. People are not important, impossibly high goals are the only things that matter.
Do you like some degree of autonomy in the workplace? Micromanagement is the only means to the end of reeling in students, so the recruiter is called immediately after the student leaves, quizzed on the proper use of a script, and berated if a student fails to enroll.
Would you like to expand your knowledge of higher education beyond enrollment recruitment? Forget it; the selling tactics are so intense and the effort to sell so relentless that the field in which one works is a blur.
I believe institutions like this fail to realize that they may have some good products. Their good products are a reason they are still in business. Their sales tactics show the fear they have as an institution.
What I Learned
The job that I took lasted three years. While I did not like my experience, thought it represented the worst in recruitment, I did learn something about myself. I had spent years gaining confidence in my interactions with students. I was respectful of their thoughts, spoke of my institution honestly, and found that my no-pressure style not only put students at ease but worked best for me. I was not comfortable applying aggressive sales tactics, I saw that they agitated the students,. And had no doubt that such tactics were for short-term goals. What’s good for the goose (me), I recall myself thinking, is good for the gander (students).
My Advice to Prospective Transfer Students
As advisors, tell students to have a straightforward conversation. State clearly why you are looking at that particular institution, ask questions for clarification and as a means to confirm initial impressions, and try to assess whether the institution will be a good fit based on the demeanor of recruiters, front-line representatives of institutions to which you will give thousands of dollars over a two-year period. Do not forget to keep price in mind. These schools often use a high-pressure approach because they know they are not price competitive.
As advisors, ask students whether they had a bad experience with high-pressured enrollment tactics. The quality of the relationship between two-year and four-year colleges depend in part on the reception of prospective students. The two schools communicate through meetings and various forms of advisor updates where complaints are reported, red flags are raised, and the transfer institutions begin to worry about their ability to recruit. Two-year schools take these complaints serious and may with to disengage these schools for future articulations agreements.
Finally, as advisors, tell students who are no longer interested in the institution to request that their application or inquiry be deactivated and to state the reason for deactivation. Doing so will prevent messages from accumulating as texts or piling up in the inbox or voicemail. It also just might help institutions improve recruiting tactics. 4