Victoria Uni automates email to boost enrolments

Unique question answering service deals with 40,000 emails a year

What do Barack Obama and Victoria University have in common? Both are using an on-demand CRM system from RightNow to sell themselves.

Victoria International, the international wing of the university, is using the RightNow software as a service system, which features a unique question answering service.

Victoria University faced growing competition for students and a decline in numbers from overseas. Yet, it received 40,000 emails a year from more than 80 countries, which are time-consuming for staff to deal with.

The university sought to convert a greater share of these contacts into applications and, eventually, enrolments. The university appointed Charles Brooks as e-marketing co-ordinator and he had heard of the RightNow system, offered by local licensed agent Datamail.

Victoria had considered outsourcing its student recruitment system, but Brooks says keeping the work in-house, meant the university kept its grip on changing market conditions.

Datamail installed the system in a matter of weeks, leaving busy university IT staff to deal with their regular work. But the essential plug-and-play nature of RightNow, which needed little modification for the university, meant it was up and running fairly rapidly.

Brooks says the system features a knowledge base, which are answers written by staff to various questions. Potential applicants can then email questions and, using a Google-like search engine, RightNow can automatically generate responses by looking for certain key words.

Substantial savings have been made from the system since it was installed three years ago, Brooks says.

RightNow has worked well, though it exposed the university’s “organisational weaknesses”. The university has since had to integrate more of its marketing functions, to help give would-be student customers a “more 360-degree view” of its services.

Now, the university plans to extend RightNow from just dealing with CRM and e-marketing to managing application and enrolment processes.

Steve Roughan, NZ manager for RightNow CRM, says Datamail discovered RightNow six years ago when it was seeking work in the e-space. Since then, RightNow has helped Datamail build up a successful division with more than 40 local deployments, including major telcos, financial institutions, TV networks, airlines and government departments.

Universities also form a large segment of more than 1,800 worldwide users.

Roughan says what sets RightNow apart from other CRM systems is that it is “service driven” by customers choosing the information they seek.

Its software as a service (SaaS) model also promises little investment up-front, considerable scalability, and a “pay as you grow” licensing model. It can also integrate with other core university systems, such as financials.

With Datamail installing RightNow, organisations don’t need heavy IT skills to manage the system.

“The key value proposition is we help companies improve their customer experience while reducing their operating costs: emails 50% down; telephone calls 10% down. The customer experience is the next key battleground,” Roughan says.

RightNow is getting strong in voice service, so customers can also access knowledge bases via telephone as well as by email, Roughan says.

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