How marketing automation is helping drive CX change at Adelaide University

Customer experience strategy manager says implementing cultural change and removing business silos is critical to success

Getting buy-in to rollout out marketing automation at Adelaide University has been the easy part; it’s getting disparate marketing teams and departments to unite under one customer experience strategy that’s the big challenge, its CX manager says.

Adelaide University is one of many tertiary institutions across Australia turning to technology tools such as marketing automation and CRM, as catalysts for a wider transformation of student conversion and engagement strategy. The decision followed a two-year restructure aimed at delivering better operational efficiencies as well as uniting the way Adelaide Uni manages admission and student recruitment.

Customer experience manager, Catherine Cherry, who previously ran CRM design for customer acquisition and is now tasked with driving conversion strategy across the institution, told CMO her new division is looking to transform acquisition using technology.

“Our executive group is interested in this idea of digital disruption and new innovations,” she said. “We’re not traditionally a fast-moving institution. We’re 140 years old, and low on the CX and digital maturity curve.

“We’re trying to dip our toe in while fast realising there are other institutions moving a lot quicker than us. To keep any competitive advantage, we need to move and make sure we’re keeping pace.”

The goal is to realign marketing, digital strategy and capability based on customer needs, Cherry said. Her team’s remit include all customer acquisition across undergraduate and post graduate, domestic and international.

“In some respects, I think there is less work to be done once you start looking at things from a customer perspective, as opposed to looking internally, where we’re very good at generating lots of busy work without actually focusing on whether it’s important to the customer or not,” she commented. “We’re trying to understand what the customer wants from us in that digital experience. Things like self-service, and calculators for ATAR results, for example.

“It’s about getting a feel for how we can be a meaningful part of that decision-making process for prospects, then what that looks like digitally.”

Marketing automation’s role

Adelaide Uni began looking at how it could extend its CRM platform to student acquisition in early 2016. That’s when the idea of marketing automation materialised. Already an Oracle Service Cloud customer, it made sense to go with the vendor’s Eloqua solution, Cherry said.

“We have 900 other applications but no martech ones. We’re not trying to undo a bunch of things, which in some ways is great,” she said. “We knew we were restructuring with the intent to bring in nurturing and conversion, we knew it would be a small team, and we knew that small team wouldn’t be able to scale anything without a tool that could take up some of that grunt work.

“Typically, like many unis, we have had the strategy of one-size-fits-all, and x many thousands of people get the same treatment, which means we can’t fulfil what we like and we end up doing a hodge podge job. This is giving us the ability to start planning that new approach and change the way we think about how we do marketing, nurturing and conversion. It’s huge for us.”

Cherry’s team features four staff and will eventually be manned by six people. “That’s all there is going to be to nurture 70,000-odd students,” she added.

Getting buy-in

All too often, marketers looking to take advantage of martech innovations such as marketing automation have struggled to make a business case for investment dollars. But at Adelaide Uni, Cherry said it’s been easier to get investment than it is to deliver the second part of the strategy: Cultural change.

“We definitely know we want to do these things – we know it’s a good idea and we’re willing to invest,” she said, adding the CIO was a big supporter of the investment. “It’s when we reveal what it’s going to take that it gets rocky.

“Although we don’t like technology to be the driver, sometimes it can be the catalyst for the change. As long as you don’t keep leading with the tool itself.”

Instituting change is difficult when you have 70 marketing staff distributed across 10 business units, Cherry said. “It’s a lot of stakeholders to get in the room, and on the same page, especially when we operate in silos and with 10 different strategies,” she said.

“For the first time, we’re bringing in a student and admissions strategy, which will guide us and that implementation.”

Faced with such an education challenge around customer experience excellence, Cherry’s team kicked off a ‘CX day’ workshop featuring industry experts, where marketing staff, executives and front-line services engaged in CX activities and were encouraged to adopt a design thinking approach.

“Changing the culture is about changing the mindset, and that means educating people into this new world,” Cherry continued. “Post-restructure, we can’t hire this capability in. We have to start building from within.”

Front-line service historically hadn’t been seen as part of customer experience, either, another aspect Cherry is trying to change.

“We’ve seen marketing and outreach as the be all end all, and haven’t considered that while we’re bringing all these leads in, are we providing a good service experience? Are we dropping the ball when they go to making an inquiry? There are so many people involved in that end-to-end experience, we all need to be taking responsibility for customer satisfaction, our numbers and our leads.”

First cabs off the rank

With the marketing automation plug about to go into the socket, Adelaide Uni’s first priority is improving the undergraduate nurturing experience. Cherry said the basic starting point is welcoming people.

“Being able to just say thanks and welcome, and establishing that relationship, is key. This is all about being a meaningful part of that decision process for the customer,” she said. “That starts with establishing the relationship and building on it. That’s the quick win: Acknowledging there is a relationship there.”

Cherry said the team is then looking to build profiles, learn more about customers, gather and analyse “digital body language data”, as well as provide more self-service capabilities.

“We are completely redesigning our international Web presence – at the moment it really isn’t geared to serving prospects at all, and we’re going to bring in UX testing,” she said. “We’re also trying to build out our knowledge base so it can both feed our nurturing strategy for EDMs as well as service.

“It’s about being able to have a training tool for hundreds of service people across the organisation, plus a self-service research tool for prospects. It gives us an ability to help people do that research at whatever stage they may be at, and to get the answers they need.”

Through all of this, two skillsets the uni hasn’t traditionally focused on but needs to are data analysis and content production, Cherry said.

“Content is a responsibility we have shared around to marketers, but they’re not necessarily writers, so we’re sometimes trying to make a square peg fit a round hole,” she said. “We need to bring in or at least develop some of that capability in writing and good content. Then there’s data analysis side – how are we looking at disparate sets of data and short-term data, and what we’re seeing in Eloqua.”

It’s also vital to bring in customer feedback. As well as insights gathered via Eloqua, one way Adelaide Uni looks to gather more instant feedback is via two-way SMS around specific events and touchpoints. In addition, existing feedback in the knowledge base, surveys and EDMs are all on the cards.

“We spend lots of time sitting around tables, wondering what if we did this or that, or should we,” Cherry admitted. “There are so many people in the room already, we’ve almost excluded the customer from it, and we need to open that door and let them tell us what they need from us and design around that.”

  • Nadia Cameron travelled to Oracle Modern CX Summit in Las Vegas as a guest of Oracle.

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