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Case Study

How Durham University drove up prospective student engagement with Gecko and Microsoft Dynamics 365

We recently caught up with Durham University, who told us how the integration of Gecko with their CRM, Microsoft Dynamics 365, has enabled them to level up their university events, save time, and even challenge student expectations about their institution…

How Durham University drove up prospective student engagement with Gecko and Microsoft Dynamics 365

It’s something we’ve been talking about with our university partners for a while. What value does Gecko add to your CRM? You may think that Gecko is simply a form that sits on top of the CRM and collects data, rather than being a crucial part of your student engagement journey. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Enterprise CRMs like Dynamics are very powerful but also quite generic – they don’t specifically cater to the challenges HE institutions face. Gecko does. The Gecko platform supercharges your CRM and enables you to get more out of it than ever before. Not only does that make the lives of your staff easier, but it also enables you to deliver on student experience.

Gecko
Having a platform that is custom-designed for higher education, like Gecko, means that our events are streamlined and geared towards student engagement.
Gecko
Ben Hodgkiss
Systems Development Manager, Durham University

Transforming the initial student engagement experience

Durham University has transformed how they run their recruitment and admissions department over the past five years. They’ve moved from a decentralised system, with questions and applications going to individual departments, to a centralised team in collaboration with the other departments. They wanted to reduce time spent on low-value tasks so they could spend more time enhancing and improving the student experience across the whole admissions lifecycle and exceeding student communication expectations.

Gecko, and specifically its integration with Dynamics 365, played a big part in this transformation. Ben Hodgkiss, Systems Development Manager at Durham University, told us more…

Using the Gecko platform on top of Dynamics

“We’ve never been able to find something that works as well for higher education as the Gecko platform. We try to do as much in our CRM, Microsoft Dynamics 365, as we can because it makes sense that we want to do as much as we can within that system.

“However, Dynamics is a consumer CRM system so you get it out the box, and so you have to do lots of development work to make it work so that it talks your language. Our system talks about applications and enquiries rather than leads and sales, for example, so we have to spend a lot of time, money, and effort fixing that. Then when we look at the whole event management piece, I don’t think that outside of HE there are many sectors that run events in the way that universities do, with so many events running all the time.

What were the biggest pain points with the old process?

1) Having to constantly create individual forms

Durham was often running multiple events with three or four school visits a day and staff at events up and down the country. In the old system, that would mean creating a separate form for every single event and hours spent cloning the same form and renaming it. Now, with Gecko, the team can create just one form, import the events, and link them up. Easy.

2) Having to fit set criteria

The old system didn’t have the online form functionality they needed. Durham was using forms on their CMS system, and was then having to download all those leads as CSV files, and then having to make them fit the criteria that it needed to go into a system. If a student called the subject ‘maths’, instead of ‘mathematics’ they’d have to do a find and replace every single time before the data could be imported into the system.

3) Manual data inputting

Not having a course list in the form field options meant that Durham had to spend hours manually typing in data to the system. That’s over 200 courses that had to be manually inputted. With Gecko, they now simply have the course list in the form of field options.

How Gecko solved those pain points and supercharged their CRM for recruitment and admissions
The integration with Gecko and Microsoft Dynamics was a bit of a game-changer. Firstly, with Gecko, everything goes straight into Durham's CRM for recruitment and admissions. Instantly, that meant Durham massively reduced the amount of manual handling of data they have to do. Utilising Gecko for their events has also meant that Durham is able to deliver a fantastic student experience.

Here are 8 ways the integration powered up the prospect journey at Durham...

1) Speed up follow-up comms

“If we’re at a UCAS fair we create an automated workflow for our follow-up comms. If we have Wi-Fi or 4G it goes through straight away and the main benefit is for the student, because they get that almost instantaneous response. I’ve seen people at UCAS fairs fill out the form and it pops up on their phone straight away – while they’re still at the stand. Anything we can do to help reinforce the message that the university is at the cutting edge of technology, like sending them an email quickly, is a really positive thing.”

2) Automate seamless workflows

“We just have to set up a workflow and then we can pretty much walk away, safe in the knowledge that the forms are going to get filled in, the attendees are going to get sent the right email when they fill it in, and that data’s going to find its way into Dynamics.”

3) Send on-the-day reminder comms

“Without Gecko it’s tricky to send out reminder comms for events. It’s hard to do it from ClickDimensions, which is what we use for our bulk mailing. If you want to send an email or text an hour before the event it would take a long time to set up and you’d have to do it for each and every event. In Gecko, we can just set that up and get it away.”

4) Build richer pictures of your prospects

“In Dynamics, if you do an import and that person already exists in the system, it effectively tells you that you don’t need to add them in again. But if you’ve gathered all this rich data on a prospective student, you want to use that. The integration means that you can add details, update them, and use that to build a richer picture of your prospects.”

5) Ask for the right information, at the right time

“In the past, we used really long forms to get all of the information we needed, because we only had one shot to get it right. Now, we can have more of an iterative approach rather than put people off by effectively saying, ‘Please fill in this seven-page-long form.”

6) Create targeted communications

“We gather basic information on those interested in Durham and then build on it with each interaction we have with them to help target our future communications. For example, we can make sure that applicants know about scholarships available for people in their local area – or identify they’re a mature student so we can let them know about specific support. We build up that picture until we know about them to make sure people get information relevant to them.

7) Create complex – but user-friendly – forms

“We prefer how the front end of the forms look in Gecko. Microsoft Forms are improving, but they’re nowhere near the complexity that you can make within Gecko. For our widening participation in summer school programs, the application form can be seven or eight pages as we ask for GCSE subjects, grades, and so on. Having things like parent-child relationships infield options in Gecko massively saves time and makes it much more user-friendly.”

8) Take the pressure off staff

“We send out student ambassadors to multiple recruitment events at a time. However, with accrued TOIL it means they might not be back in the ‘office’ for days at a time. You don’t want to be waiting until then to get the information off their iPad. To just be able to say, ‘It’s all done, all the data is there in the CRM’, this really takes the pressure off our teams in busy times. They have the confidence to know that Gecko’s going to do it for them.”

Seamless CRM integration = better value proposition

So we’ve dived into the granularity of how integration between Gecko and Microsoft Dynamics 365 can benefit your institution at the outset of the student journey; from events to reminder emails, to building a long-term value proposition of your institution long before prospects apply.

However, there’s more to it than that. It’s also about what smart technology says about your institution, particularly when we’re going through such turbulent times in regards to how the student experience should look in the future. Back over to Ben for the final word…

“With everything that’s happened over the past two years, technology is going to be more important than ever to our prospective students going forward. Students are going to be thinking about what happens if the country needs to go into a lockdown and there needs to be online teaching. How is that going to work? Can my university cope with that?

“The reality is, universities are viewed as corporate entities now. People want to be sure that they’re going to get a good return on their investment, and technology’s one way of doing that. If you have really seamless technology, what that says is, ‘Look, stuff just works here. If you fill out a form, you’re going to get a response quickly, we’re going to remember who you are, and we’re going to be able to take you on that journey with us.”

Find out more

Find out more about the Gecko integration with Microsoft Dynamics 365 over on our Dynamics integration page.

Integration: Microsoft Dynamics 365