Every year, UCAS helps more than half a million learners secure higher education placements. As an independent charity, UCAS has a 50-year pedigree in inspiring and facilitating educational progression. Traditionally, its role has been to connect students from around the world with more than 380 universities and colleges across the UK. This role, however, is evolving. As Andrew Hargreaves, Director of Customer Experience, Marketing and UCAS Media, explained: “We want to support learners throughout their educational journey applying for a place at university or college is just one step. We want to help them make informed choices while they are still at school and as they move into the world of work.”
UCAS also wants to extend its remit beyond higher education. “Any form of educational progression is a good thing – whether it’s an apprenticeship or a university course we want to help all school leavers make the right choices,” said Hargreaves. The 500-strong team at UCAS already handles around four million applications from 800,000 students every year across all of its services. Connecting with more learners will require scalable processes and accessible data – both of which UCAS lacked.
“Our systems were complex and costly; they were built around products not applicants,” explained Hargreaves. “With no CRM capabilities, it used to take me 48 hours just to send a group email.” To meet its aspirations for an immersive customer experience as well as government education directives, UCAS needed to take a new approach. And that meant embracing new technology.
Making every message matter
In 2014, UCAS embarked on a major systems refresh, which included the implementation of Salesforce. “We wanted a platform that could support our current needs and our future goals, and Salesforce came out top,” said Hargreaves. Although UCAS initially worked with a partner, it eventually decided to go it alone with both deployment and ongoing development. “We’re doing some really complex and clever stuff,” said Hargreaves. “One of the customer journeys that we’ve created has more than 1,900 templates, as there are so many variables.”
For UCAS, achieving such a granular level of personalisation is essential. As Hargreaves explained: “The philosophy at UCAS is every message matters. We want every communication to every recipient to deliver value. Learners are making decisions that will impact their careers and lives for years to come we need to ensure they stay engaged.” By integrating Marketing Cloud with its data science operation, UCAS can segment and tailor its communications like never before. As a result, email click-through rates have already increased by 3% - and that's after creating just three of an anticipated 100 personalised journeys.
Propensity models developed by the UCAS data science team, which evaluate factors, such as gender, exam grades, and university offers, help to shape every learner communication. “With Salesforce, we can harness the data that we collect on higher education and applicant trends to provide an immersive customer experience,” said Hargreaves. This approach is already proving a great success, with an 80%-plus satisfaction rating from the first cohort of applicants to receive all their communications through Marketing Cloud.
Although UCAS is already leading the way with personalisation on a massive scale Hargreaves has even greater aspirations for the future. “We now have the insights and the means to help learners from different backgrounds craft more successful applications. The social benefits in terms of promoting education and economic growth could be huge.”
Faster and smarter processes
For UCAS, creating an immersive customer experience doesn't just mean enriching learner engagement it also means improving collaboration with education providers and advertisers. UCAS Media helps brands reach and influence young people through a range of marketing services, insights, and events. “We need to be able to effectively manage our relationships with B2B entities, such as universities and advertisers,” explained Hargreaves. “The more revenue we can generate, the more we can invest in educational progression.”
With Sales Cloud, UCAS not only manages these relationships but also tracks prospects, generates consistent quotes, and automates the creation of invoices. “We can now run customer contact management for an £18 million commercial division from a single platform instead of relying on multiple spreadsheets,” said Hargreaves. “In the past, trying to get a list of every university vice-chancellors would have been impossible. With Sales Cloud, it takes a couple of seconds to run a report.”
UCAS has also been able to reduce the time it takes to on-board new B2B customers by developing automated workflows in Service Cloud. “We used to have lots of forms flying around. With Service Cloud, the process is centralised and automated, which means it now takes four weeks instead of 12,” said Hargreaves.
Every customer issue and request from every channel is also logged in the solution, which makes it easier to comply with service level agreements. Prior to Service Cloud, customer requests were managed by different team members via email. “Although we were still providing a good service, there was no central visibility,” said Hargreaves. “Now when a relationship manager visits a customer, they can see if there’s an outstanding request.”
Greater engagement and satisfaction
The deployment of Service Cloud coincided with a big customer service push at UCAS, which has seen B2B satisfaction scores increase from 54% to 76%. Hargreaves is also looking at how Service Cloud can be used to facilitate engagement with learners. “We want a 360-degree view of applicants – and Salesforce will help us achieve that,” said Hargreaves.
To help complete this 360-degree view, UCAS plans to move its social listening activities to Marketing Cloud. “We already respond to comments on social media sites, but we want to take a more centralised and sophisticated approach in the future,” said Hargreaves. “Social engagement is becoming increasingly important, not just with learners but also within the B2B community.”
With a Salesforce Customer Success Manager, UCAS has continuous support to help it take advantage of such opportunities. “Our Customer Success Manager provides us with insights into best practice and the art of the possible so we can get the most from our investment,” said Graeme Werry, Change Delivery Manager at UCAS. “It’s great to have someone who completely understands our business and acts as a single point of contact for technical questions, connecting with other customers, training, and adoption plans.”
This level of support will help UCAS engage with more customers on more channels, and focus on making every message matter. “A learner’s journey doesn't end when they secure a place they then need to think about finding accommodation, organising their finances, buying supplies, securing work experience. We want to support them through this journey with personalised content,” said Hargreaves. “With Salesforce, we can stay more connected with our customers, and ensure that we are delivering not only a richer experience but also greater value to them and society.”