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This is not a robot: The Polytechnic School graduate advising

As one of the six colleges comprising the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, ASU’s Polytechnic School is home to one of the most innovative engineering programs in the country and some of the most advanced learning laboratories available to students at any university. The 600-acre Polytechnic campus in Mesa is home to more than 3,300 students. Nearly 400 are graduate students who work directly with top researchers and industry practitioners, in learning environments that are tailored to each student’s individual research interests.

In order to create a better student service experience from initial inquiry through graduation, the Polytechnic School’s graduate program became one of ASU’s earliest adopters of Salesforce, implementing the customer relationship management (CRM) tool’s case management function in February 2015.

From the beginning, the graduate team’s primary goals were to streamline responses to prospective and newly admitted students, as well as to avoid receiving duplicate inquiries from students by routing general emails through Salesforce.

“Our general email, polygrad@asu.edu, is tied to our degree search and a number of other areas,” explains Amy Wolsey, graduate advising coordinator for the Polytechnic School. “We also share with current and prospective students that they can get a timelier response from someone on the team by emailing us there than they would emailing someone individually.”

When students submit inquiries through the general email, their cases get automatically routed through Salesforce. From there, the graduate advising team is able to utilize templates and Salesforce Quick Text to ensure a consistent message is shared from the office.

“It comes down to not wanting to look robotic,” Wolsey says. “Previously, polygrad@asu.edu emails went to an Outlook folder. We would respond to them one by one, and if a name looked familiar then we would search the archives folder so that we didn’t send the exact same email we’d sent before. Now we have the ability to be more transparent, both across the university and with students. We can see the status on a case and can also recognize if a student has emailed the office about the topic before, or if they emailed other departments on campus and never got a response. In both cases, we can make sure they get a consistent answer.”

With nearly 1,500 resolved cases thus far and an average service rating of 4.4 out of 6 since May 2015, the key to the graduate advising team’s success has been in setting realistic expectations, with a guideline of typically responding to inquiries within 48 hours.

“I know we have people in our office who expected that using Salesforce would mean being micromanaged for response time, but we don’t look at it that way,” says Wolsey. “When you have the case volume we have, this is the most efficient way to manage it. It’s about improving the student experience, not only within our department but also across ASU. It may improve the process for staff in the long run, but we’re not micromanaging their communications. Putting the focus on students helps people get on board quicker.”

She adds that despite any misgivings about using the tool, it’s important for staff not to delay taking full advantage of what Salesforce has to offer, including attending trainings, reaching out to the Salesforce team with any issues and assigning a point person within each college to forward pertinent Salesforce information and updates to the entire staff.

“Be sure to train enough people, too,” she says. “When there’s turnover and you have to start fresh again it can be time consuming, so having multiple people on your team who are knowledgeable about the tool is important.”

In the coming months, the office plans to more fully utilize the reporting features available in the CRM tool, and will be working closely with Graduate Admission Services on creating a recruitment campaign to proactively outreach potential students via phone or email.