This spotlight is part of a series of profiles about constituent relationship management (CRM) users across campus, partners in the success of the OneBadger CRM initiative.
With over 45,000 applications submitted in the last admissions cycle, that’s quite a big “Sett” of prospective Badgers—and, by extension, thousands of questions to field.
That’s where Nathan Trick comes into the picture, managing and developing the technology platform that helps the UW–Madison Office of Admissions and Recruitment team put a personal touch on communication amid such a high volume of applicants.
Did you know? A “sett” is the formal name for a badger’s den, and how The Sett recreational hub in Union South got its name.
In any given day, the Office of Admissions and Recruitment (OAR) might handle hundreds of inquiries—and that volume grows to thousands a day as an application deadline approaches.
How do they do it? It’s a recipe that’s one part old-fashioned commitment to customer service and one part high-tech tools and data insights made possible by a constituent relationship management (CRM) platform called Salesforce.
Part of the campus-wide OneBadger initiative to create a 360-degree circle of support for learners at UW–Madison, Salesforce has been part of OAR’s repertoire since 2018.
‘A better way’
Salesforce helps the team break up its high volume of incoming inquiries into different queues—one to handle questions about transcripts, another for deadline-related questions, etc. With Salesforce capabilities, the OAR team can then explore the data for “opportunities” tied to each applicant, Trick says.
“Let’s say someone writes in and says, ‘I got a message from UW about a transcript,’” explains Trick, lead Salesforce admin for OAR. “Well, with Salesforce, you can say, ‘let me go in and see who they are and what they need.’ It allows you to get the 360 view of what’s going on with this applicant.”
“If someone is in our system, it’s going to tie that inquiry to that person,” Trick added. “We can see what stage they’re in—have they applied, have they gone to an event? How you communicate with them is going to change with what you know about them.”
OAR’s journey to launching Salesforce began with previous attempts to use different marketing automation tools and homegrown systems, including Eloqua and WiscLists, in collaboration with the Division of Continuing Studies (DCS).
It was a collaboration that made good sense in large part, with both the DCS and OAR teams focused so heavily on recruitment, for instance. However, Continuing Studies does more one-to-one recruiting for smaller professional degree programs, while Admissions and Recruitment is responsible for the much broader, higher volume recruitment of undergraduate students.
“We may have had different needs, but what we both needed was a better way to manage prospects and applicants,” Trick says. “Things were getting junked up in different systems and we didn’t have a lot of analytics capabilities. What we needed was that CRM piece to bring it together.”
Cases: A customer service backbone
With the way OAR has built out Salesforce, the thousands of inquiries that come in are tied directly to an individual, Trick explains. That’s accomplished in part via the “Cases” capability within the CRM. Essentially, Cases are the backbone of the Salesforce service cloud—giving team members the tools to better handle a customer’s question, feedback or issue.
OAR launched Salesforce in July 2018 and built out the Cases module shortly thereafter in September 2018. Since then, the OAR team has managed over 157,000 inquiries via Cases.
“Think about doing that all just in an email inbox,” Trick says. “Now, we can track who’s emailing us, maintain conversation threads, make sure an inquiry is being handled, and just generally not have it go all over the place.”
And yet, implementing Cases was in fact a “leap of faith” for the OAR team, given its comfort level and long history of doing just that—using primarily email to manage and track their high volumes of inquiries. Two years in, however, they’d never go back.
“If I ever said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get rid of Cases…,’ they’d chase me out of here,” Trick jokes.
Changing business processes and improving efficiency
Trick credits Cases for allowing positive change in OAR’s business processes and operational efficiency for its front desk and counseling staff. And when COVID-19 hit and OAR staff were all sent home to work remotely, it was Salesforce Cases that allowed OAR to maintain operations.
“We have a call center, and it’s not very easy to just pick up the phones and go,” Trick explained. “Luckily, Salesforce had a live chat function, and we spun that together in an afternoon—so students could still communicate with us outside of having a call center.”
Another way OAR has leveraged Salesforce capabilities is for admissions counselors visits to high schools around the country. In Salesforce, OAR can set up a code a few days prior to the visit, identifying students from that high school who have expressed interest in UW, and send them a pre-visit email. After the admissions counselor’s visit, they can then send thank you notes to the students who attended, offering their contact information for any additional questions.
Diving into CRM capabilities
Trick came to OAR in 2012 from UW-Extension with a background in website and database development. While he had some exposure to Salesforce while working with a client at Extension, Trick says it’s been rewarding to be able to dive into the CRM capabilities in his OAR role.
“I knew the power and its ease of use already,” Trick says. “And as I got deeper into it, Salesforce really does have a great user interface and support community—from the grassroots level of people connecting on message boards to the ‘Trailhead’ learning modules Salesforce puts out for developers.”
Trick said he also appreciates the level of collaboration across campus that was necessary to bring both early Salesforce adopters, OAR and DCS, onboard. Trick credits campus colleagues like DCS Salesforce Lead Admin Megan McDonald for embracing collaboration across teams.
“There were six months of meetings, and some of them could be contentious, figuring out what it was going to take for both of our business processes to succeed in a shared model,” Trick recalls. “But we have a really good, functioning system now—and it’s just proof that we were able to go through that process, collaborate, and really come together.”
Adds Trick: “With Megan and I, there’s this fundamental trust between the two of us that we’re not going to ruin each other’s stuff in the CRM.”
And Trick does plenty of tinkering around in Salesforce—though he notes that the platform is typically “all about clicks, not code,” well-designed for ease of use.
“But as we get new data sources, I get excited about the ins and outs of loading those Excel files or XML files,” Trick says. “If someone sends me a list today, I’ll have it in the CRM today and we can email those people today.”
That wasn’t the case pre-Salesforce—and that immediacy afforded by the technology has an effect on the student experience.
“What would that look like if I’m a student and I went to an event, and then three weeks later, I finally get a thank-you note?” Trick asks.
“It’s a win that I enjoy because it makes us look really good, and it’s easy technically.”
Smiles, soccer, and Space Invaders
When he’s not configuring Salesforce, Trick enjoys spending time with his family at their home in Evansville, where he lives with his wife, Bridget Rolek, and their 14-year-old son, Sam.
The Tricks adopted Sam in 2006—and they were beyond thrilled to bring their son home with them after a relatively quick painless adoption process. But soon, their enthusiasm was tempered with worry when it appeared that baby Sam wasn’t developing as expected.
He was ultimately diagnosed with a rare developmental condition called open-lip schizencephaly, which has since resulted in Sam being quadriplegic and developmentally delayed. Sam “smiles all the time,” his dad says, and he loves going outside for walks or to people-watch at the farmer’s market.
“The smiles and the giggles make it all worthwhile,” Trick says.
Sam loves baseball, but the diehard New York Mets fan also recently got into British soccer; Sam and his dad enjoy watching the Everton English football club out of Liverpool together on TV.
“That’s our nightly thing,” Trick says with a smile.
The father-son duo also play a lot of adaptive PlayStation soccer—Sam has the controller and dad pushes the buttons. The elder Trick started playing videogames himself at age 7, when he had an out-of-this-world encounter with the “Space Invaders” arcade game at his local laundromat in 1979.
And the rest is gamer history: “I’ve been playing every arcade machine I can get my hands on for 40 years now.”