California State University, East Bay (CSU East Bay) identified a need for a new website, in large part because they wanted to integrate an enterprise customer relationship management (CRM) system, and knew the website would need to change to accommodate this system. They had already identified Salesforce as their CRM technology, and, shortly before our work together began, had moved their registration experience to PeopleSoft.

CSU East Bay was attempting to tackle several complex, interrelated projects. To minimize risk, we began with an in-depth discovery to identify how these ambitious initiatives aligned with CSU East Bay’s goals, the needs of their students, and how these investments could best work together to fulfill CSU East Bay’s aims.

Much had changed at CSU East Bay over the years, but continuing education’s identity, personality, and content had remained static. It no longer reflected the potential value on offer to prospective students.

The market position of Continuing Education was not clearly defined. It offered little to differentiate its offerings or give prospective students a reason to choose Cal State East Bay over regional competitors.

The website was very dated in its appearance and functionality. The underlying structure, its content, and pathways to conversion had been conceived from the perspective of the institution, and did not meet the expectations or needs of student-customers.

Students found the new PeopleSoft registration process confusing. It presented many barriers to completing a course registration, including a 48 hour delay between creation of an ID and the ability to actually register for a course. This led to a high rate of “shopping cart abandonment” and a dramatic 37% drop in registrations.

Continuing Education lacked the ability to track the journey of a prospective student from interest to conversion. The solution would need to integrate the CRM platform with both the website experience and registration system so metrics could be captured. That would allow CSUEB Continuing Education to implement data-driven forecasting into their plans.

There was limited understanding of the role of recruiting and a gap in recruiting methodology, particularly as it related to marketing. Staff and faculty typically described the student experience and their obligations to the student as beginning at the application step.

The organization had a self-perception of being student-centered, but deliberate and robust processes that enabled a truly student-centered culture to flourish were largely absent.

CSU East Bay had embarked on several ambitious projects, but had done so with a “technology first” perspective. There was no common framework from which to view the role and purpose of these systems or to measure their effectiveness. The student experience was largely missing from the equation.

The Design Process
We worked collaboratively with the staff, faculty, and students at CSU East Bay to understand the organization. We looked at the organization’s purpose and mission, strategic aims, its market and competitive position, offerings, types of students, and organizational makeup. We met and talked with every staff member in the CE department, as well as faculty and college administrators. We also interviewed and surveyed students, and mapped with them an ideal student experience that would guide subsequent design work.

Our ultimate goal was to get a picture of what we call the brand/marketing/ recruiting ecosystem. The notion of an ecosystem is a great way to illustrate the reality that as the techniques and tools we use to fill classes have gotten more diverse and complex, they all still exist in this interdependent world. Changes to one can affect all of the others. Building a website that makes promises the organization can’t keep is just as detrimental as not picking up the phone when someone calls.

Essentially the ecosystem is an acknowledgement that all of these things are interdependent. Every part of your organization — from the location of the classrooms, to the website, to the person who answers your questions — all play a role in either keeping the brand promise or breaking expectations.

Story+Structure designed a seamless experience through all parts of the student journey. The new website effectively communicates CSUEB’s value propositions and helps to build positive relationships with prospects.

The system can now track and measure the prospects’ pathway through the recruitment funnel and CRM methodology while collecting data to help align marketing campaigns with strategic goals. This has moved CSU East Bay from a reactive to a more proactive, data-driven organization.

We used the existing CMS — Cascade — to build a mobile-ready, compelling new experience. This has not only delivered a better online student experience, but also leveraged an IT supported system so that staff can focus on connecting students to the educational product that’s right for them, rather than having to maintain a technical system themselves.

CSU East Bay had selected Salesforce prior to our engagement, and working with vendor partners, we were able to implement recruitment funnels and comm plans that moved prospects effectively through the awareness, consideration, and decision phases. CSU East Bay was able to realize their investment in this technology by positioning it to support recruiting as a methodology.

The new design removed barriers to registration and improved student satisfaction with key transaction points. While the move to PeopleSoft had been problematic (and costly in terms of lost registrations), we understood that the student experience could be improved by building off of the migration to this enterprise system. We worked with external vendors to build a shopping cart experience on top of PeopleSoft. This required no changes to the backend process, yet delivered an intuitive, easy to use experience that completely reversed the decline in registrations..

Story+Structure developed a stronger brand, market position, and targeted messaging that differentiates CSU East Bay from competitors. Content now speaks to student needs — benefits, proof points, and outcomes — and offers a clear reason why they should choose CSU East Bay. This acknowledges the position CSU East Bay occupies in the regional marketplace and more closely aligns their external brand with their purpose and mission.

Since launch, inquiries from the website have increased over 700%. While enrollments have increased, we are now working with CSU East Bay to optimize their recruiting activities to maximize conversions from this dramatic increase in initial engagement. Because we mapped the entire student journey, we anticipated earlier changes would influence subsequent areas, such as recruiting.