AFS Intercultural Programs
Engaged staff, exponential impact
AFS Intercultural Programs (AFS) equips young people with the skills, knowledge, and understanding they need to create a more just and peaceful world. The 70 year old nonprofit operates a global network of 61 organizations and over 1,000 staff, with programs in more than 90 countries and 5,000 schools. Students are immersed in local culture, by living with host families and attending local schools, in service of individual and community transformation.
Despite its long tenure and large scale, AFS’s operating systems had not kept up with the needs of its constituents in a digital world. AFS recognized that if it was going to continue to be successful in the age of technology, it needed to radically transform the way it worked. Partnering with Salesforce, AFS implemented a suite of solutions available in Nonprofit Cloud, to revolutionize the staff and customer experience. In doing so, it has invigorated staff, improved operating efficiency, and helped more young people kick-start their journey of global citizenship.
A fragmented and complex customer journey…
In 2015, AFS leadership realized that they could no longer ignore major business challenges created by a fragmented customer journey and complex internal processes.
On the customer journey, marketing tools were proving to be ineffective as a way to connect with potential participants, convert them into successful applications and grow the program in popular destinations. Only 12 percent of program participants reported that they had heard about AFS through marketing channels.
On the complexity of processes, staff felt hampered by the lack of internal technology capabilities. Without a centralized system to manage each inquiry from potential applicants, some might go unanswered. Capacity was so limited that a few network organizations even introduced processes to temper new leads, such as an application fee. A lengthy web-based form also inadvertently acted as a deterrent to potential participants. Some students started, but never completed, an application. Others could be in application phase for six to eight months because of processing delays.
Despite recognizing the need to undergo a digital transformation, Raquel Martinez – Customer Experience and Marketing Director at AFS – recalls that she was concerned about how staff would respond. The way they worked would need to change. But, she says, “change begins when the cost and the pain of doing nothing is higher than the discomfort of change.” Only 24 percent of prospects who started an application were participating in the AFS journey, which felt too low. Undertaking substantial market research, AFS identified Salesforce as the right fit because it would offer market-leading technology and, equally importantly, extensive training and ongoing support to staff users. Working with an implementation partner, AFS rolled out a Nonprofit Cloud solution that would meet its needs, primarily by putting the staff – and customer – experience at the center of the technology journey.
…was unified in Experience Cloud for Nonprofits and Marketing Cloud Account Engagement…
To substantially improve the customer experience, AFS created an application process in Experience Cloud for Nonprofits. The application journey is now staggered and only takes minutes rather than hours to complete. At initial inquiry, students create an account and provide basic information, which enables AFS staff to assess which programs they qualify for. Only if a student is pre-selected, are they invited to apply for specific programs. Successful students rapidly move through to acceptance and can use their Communities account as a way of staying in touch with AFS throughout their program participation, for example, by receiving inviting pre-travel information and in-country support.
The application process has been automated using Pardot and enhanced using Engagement Studio within Pardot. At each stage, potential applicants are scored based on their eligibility criteria and moved forward, or offered alternative products or marketing campaigns. Automation Rules deliver application process notifications, such as a reminder to send documentation. Emails designed in Pardot Templates create standardized but personalized notifications, and AFS is able to record whether the email has been opened or acted upon. For those students who quickly become disengaged, for example, by not opening emails, AFS is able to deliver re-targeted marketing campaigns with content adapted to match the student’s real-time recorded behavior, with the aim of converting them into engaged prospects.
…which transformed staff experience…
To substantially improve the staff experience, AFS used Sales Cloud to centralize the management of customer relationships and activities. Each potential applicant is assigned to a staff member, who can easily see what they need to do next to advance the student on, for example, authorize their qualification to the next stage of the process, or send them information based on the student’s engagement with a marketing campaign. All activities by staff are logged, which means that no inquiry goes unanswered or answered multiple times. Next steps are pre-populated within Sales Cloud based on the student’s pathway to date. This eases the operating burden on staff while ensuring that their time is more effectively spent on deep engagement with students, to create that personal connection needed to support young people on their journey.
Indeed, the Chatter function within Communities has been the “secret ingredient”, says Martinez. It has allowed staff to communicate quickly with students through a medium that young people are most likely to engage with. Staff can nudge students along if they start, but do not complete an application, and check in with successful applicants. When students receive a notification that they have been pre-selected or that they have been accepted to the program, they excitedly text back, creating a buzz around AFS’s work and a relationship between staff and students.
…and propelled more young people on their global citizenship journey…
In a short space of time, AFS has experienced the positive impact of Salesforce technology on operating efficiency, program growth, and staff engagement. The nonprofit recently launched a pilot program and received almost five times as many applications as under the old system, in one-third of the time. Specifically, 7,271 students started an application and 1,615 students completed the process generating a 22% conversion rate, compared to 1,500 leads and an inconclusive conversion rate last year. Prior to Salesforce, these inquiries would have been managed by at least eight people. They can now be managed by just one staff member, who is excited by the software experience and engaged with the mission.
As a result of demonstrated success, AFS has started rolling out Salesforce technology globally, with 70 percent of network organizations in implementation phase. The software will ensure that the staff experience is consistently high across these network nodes, that students receive personalized journeys, and that more young people are supported in achieving their global ambitions.