Customer Relationship Management with Corporate Alumni Networks – Potential New Business Opportunities through Alumni

Anja Baer

Erkenntnisse der Bachelor-Arbeit von Anja Baer im Rahmen des Bachelorstudiengangs International Management der ZHAW School of Management and Law:

The implementation of corporate alumni networks as a social network to manage former employees has a significant impact on the success of firms, especially in the professional service industry. The current global economic turbulences are constantly generating renewed interest in corporate alumni networks and will continue to emerge across other sectors.

For those who are not familiar with the most recent developments in corporate alumni networks, the word “alumni” can be deceptive. Its primary meaning was “graduated of a school, college, or university”, which may bring to mind the image of graying seniors gathering every five or ten years for the purpose of renewing old memories. This image of alumni has become fundamentally transformed as their associations in the academic as well as business world have evolved to cultivate relationships with prospective alumni while they are still active students or employees. Satisfied customers or former employees are a service’s best salespeople.

For many years, alumni networks were only observed at educational institutions. Recently, a growing number of firms have launched corporate alumni networks to purposely manage their relationship with former employees. Factors such as information technology and the constantly changing business environment caused by globalization are main drivers behind the development of corporate alumni networks. The long practiced tradition of lifelong employment is replaced by the principle of lifetime affiliation. Talented people have so many opportunities that it is difficult for firms to retain them in the long term. However, even if they stop working for you, they can work with you.

The bachelor thesis addresses the lack of research in the area of corporate alumni networks. It investigates how firms, especially in the professional service industry where alumni are a crucial factor, can effectively maintain lasting alumni relationships to generate potential business opportunities through customer relationship management. Research for the thesis was conducted in a combination of analyzing primary and secondary data. Through desk research of the reviewed literature, the author established a scoring rubric with ten key points for a successful alumni network. Furthermore, a case study was carried out through interviews with alumni coordinators of professional service firms in order to identify the range of prevailing attitudes, objectives and practices of companies in this area. Finally, the data was used to classify their existing network and to formulate recommendations to the respondent firms.

Well-structured alumni programs can benefit the organization in many possible ways. But what is well-structured and what essential features must an alumni program entail. These ten key points must be considered to successfully integrate the alumni network into you firm:

  1. The term alumni must be defined. There is a wide range of individuals who can act as brand ambassadors or as a knowledge pool including laid-off workers, retired workers, former trainees and so on. Generally, it depends on the focus the alumni network has. The best programs realize that there are wide ranges of individuals who can benefit the firm.
  2. It is an important factor that the alumni approach is supported and budgeted by leaders with a clear connection between operating a successful program and increased revenue and profit.
  3. The alumni network should have minimum a dual focus to it; hosted in business development or recruiting. The very best commit major resources into building an alumni network for business development purposes. In the matter of potential new business, it is essential to focus in business development.
  4. The best practice is to have a webpage designed exclusively for corporate alumni with relevant features for social networking, continuous learning and career services.
  5. Corporate Alumni Networks should not be managed through an excel spreadsheet. The best alumni networks either run with software or social networking tools to keep track of alumni and effectively maintain the relationship. Alumni are contacted regularly with tailored information based on their individual needs and expectations and should include additional features.
  6. The firm should use multiple channels to reach their alumni. Social networks are effective instruments for building and maintaining relationships. Consequently, most corporate alumni programs leverage either open social networks and or build private social networks to expand the scope of their program. In the best practice, companies should leverage both.
  7. A significant proportion of business leads as well as sales should also be directly traced to the corporate alumni network and the return on investment of the alumni network should be calculated or the firm should at least be certain that the benefits exceed the expenses.
  8. Two-way value proposition must be given for a successful Alumni Network. If companies expect former employees to keep their profile updated on where they currently work or what they are up to, it has to offer a convincing value proposition. Sometimes, just the networking value of an alumni program is enough. But the most effective alumni programs offer additional benefits, such as access to intellectual capital, free or subsidized training programs, and invitations to events and social gatherings.
  9. The very best programs prioritize their alumni based on their future value to the organization. The top programs recognize the diversity of the alumni and especially those, which have an international background that might differ from the average. The cultural differences of the alumni must be taken into consideration and maybe separate alumni networks, if the community is big enough, should be established. This could differ between countries, language or regions et cetera.
  10. Measures must be introduced for the firm to proactively develop the relationship with leavers so they become good alumni. Effective alumni relationships are seeded at the moment of departure, when Human Resources (HR) executives communicate the benefits of becoming an active alumnus. HR should ask for valuable information such as the motivations for leaving, perception of the company, future plans and aspirations.

The implementation of corporate alumni networks as a social network to manage former employees has a significant impact on the success of professional service firms. The findings confirmed that companies in the professional service industry already have relatively well-established alumni networks, but there is still potential for developments and improvements. In particular, if the focus of the initiative is to create potential business opportunities, alumni must be prioritized based on their future value to the organization. Alumni programs should consider the entire alumni population, while supplementary initiatives should be more tailored. It is helpful to segment the alumni by characteristics, anticipated future value to the organization and incorporate special initiatives for the high potential net-worth alumni. The networks will remain an important intangible asset for firms in the professional service industry. The current global economic turbulences are constantly generating renewed interest in corporate alumni networks and will continue to emerge across all sectors.

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