There are dozens of platforms that cater to the needs of alumni relations and career services offices. In talking with schools who use these platforms, I’ve learned that many of them share the same set of flaws. If you’re considering signing on with a company that sells one of these platforms, make sure that they don’t receive these six common complaints.
1. Failure to launch
Platforms are substrate. They don't do much good without an active user base. But many companies sell you their platform without helping you get your community to actually use it.
It's as if you bought a car from a dealer only to find out its gas tank was empty and you had to push it to the nearest gas station. Or as if you hired a wedding planner who didn't send invitations to your friends and family.
The "if you build it, they will come" mentality just doesn't cut it anymore. When you buy into a platform, you need to know that you will get the support you need to make it succeed. Otherwise, it just wastes your team's time and budget.
When you talk to vendors, ask them about their customer onboarding and platform launch plans. Be wary if the company doesn't offer that kind of support.
Not all institutions need help launching new platforms. Large universities with in-house teams can often handle it on their own. But even if you are one of those large universities, it's good to know that your vendor has your back. And if you aren't a big shop, that help is essential.
2. Confusing interface
It's a no-brainer that a platform should be easy to use. But it can be tricky to tell when a platform's interface is unintuitive. You have the benefit of having the vendor walk you through how to do everything in a demo. Your users don't.
If you aren't sure whether a platform's interface is easy to understand, try some basic user testing. Present it to someone who has never seen it before and watch them sign up and use it. If there are hangups and confusion, ask the vendor about them. If they don't respond well to questions or constructive criticism, you might want to keep shopping around.
Keeping your platform's interface intuitive is especially important when you're trying to serve multiple generations of alumni. Older alumni won't use something they can't understand, and young alumni won't tolerate bad design.
3. Integration problems
Third-party integrations are one of the most appealing features a platform can have. Schools use these integrations update donor contact information, keep track of constituent activity, authenticate users using existing school credentials, and so on. Integrations make everything easier and more connected. Right?
Not quite. Integrations can actually be very difficult for vendors to maintain, and they can break when the third-party application they integrate with is updated. A vendor might say they integrate with a sign-on system, but not every school uses the same iteration of that system, and each one requires hours of development time to get working. A vendor may promise that their product will integrate with your donor database or constituent management system, only to tell you later that the integration won't work because you're using an older version of that software.
Integration is great because it's seamless, but getting apps to talk to each other in the first place takes a lot of work. Before you buy, make sure your vendor pays attention to the details that can prevent their integrations from working properly.
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4. It's Difficult to communicate with users
Not every platform is built to be a direct communication channel. We get that. But there are times when you need to talk to the community you've worked hard to assemble. You try to get your constituents' attention wherever they are—Facebook, Twitter, email—so why not on the platform that you pay good money for? Whatever purpose your platform serves, it should also include features that allow you to make the most of your captive audience.
5. Lack of meaningful data
Does it work?
That's not only a question you want to answer for yourself, but also one you have to answer in order to justify budgeting for the platform you use.
Quantitative and qualitative data are the only way to evaluate the efficacy of your platform. You need to be able to drill down deep into user activity statistics, growth and retention rates, and patterns of behavior.
Some platforms don't show you this data at all. Other platforms present data, but obscure what's really going on by cherrypicking the numbers that look good. When you're evaluating a platform's data tools, ask yourself these questions:
- Does the platform track user activity data?
- Does the platform track meaningful user activity data that help you evaluate the efficacy of the platform and your strategies for using it?
- Does the platform display data in a way that is easy to understand and share with your colleagues?
- Does the platform track positive outcomes so that you can you can justify its expense and take credit for your work?
6. The Vendor is more focused on sales than product
This complaint is tricky because it can be hard to gauge how true it is. But the crux of the matter is this: If a vendor isn't responsive to your feedback, isn't updating their platform, and isn't quick to provide technical support, they aren't allocating enough resources toward product development and customer support. They need to change their business model, full stop.
It can be hard to tell how devoted a company is to customer service and development until after you've already signed a contract with them, and by then it's too late to reevaluate. Ask them these questions before you sign to avoid making that mistake:
- Do you provide technical support to our users, or are we responsible for providing user support?
- What is your average response time to a technical support ticket?
- What features are next on your product roadmap?
- What kind of say do we as customers have in deciding what features you develop next?
- What features have you built at the request of your customers?
- What were the last three features that you added to your platform, and when did you add them?
Vendors you talk to will try to meet you where you are. They talk to you using your vocabulary, address the concerns of your field, and read what you read. But remember that they are also tech companies with their own vocabulary, their own concerns, and their own research. The more you know about how tech companies build their products, the more empowered you will be.
Like this post? Read more advice like it in our free whitepaper, 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Engagement Software.