practitioner perspective

Claudia Attarian

Duke University

By RYAN CATHERWOOD

Last month Protopia’s Ryan Catherwood interviewed Claudia Attarian, Senior Director of Alumni Relations and Visitor Services at the Duke Alumni Association.

In her role, Claudia works the front lines of engagement and leads a team focused on providing a concierge-like experience for alumni and donors.

Ryan: Could you share more about what you mean by the idea of a concierge experience?

Claudia: We handle the random questions coming into the office. We handle communications from alumni, for example. Also, class notes and birth announcements and that sort of a thing. We are the team that when Duke is in the news for better or for worse, usually any questions, concerns start with us. And then we work with our marketing and communications team on responses. So we’re kind of like the front door for everything.

The concierge concept is something that’s evolved over the years.

Ryan: I imagine that the team handles lots of different calls, sometimes with upset alumni?

Claudia: That’s one of the things I like most about my job. I love it when I get someone who is annoyed and I get the opportunity to bring them around and understand whatever they might be upset about or questioning. No day is the same. Every day we learn something new. And we always tell our team that, you know, just when you think, you know it all, you get a question that you’ve never received before, and I’ve been here 15 years. So I’ve received a lot of questions.

Ryan: That makes sense. What has all the alumni talking about these days? What initiatives you focused on at the Duke Alumni Association.

Claudia: Certainly right now lifelong learning is an initiative of the President’s that students come to Duke, whether it’s for their undergrad years or professional graduate school. And we want them when they leave to continue that journey of learning throughout their lifetime and to think about Duke. Jen Chambers is the Assistant VP over it. And they have the Forever Learning Institute. They coordinate with faculty members, with alumni students, and with friends of the university. And they do YouTube videos, so it’s a very large and impressive department.

Ryan: As you’ve worked to provide great customer services for Duke alumni and friends, how has Protopia helped as a resource?

Claudia: I love that Protopia gave students and alumni the opportunity to come up with a question and it would be sent out to alumni who could really answer that question. You know, I think sometimes our students in particular get into tunnel vision and for example, well, Melinda Gates went there. So I wanna talk to Melinda Gates but there are so many other alumni that could also give them a great deal of information and help. And I think Protopia opens that world up to them.

Ryan: Can you describe any sort of success stories resulting from having the solution in place?

Claudia: Yeah, there have been a number of those. From students asking very obscure questions to an alum coming in and saying, “Oh, that’s right up my alley.” 

We’ve also heard of students and alums that have built relationships, and it just started with a simple question, but they’ve been continuing to talk over the weeks and months after that. I’ve seen a lot of the answers that come through. I also love that the answers aren’t necessarily just by email. I’ll see responses where they’ll say, you know, give me a call Tuesday at 10 and would love to talk to you about it. And so there’s really a very engaging conversation going on.

Ryan: I remember seeing an amazing response to a student’s question from Duke alum that’s also happens to be a famous former NBA basketball player. 

Claudia: Yes! I remember that interaction. That was wonderful. 

Ryan: Before I let you go, any other thoughts on how the partnership with Protopia has gone so far? 

Claudia: I love the customer service I have to say that we get from Protopia, that’s very important to me. Whenever we have an issue or a concern, you know, I will say it’s great to be able to reach out to Max and we get on Slack and he can answer something very quickly. 

I also love how we’re able to use the dashboard to see the interactions with students and alumni from the very beginning from when the student asks a question, and then the alums coming back with a very thoughtful answer and also wanting to continue that engagement.

Ryan: Awesome! Thanks Claudia. Best wishes to you and your team at Duke.

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