Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru, discusses what universities must do, in these strange times and in respect to their technology, to maintain student satisfaction
The British definition of ‘university’ this year is worlds apart from what it has traditionally been. The COVID-19 pandemic has entirely changed the way universities will be managed, operated and attended, with remote learning setups and social gatherings taking place virtually rather than in-person. This drastic change has put universities under immense pressure from students, parents and even their own staff to do what is right in light of these new restrictions, all while keeping the ‘uni experience’ enriching and fun.
With all of this in mind, and with the continued pressure of attracting as many students as possible to remain financially viable, it is now more important than ever for universities to ensure their student engagement strategy is completely bulletproof. One only needs to look at the news cycle of reports around the recent A-levels and GCSEs results days (with the additional chaotic layer of predicted grades) to see why this is the case. Prospective students across the country were ringing universities in a panic, trying to confirm or defer offers, enter the clearing process, or calling schools and exam boards to contest predicted grades. For any university attempting to handle this without a robust engagement strategy in place, the whole experience will have been nothing short of pandemonium for both prospective students and student advisers.
First impressions are everything
The failure of the government’s original algorithm for predicted grades left many prospective students worried they wouldn’t be attending university this year, as they were initially awarded grades much lower than expected. As a result, the clearing period has been even more hectic than usual, with wait times of up to six hours for students to talk to the university they are hoping to attend, adding to the distress and anxiety of the situation.
In many cases, this will be the first direct interaction between a student and their potential future university. So, for universities failing to prepare and operate a student engagement strategy that can cope with these high levels of demand and call volumes is a huge error. In a similar way to how a customer would be less inclined to dine in a restaurant where they’ve had to wait for thirty minutes to be seated, a student is far less likely to end up attending a university if their initial experience of it has been negative and overall brand sentiment will be eroded over time. First impressions go beyond a flashy prospectus, so universities must think about what tools and technologies they can implement to ensure they are attracting as many new students to enrol as possible, particularly during these financially challenging times.
The right technology
In common with many other areas of today’s data-driven economy, solutions provided by cloud-based service providers are disrupting the way technology is applied in customer service environments, and this includes universities. Businesses are making a strategic move away from traditional on-premise infrastructure and software platforms in favour of versatile ‘as-a-service’ options, which broaden the functionality available whilst reducing the need for big-ticket capex investment. Providers who can offer a holistic omnichannel solution are often best placed to meet the strategic and operational needs of service teams. Communications now need to be kept consistent across multiple channels, working together with no disparity to provide a seamless student experience. This is easily achieved using cloud-based Contact Centre as-a-Service (CCaaS) with a one-window view where communications are collated in one space. This makes it far easier for the university customer engagement worker to navigate from voice calls, to web chat, to SMS or any other channel.
Particularly when dealing with high volumes, attempting to handle spikes in demand has proven extremely difficult using traditional legacy infrastructure. Working with cloud-based CCaaS across an omnichannel environment makes a student support service ideally placed to deal with high levels of enquiries and ensure strong service levels even when demand jumps. For example, screen-pops bring student data and information on past interactions directly to agents, reducing student frustration, as callers don’t have to repeat information they have already provided. Intelligent automation is also used to route enquiries to the most appropriate available agent or chatbot. The recipient, whether human or machine, will be equipped with the right information to engage with the contact. This ensures that student communications will always be best-in-class, especially during times of peak demand.
Attract, retain and engage
Starting a relationship between a student and their chosen university on the right foot is absolutely key. As this year’s university experience is bound to be an unconventional one, it is up to universities and their student support teams to do all in their power to attract, retain and engage their students. This means using the right technology to provide a stress-free and efficient experience from day one, reassuring students that, despite unusual circumstances, their experience at university will be worthwhile, enriching and, above all, fun.