It is widely understood that young people tend to be early adopters of new technology. With the internet and mobile innovation continuing to offer young people new ways of expressing themselves and interacting, today’s digital environment means young people are growing up with different expectations about how they prefer to communicate with others. To engage their students, it is increasingly important that universities are able to meet those expectations.
“Young people today want to be able to communicate with ease”, explains Pete Whitehouse, public sector expert at Opus. “They want to communicate at their convenience, without having to wait, and they want to be able to use digital channels like WhatsApp and social media, in other words, the apps they are familiar with and use every day.”
What lessons can universities learn from modern contact centres to better communicate with today’s young people? How will these changes benefit both higher education organisations and the students using them? And what makes Opus the right partner to help universities down the road to digital transformation?
Driven by emerging technology and changing customer expectations, the modern contact centre has come a long way from the call centres of old. Today, a contact centre is characterised by a hub of different channels, interacting seamlessly in order to offer customers (or students, in the context of higher education) an exceptional experience.
What do those characteristics look like and how can universities incorporate them into their own communications environments?“Multimedia and omnichannel within the private contact centre is now prevalent and will continue to grow moving forward”, Pete explains. “Another significant change over the last few years within contact centres is the integration of systems. Telephony is no longer standalone. Our contact centre solutions now come with REST (representational state transfer) APIs, for example, enabling the integration of core business platforms such as the CRM to drive improvements in customer experience and make the transaction smoother and faster.”
Opus sees that these changes are applicable to all organisations, which includes the university, not only for confirmation and clearing but for all-year-round student engagement.
As ‘digital natives’, students are already fully ‘omnichannel’ and the need to provide multi-channels of communication is growing so students can engage with the university using the media of choice, rather than what the university happens to have available.
The same forces that have driven the evolution of privately owned contact centres are present in the public sector. Learning from the approach taken by contact centres in the private sector is key for universities and other higher education institutions seeking to embrace similar transformations. The roadmap is there for them to follow. How does it read?
Pete recommends several channels that universities should look to integrate into their communications strategies when making the move towards a more omnichannel experience.
“Generally, artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots are new to higher education. However, some universities are already experimenting with an ‘Ask Us’ service as a student chatbot companion, with promising initial results. Other universities have used chatbot technology to assist prospective students in finding the right course for them through clearing.”
Web-chat also adds to the customer experience by offering an alternative medium for contact, which ‘Millennials’ and ‘Gen Z’ especially seem to prefer, not having been bought up with voice services only. Young people from both of these generations typically expect to be able to chat with a company or organisation through their website as standard.
“Email is already a mature channel within the public sector space”, Pete clarifies. “The emphasis here is not that universities offer this channel but that they have the processes in place to support it and that it integrates with the wide variety of other channels they offer.”
Finally, social media interactions across all social media platforms are increasing and becoming more critical moving forward, with alternative media options available within tools such as Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook messenger. “Today’s young people have grown up with social media”, Pete explains. “It forms a key part of how they communicate with the world around them, and the universities they choose are no exception to this preference.”
These changes go above and beyond delivering a communications strategy that students ‘want’. The lives of young people today are defined by issues ranging from mental health and bullying to discrimination, and universities have a duty of care in terms of supporting their students through these areas. A communications strategy made up of channels that today’s young people are comfortable and confident using is crucial to delivering on this.
Just like when a customer reaches out to a business, students interacting with the university do so because they have a problem to solve or a question they need answering. “Digital channels such as chatbots, webchat and social media interactions have the potential to speed up response rates, reduce waiting times and present agents with a caller’s information, prior to the call completion”, Pete reveals, “increasing the likelihood of that interaction being solved first-time.”
Potential students and the university both benefit from smoother confirmation and clearing processes. Handled correctly, it may be possible to reduce the impact of high call volumes by driving some or all of these changes and channel availability.
“Rolling out a communication strategy that students actually want will also improve the contact between students and university staff for day-to-day demands.” As Pete explains it, “this, is coupled with the integration of back-end systems to enable data-base dipping to identify students early on and again improve satisfaction and speed of response.
A fully integrated omnichannel approach links all channels with the contact database, providing agents with as much up-front information as possible, independent of media, with reference to the calling party, the reason for the call and the history of that user’s interactions.
Supporting a range of media allows both students and agents to select the best available, and most appropriate channel to use for that interaction, as well as the ability to change, within that interaction, should the need arise. “This could benefit student services and fulfilment by delivering direct bespoke services to students”, Pete emphasises, “offering fast-track support across various media channels as needed for crucial issues like well-being, self-help and mental health.”
Opus values every opportunity we get to explore the next generation of a university’s potential student contact centre development.
Opus has provided multimedia/omnichannel solutions for many large-scale, public-sector customers over the last three years. System integration is more often the default for our Enterprise customers. As a result, Opus has experience with integrating both common, off-the-shelf packages, such as Salesforce, and bespoke sector-focused CRMs.
Opus has been key in the delivery of omnichannel contact centres to universities to allow students and agents the choice of media at all points in the interaction. As a Platinum Partner to Mitel, 8×8 and Cirrus Response and a (soon to be) Gold Cloud Services Partner to Microsoft, with an unrivalled ‘can-do’ approach to customers of all size and market segments, we continue to partner with universities throughout the UK to help them set their strategy for change and then deliver and support the right solution at the right time, first time.
For a sector built around education, there is much that today’s universities can learn from the lessons of private contact centres in order to adapt their communications strategies around the wants and the needs of their students.
With the recent acceleration in digital engagement brought about by the global pandemic, the opportunity is now for universities to elevate their communications strategies at a time when their students need them the most.
For more information about how we could help you to upgrade your communications estate, click the image below or get in touch.