With some colleges opening their doors to students, others opting for virtual learning, and some embracing a hybrid model, students are left under a cloud of uncertainty about their college experience. Now more than ever, as guidelines and decisions continue to change, excellent communication from colleges is essential to ensuring student success. Professors are no longer the only ones communicating with students, and they need clear and timely communication on safety, new procedures, payments, course selection and more. That is why higher education institutions must rethink the way they communicate, and provide the same level of top-notch customer service that parents and students expect from a host of other industries.
Colleges and universities are taking definitive action to attract and retain students, but these efforts have been further complicated by the constraints of the pandemic. In addition, bureaucracy and long hold times have historically yielded dissatisfaction among college students. According to an Academic Impressions survey, only six higher education professionals from 79 colleges and universities graded their school’s student-centric service with an “A.” To improve and optimize communication practices in this setting requires building a culture around it.
Fostering a student-centric culture relies on the entire institution— faculty, staff and administrators— to embrace this mindset. It also requires having the right tools in place to enable the best possible experience. Here are some tips for institutions of higher learning to deliver on modern expectations among this shifting landscape:
Embrace an omnichannel strategy
Students (and by extension, their parents) expect their questions and issues to be addressed in a convenient and efficient manner. They should be able to get the answers they need whenever they want, on whatever channel they prefer. A true omnichannel strategy incorporates data from multiple systems so that those in charge of customer service can view each student’s journey on a single screen. In this way, students can receive more personalized service and be met where they are. This kind of in-depth support may necessite investment in technology, including omnichannel platforms and AI-enabled tools to help handle queries more effectively and increase student satisfaction levels.
Consider chatbots to resolve quick questions
An increasing number of colleges are using chatbots to communicate with students. This is in line with Gartner’s prediction that 72% of customer interactions will involve an emerging technology like a chatbot or machine learning technology by 2022. Chatbots can be effective in helping students get simple answers to their questions without involving someone at the institution (e.g., when do I need to register for a class?, or what time does the dining hall close?). Chatbots also provide students with the freedom to ask whatever is on their mind as they know they aren’t interacting with a real person. And if the query is more sensitive or complicated, chatbots can efficiently route students to the right person who can address their issue.
Keep customer service representatives up-to-date
As policies and guidelines continue to be in flux, it’s even more important that higher education institutions keep those who support student needs abreast of new information as soon as it’s available. This, coupled with technology that can intelligently surface relevant information from a knowledge base, is essential to delivering high-value service. The pandemic has understandably created an increase in questions from students and parents, many of them emotionally charged, so having the right information and tools in place can make a big difference in communicating with accuracy and empathy.
Creating a student-centric culture is critical to continued growth in higher education and requires buy-in from every level of an institution. Having a comprehensive service strategy, bolstered by omnichannel platforms, chatbots and AI- empowered technology, can play an integral role in ensuring long-term student success.