Traditional contact centers: you know, the ones where rows of agents wearing headsets process large volumes of calls? While they’re extremely functional in certain venues, they do not have much of a place in Higher Education. Higher Education is a channel where contact center technology should be used to improve the student experience, streamline administrative processes, increase sales for bookstores and ticket offices, support fund raising campaigns, and enhance the college or university as a whole. To accomplish these goals, contact centers in higher education have a unique profile that influences both practices and communications architecture.
Collegiate contact centers are “casual” or “informal”, meaning they are typically made up of small groups staffed by representatives for whom answering the phone is not their primary job function. For example, these staffers must be enabled to work on projects, attend meetings and carry out other duties that will require them to be away from their desk and, therefore, their phone. Administrative, auxiliary and academic offices around the campus all experience fluctuations in demand for services in relation to the time of year and the progress in the current semester. Contact center technology in a campus or university setting can accomplish unique objectives for the various types of departments as well as accommodate temporary expansions that occur as a result of fluctuations in volume. Contact center opportunities exist in a number of administrative offices; let’s first take a look at how Administration and Student Services are impacted.
As a new semester begins, administrative offices can be overwhelmed by phone calls from students trying to make schedule adjustments, complete financial aid requirements or settle into a residence hall. These offices don’t have the man power to handle the high call volume that results. Ultimately, this means inconvenient back-ups, callers waiting on hold for long periods of time, and growing frustrations. In addition, it takes more time and resources to handle callers during periods of long wait times. Callers are likely to get frustrated, hang up, and call again at a later time. This ties up communications resources twice – once for each call. If the contact center is able to assist the caller the first time, it not only improves customer service, it increases cost effectiveness. Additionally, a beneficial feature of contact centers is the ability to utilize queue announcements which can be used to encourage callers to continue to wait – including providing an estimated wait time or the number of callers currently ahead in the queue.
While adding more staff on a whim is likely the desirable option, it is not typically the most feasible. To accommodate this, there are several contact center technologies available that allow campus departments to respond to the demand of their resources:
- UC-enabled desktop applications allow others to login as an agent and help out as needed. For example, administrative and advising staff can login when call volume is high and view the availability/presence of other co-workers to transfer calls as needed or conference someone in with just a click of a button.
- Multilevel/multilingual auto-attendant allows you to build a script where the campus can provide answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) or redirect callers to the university Web site to find the information they’re seeking. This can help to decrease the overall call volume that reaches the administrative staff.
- Applications that deliver phone calls, e-mail and Web chats. Simply hire temporary student workers to help process calls during times of heavy volume. The training is quick and easy, and once trained, these students can provide basic information and execute simple requests so experienced staffers can handle the more complex issues and calls.
- On each phone or desktop, a display can inform the individual of the number of calls waiting and the time that the longest call has currently waited. This information notifies other department members that the call volume is increasing and enables them to login and take calls until the volume starts to subside again. Where departments can collaborate, the contact center application can be designed to deliver calls to an alternate department in the case of extreme call volumes. This enables a department or group that is potentially less busy at a given moment to help take care of the callers waiting for assistance.
Campus administrative offices are the “face of the campus” for currently enrolled students as well as prospective students, parents and visitors – all of whom represent potential customers, so to speak. As a result, how calls are handled will directly impact the experience of a current student as well as influence the decisions of prospective students. Both groups represent potential revenue to the campus, so there is little to no room for error or inefficiency. For example, the goodwill of the existing student may eventually influence future monetary donations, and the decision of the prospective student will determine whether their tuition dollars help fund this institution. It’s an ongoing cycle, and, therefore customer service is directly related to “the bottom line”.