Clearing the way to a better student experience: How cloud contact centres can help

By Jeremy Payne, international VP marketing, Enghouse Interactive

The clearing process is one of the biggest pressure points of the year for universities.

They will have some staff manning the phone lines throughout the year but, when it comes to clearing, they have to bring in additional resource to cope with the sudden surge in demand.

The issue though is about more than just the rapid increase in interactions that universities see in late summer when students realise they have not achieved their projected grades or have a change of heart about their chosen course. There are also lots of other variables at play, around location, specific courses, and grades achieved. Added to that, it is an emotionally-charged situation. Universities need to factor all this into their response to the clearing challenge.

Putting a plan in place

Communications technology is key in responding to this challenge and ensuring that universities can flex their capacity for those four weeks or so in the summer when it matters most.

That’s where the cloud, coupled with flexible contact centre platforms like Enghouse Interactive’s Cloud Contact Centre come in to play. These solutions effectively provide a one-stop-shop for a university to boost capacity, get the agility they need during clearing, and then scale back down to their normal operating model. The advantage of this model is that you are only paying for additional services at peak times and can scale back down once through the clearing process.

Quite often during peak periods, extra resource will need to be pulled in from within the university, either from the administrative team or potentially lecturers or postgraduate students. You might also use outsourced providers to help with the workload. Taking all of this into account, universities need to choose a solution that can get agents up and running quickly and easily, and also support remote working for those that need it.

Universities will have to consider how they best interact with students, given their preference for mobile apps like WhatsApp and Facebook. However, when it comes to clearing, when students want to move quickly to secure a place, email and voice channels may be more appropriate. But all this needs to be managed. Cloud solutions can help manage these interactions by routing them into a single queue. This guarantees impartiality around who gets through to an agent fastest, no matter which channel they’re using to contact the university. In turn, this can impact who gets a clearing place in a fairer way.

A standard process that has been repeated year on year has now become more challenging. That’s where the cloud is key

Shift in the conversation

With Covid-19 further raising the emotion levels of students around grades and the university experience, and altering the kinds of questions students are asking, further new challenges emerge.

In 2020, the government switched from deciding grades on the basis of algorithms to using teacher assessments, and this led to confusion. Having learnt from last year’s lessons, students will also have understandable questions about committing to payments for accommodation which they may not use to the intended extent in the event of further restrictions, or around incurring tuition fees for lessons that may have to be taught online.

Smart universities will use student forums or knowledge management systems to plan and prepare for these kinds of questions and continuously update website FAQs so students can self-serve where appropriate. This frees up time for agents to handle more of the complex enquiries.

University staff may have to deal with more emotional interactions. Some students may be emotionally charged about getting a place on a course as certain decisions affect their future, so the option to escalate the call to a more experienced or senior member of staff can be invaluable. Alternatively, technology tools like Real Time Speech Analytics (RTSA) can be put in place to listen for certain phrases, sentiments and emotions that alert agents and their managers of the need to calm callers down and ensure difficult interactions are automatically escalated.

These are difficult and fast-changing times for university administrators dealing with the clearing process. A standard process that has been repeated year on year has now become more unpredictable and more challenging. That’s where the cloud, combined with the latest contact centre technology and robust processes, is key. It enables universities to flex and scale to meet demand and put in place the resources to deliver the best possible service to students at this sensitive point in their journeys.

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