Evaluating Contact Center Support for Higher Ed

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Increasingly, higher education institutions are forced to do more with less. With reduced funding, difficulties hiring and retaining staff, and a looming enrollment cliff, business offices, in particular, have become overburdened. With these challenges in mind, student retention is more critical than ever. Surveys have indicated that as much as 24 percent of student attrition is directly attributed to poor customer service. The business functions of higher ed need to be more efficient than ever — all without compromising on student-facing services.

Many institutions are beginning to supplement their existing staff and processes with customer service, contact centers, and administrative support to find a balance.

Bringing in a third party can enable an institution to gain better control over any number of functions on campus. It provides an economical and efficient path to adding expertise, increased capabilities, and industry expertise. Contracting with the right partner not only provides extra hands to reduce the workload of existing staff but can also help overcome other challenges related to budget, onboarding, phone line and technology availability, and seasonal staffing.

So, what makes for the best partner for a higher education institution’s business office? What should you ask when considering staff augmentation? Here are some essential questions to ask when considering third-party support.

1. Customer service/customer experience (CX)

Research indicates that 72% of students who do not re-enroll give customer service as the reason. Colleges and universities are expected to quickly and expertly answer student questions, provide unmatched experience, and reduce call volumes and repetitive processes - all while managing their day-to-day operations.

More concerning, only 8 percent of higher ed professionals graded their institutions highly regarding customer service. Any staff extension solution must have the data, references, and experience to illustrate their commitment to CX. The right partner should reflect an institution’s mission of supporting their students with compassionate, friendly support. With dedicated staff resources trained in CX best practices, a third-party service can enhance the student experience and the reputation of the institution.

2. Customization and white-labeling

But how valuable is customer service if it doesn’t sound authentic? When they call the business office, students and parents want to feel they’re receiving support from just a few buildings away. Savvy institutions will want to ensure their partner can “talk the talk” and represent the institution audibly and visibly. That means learning institutional jargon and terminology, white-labeling live chat and Interactive Voice Response (IVR), and other areas where students and parents intersect with third-party support. ECSI’s CXSelect Advocates go as far as to reference the weather on campus or the upcoming football game to ensure a seamless conversation with students.

3. Industry expertise

Contact center support is a $91.5 billion industry expected to grow an additional 21.7 million between 2022 and 2026. Plenty of vendors have experience and expertise in handling excess call volume. However, for many institutions, not just any contact center will suffice.

Higher education requires specialized knowledge of timelines, administrative processes, admissions and financial aid requirements, ever-changing regulations, and the unique culture of colleges and universities.

A partner with experience in the industry will understand student issues and seasonal factors that can affect volume. Tailored industry support allows institutions and their vendors to be proactive rather than reactive, allowing them to identify the underlying reasons for student calls and suggest solutions that will ultimately increase student satisfaction.

4. Seasonal scalability

There’s an inherent seasonality to the higher education business office coinciding with the start of each semester (and the subsequent payment due dates.) A vendor with experience in higher education will understand and proactively adjust to changing seasonal and staffing demands, and will be better positioned to partner with you and support your students..

A strong CX partner will analyze historical data to forecast staffing needs better. Once fully onboarded, they should be able to handle call volume and other administrative needs seamlessly, even at peak demand.

While seasonal fluctuations can be predicted, one-off and overflow projects can pop up suddenly in the ever-changing landscape of higher ed, each demanding significant staff attention. Instead of shopping around for a new outsourcing vendor every time a project warrants it, look for a vendor capable of offering a wide array of assistance and equipped to jump in and help on short notice.

5. Reporting for visibility

Better reporting on call reason, volume, resolution, escalations, and other metrics gives institutions visibility into the most important information to students. With a comprehensive contact center reporting dashboard, colleges and universities can make data-informed decisions.

Before onboarding a vendor, institutions should determine what metrics are most important to campus offices and administrators. Standard and customizable reports can illuminate opportunities to better communicate with students and address issues.

6. Flexible pricing

Though higher education typically follows the same seasonality and general schedule, every campus is different in the level of staffing support required. Institutions can consult with offices that usually need the highest level of seasonal or year-round support, such as financial aid and admissions, to develop a plan for augmenting staff.

Some contact center partners charge for idle time rather than the time spent assisting students or performing administrative tasks. Pricing should be straightforward, simple, and flexible to accommodate increases and decreases in usage. Contracts may or may not incorporate the required equipment and technology costs, onboarding, and training.

7. An attitude of extension

A common concern for institutions when exploring contact center or business process outsourcing is that a contact center could replace staff. However, the most successful institutions and vendors partner to embrace and extend rather than replace. Recent surveys report that 60% of higher ed employees are burnt out. Tedious, repetitive administrative tasks and phones ringing off the hook can damage morale and productivity.

A contact center reduces repetitive tasks and connects students to the necessary information - without burdening business offices. With an attitude and mindset of extension, institutions can redistribute critical, mission-oriented tasks to internal staff and accomplish more strategic projects and goals.

Many CX vendors measure success by the speed of answering calls, but a truly valuable partner evaluates how well they support institutional goals. In fact, with the right technology and training in place, a successful contact center partner can increase contact resolution rate and customer satisfaction while decreasing call wait time and volume over time.

ABOUT CX

ECSI’s CXSelect is a staff extension solution that puts service at the center of the student experience. Scalable, higher education contact center services give colleges and universities more time, bandwidth, and resources. With more than 50 years of experience in higher education and 11 million students and borrowers served, ECSI is uniquely positioned to augment and extend campus teams while providing industry-leading service to students. Staff experience better reporting, lower call volumes, and more time to focus on core responsibilities and institutional goals.

In short - we’re on a mission to alleviate the unnecessary tedium, all while giving your students a positive experience on behalf of your institution. Schedule a call to discuss how a higher ed contact center can extend your staff’s capabilities.

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