Bruce von Maltitz, 1Stream Director

As with most other industries, education and academia is fast being transformed by the rapid shift to online mechanisms of consumption and delivery. The ways in which educational institutions manage their communications and service delivery are in flux, as students/consumers begin to demand real-time interaction, instant feedback and online services, says Bruce Von Maltitz, managing director at 1Stream.

Many of these changes are already in place, with functions such as applications, marking/assessments, payments, course content, etc., all being performed or delivered online. In some cases, certain ‘institutions’ have no physical presence whatsoever, and are purely online entities (think of MOOCS – Massive Open Online Courses). In essence, the way in which education is delivered and managed is vastly different to just five years ago, as technology and digitisation become ever more powerful forces.

Handling Different Volumes

While many of these changes are working well for educational institutions, there are undoubtedly various challenges to face as they make the shift to being online-centric. One challenge to academia is the massive spikes in volume that they experience during certain times in the academic year.

For example, during application periods, exams/results, or at term end when payments are due, these institutions are often overwhelmed with administrative tasks and countless queries. Employees and call centre staff are often simply not able to handle each query efficiently, leading to frustration on either side. Yet it is also not viable for these institutions to over compensate in terms of employees, who then sit idle during the quieter periods in the academic year.

Moving the contact centre to the Cloud

This is where tools and technologies such as cloud-based contact centre applications can provide efficiencies and streamline certain processes. Increasingly, students (and particularly Millennials and younger generations) want to resolve issues online, in real-time – without having to pick up the phone. With cloud-based contact centres, institutions can easily implement and manage the type of multimedia/digital channels that are increasingly the preferred route to resolving issues. Moreover, these cloud-based platforms are geared to quickly direct queries to the correct department or individual, thus reducing wait times and streamlining the process for both staff and customers. Such cloud-based applications can easily be scaled up or down, depending on volumes, so that institutions no longer have to fret about their capacity to handle seasonal/termly spikes in administrative tasks and queries.

Another important point to highlight is the fact that cloud-based contact centres enable far more accurate and in-depth reporting around call-centre management and performance. For one, organisations need to have an accurate view of the volume of calls/queries coming in, in order to manage them efficiently and put the right amount of capacity in place. Secondly, organisations need to go beyond simply measuring productivity (eg. How many calls did John Smith handle today?), to measuring quality as well. To do this, every call or query needs to be recorded or digitised, and then examined and assessed according to the way in which the query was handled.

Customer Experience: The Ultimate Differentiator

It is key for educational and academic institutions to take cognizance of the fact that just as with any other brand or retailer, every touch point with the customer/student is critical.

In today’s digital, always-on environment, students demand excellence in customer service at all times. And, as with the retail environment, they will quickly change to another ‘brand’ or service provider if their needs are not being met. To meet this challenge, educational institutions need to have the right tools and mechanisms in place – and cloud-based applications and platforms are undoubtedly a critical (and highly accessible) first step.