Count on Chat
Among the schools where this focus on student retention is starting to unfold, live Web chat is one of the main channels being employed. While live chat can be a great marketing tool, it's also helping schools to stay in touch with an always-connected and always-online population of enrolled students.
According to LivePerson, a provider of chat technologies, live chat's potential stretches far outside of the admissions and financial aid offices. It could, for instance, help a student writing a term paper in his dorm connect with someone in the library to facilitate requests for interlibrary loans, reserve books or periodicals, or answer reference-related questions. It could support distance learning by enabling remote students to meet with professors, who simply log into the system during regular office hours. It could provide a channel for students to interact with their academic advisors or career development counselors. And it could be used to cultivate alumni relations and fund-raising.
Trident University, which offers online bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree programs to more than 7,000 students from around the world, relies heavily on chat to engage with students and prospects. The school, which is based in Cypress, Calif., attracts more than 130,000 unique online visitors a month to its Web properties. LivePerson's chat offering allows the school to reach them while they're on the sites.
"With LivePerson's solutions, we're able to provide personalized, real-time support to busy students in their channel of choice, wherever they are," said Andy Vaughn, chief operating officer at Trident, in a statement. "Digital engagement has been a tremendous success. We've also seen a huge reduction in call volumes to our student hotline."
Working on the Web
Another digital technology is also helping schools address student issues and concerns quickly and cost effectively. Web self-service through knowledge bases that enables students to find answers to their questions at any time is quickly becoming a common component of most college and university Web portals.
Georgia State University in Atlanta, for example, uses CRM technology from Parature for this purpose. The school offers an online knowledge base with roughly 800 data elements and links that can provide answers to questions on various topics, ranging from enrollment services to course offerings, student accounts, and resetting campus email account passwords. All of the information contained in the knowledge base can be searched by category or keyword.
If students can't find answers on their own, they can create help desk tickets that Parature routes to the appropriate department for a response. The system also helps administrators track and monitor tickets.
Prior to installing Parature's technology, the school's 32,000 undergraduate and graduate students had to call, send an email, or walk into an office to get the information they needed. "Now, with Parature, they have 24/7 access to self-help" from one central location, says Shari Schwartz, the registrar at Georgia State. "Our hope is that a lot of students will use this before calling us."
And while call deflection is a legitimate objective, the ultimate goal of the online knowledge base "is to provide a quick resolution to any student question," Schwartz says.
"Students are always looking for automated ways to get information. They are used to these technologies already; we just wanted to make it easier for them," she adds.
St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia also uses Parature to support its student knowledge base and online portal. The knowledge base contains 442 articles. Students can also submit inquiries through email, which Parature's solution can track and monitor. The school's staff can analyze student support efforts using Parature's reporting tools to see which questions students are asking the most.
The Parature solution was initially rolled out to St. Joseph's IT department and then to the Office of Enrollment Management, which includes several departments, including financial services and student records. "We're using it to manage inquiries from students around billing, financial aid, and registration. The service crosses all three areas," says Sarah Fevig, director of Hawk Central, St. Joseph's centralized student portal.
"Questions that come in can be coded by category and the type of question, which is valuable data for us," she adds.
Since the system went live last August, almost 29,000 unique questions have been routed to school personnel for a response, and Fevig hopes that number will go down as the online portal expands. "We are beefing up the knowledge base so students can get the information they need without having to interact with our counselors," she says.
Call deflection is also a goal behind the university's use of the technology. "We have seen a significant drop in the number of calls missed" because all the counselors were busy with other students, says Maureen Carver, executive director of student records and financial services in the Office of Enrollment Management at St. Joseph's. "We're handling calls better, and as a result, call volume has gone down. If [a student] called three times with an issue before, now he's only calling once."
Both Carver and Fevig credit the CRM system with higher student retention. "Retention did go up this year by about a point. It's not a lot, but it is on an upward trend," Carver says.