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How to Improve Student Support Services in Higher Ed

The importance of student support services

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Today’s students are CX-indulged.

Thanks to technology, Gen Z (born 1997-2012) have grown up surrounded by first-class customer experience, enjoying exceptional levels of convenience, speed, and personalization. From Amazon’s same day delivery to UberEat’s seamless takeaway offering, no demographic has ever had it so good.

While this is great for Gen Z, it may not be such welcoming news for universities and colleges. Being accustomed to such high levels of CX, students now expect the same support from every organization they interact with – and higher education doesn’t escape this.

Schools must improve student support in higher education to meet these expectations. Without doing so, they risk damaging every stage of the student lifecycle, from admissions to graduation rates. On the other hand, by understanding the importance of student support services and matching these expectations, schools can improve everything – from enrolment and engagement, through to satisfaction and drop-out rates.

This guide will take you through the key student expectations and how to improve student support services so you can meet these demands. Alternatively, find out how Comm100’s digital communication platform achieves this too.

how to improve student support

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The importance of student support services

Student support services play a critical role in enhancing the educational experience and promoting the success of students. These services encompass a broad spectrum of programs and resources designed to address academic, emotional, social, and financial challenges that students may face. Here are several key aspects highlighting the importance of student support services:

  • Academic Support: Services such as tutoring, study skills workshops, and writing centers help students grasp course material, improve study habits, and excel academically. By providing access to additional learning resources, these services can make a significant difference in a student’s academic performance and retention.
  • Counseling and Mental Health Services: The mental well-being of students is crucial for their success and overall quality of life. Counseling services offer a safe space for students to discuss their concerns and challenges, whether they’re related to stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. These services play a vital role in promoting mental health awareness and providing the necessary support to navigate personal and academic challenges.
  • Career Services: Career counseling, resume workshops, internship opportunities, and job fairs prepare students for the workforce by helping them develop essential skills, explore career paths, and connect with potential employers. These services are invaluable in helping students transition from education to employment.
  • Disability Services: Student support in higher education ensures that people with disabilities have equal access to educational opportunities. Accommodations such as extended test time, note-taking services, and adaptive technology are critical for leveling the playing field and ensuring that all students can fully participate in their education.
  • Social and Cultural Integration: The importance of student support services also seeps into integration. For many students, especially those from international backgrounds or underrepresented groups, integration into the campus community can be challenging. Programs that promote cultural exchange, diversity, and inclusion not only enrich the campus culture but also help students feel valued and connected.

The importance of student support services can’t be understated. By addressing the holistic needs of students, support services play a fundamental role in fostering a supportive and inclusive educational environment. They not only contribute to academic success but also to the development of well-rounded individuals who are prepared to face life’s challenges and contribute positively to society.

When it comes to support expectations, students hold a high bar. With technology at their fingertips, they have become accustomed to seamless digital experiences and so expect this same experience in customer service and support. Here are the 4 key expectations Gen Z have when it comes to support:

  1. Speed – 71% believe that CX can be drastically improved by quick responses
  2. Convenience – 74% of Gen Z say convenience is more important than brand
  3. Personalization: 61% of Gen Z expect their needs to be anticipated
  4. Helpfulness: 77% of Gen Z expect their unique needs and expectations to be understood.
How to Improve Student Support Services
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The student services support expectation gap

The importance of student support services across the board can’t be stressed enough. The quality of student support can be the decider for admissions to graduation rates and everything in between. However, students’ high expectations have exposed gaps in the student support service capabilities of many universities and colleges.

  • Students cannot get support quickly with basic phone or email support
  • Students are limited to office hours and/or waiting for long periods for reply
  • Students have to use inconvenient channels to get support
  • Support staff are overwhelmed with manual processes needed to support student inquiry volume
  • Support staff are not trained adequately to manage support tools
  • Security is compromised with inadequate support systems in place.

Most leaders of student support in higher ed recognize some, if not all, of the above, in their own operations, and realize they are failing to provide the student support that is expected of them. In an Academic Impression’s survey, only 8% of higher education professionals from 79 colleges and universities graded their institution’s student support with an ‘A’. So what are the key ways to improve higher education customer service?

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How to improve student support services

When asking how to improve student support services, you must begin by understanding how students interact. Gen Z are undoubtedly digital-first, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they are also digital-first when it comes to student support service. To provide students with the support they demand, schools must prioritize digital communication channels. But before we dig into the benefits of digital support, it’s important to note the role of telephone within this.

Across every age demographic, and especially Gen Z, there is a move away from phone support and towards digital communication. In fact, 60% of Gen Z say that they ‘hate calling people’. This is in part due to the desire for convenience. Phone is a notoriously high-friction channel, forcing callers to be put on long hold times and repeatedly passed between agents.

How to Improve Student Support Services

In our latest higher education student survey, we asked current students what the most important support factors were to them. Digital communication was ranked highest, as the data shows below.

what is the most important support factor to you?

Here are the key digital channels and technology that schools must offer to meet support expectations:

  • Live chat
  • Chatbots
  • Social media
  • Omnichannel
how to improve student support

Sky-high Expectations - How to Improve Student Support in a Digitally-demanding World

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1. Students expect: Fast & convenient support

The solution: Live chat

71% of 16-24 year-olds believe that CX can be drastically improved by quick responses.

When asking how to improve student support services, live chat often comes to the forefront. The speed at which students can ask a question and get a fast answer is key to the popularity of live chat in higher ed. Students have grown up in a digital world that has created a desire for instant gratification, and this has seeped into customer service and support. The instancy of live chat messaging caters to this behavioral expectation better than any other channel.

Grown up surrounded by technology and spending 74% of their free time online, live chat is also an incredibly convenient channel for students to reach out via.

“Our students are mostly 17, 18 or 19 years old, and they naturally find live chat very easy to use. It’s also very quick for them – they can hop on a chat, ask us a question, and have their answer in a minute – all from their mobile device. It’s the perfect channel to help us engage with them and give them the support they need.”

Derek Gaucher, Coordinator of IT Solutions, Dawson College

Read the full storyDawson College Holds Virtual Open House with Live Chat & Video Engagement

To improve speed further, you can integrate a knowledge base within the live chat solution. This allows the agent to quickly search for the information they need within the console, without needing to switch screens or platforms. AI-powered virtual assistants take this a step further. By monitoring live chat conversations in real-time, these AI tools automatically find and provide answers for the agent to send. This reduces (or even eliminates) the time spent looking for information, as well as typing out the answer.

The need for speed is driving students away from phone (and even email in some cases), and towards the instancy of live chat. As a result, live chat is becoming an essential tool for student support services in higher education.

2. Students expect: Immediate, 24/7 response

The solution: Chatbots

99% of students think it’s at least somewhat important for schools to offer 24/7 support.

Live chat is the best channel to connect with students, but few schools can afford to provide this support 24/7. So, what can you do to be there for those students, night owls, and weekend academics who want to connect with you out of your typical customer service hours?

AI chatbots are the perfect answer to this expectation for round-the-clock student support in higher ed. When your team is offline, a chatbot can step in to answer students’ questions – all without any human supervision. Chatbots that are powered by AI can manage even more queries as they are able to understand intent, enabling them to respond to more types of questions, more effectively. Better still, students are open to using bots. In our higher education survey, 95% of students said they are at least somewhat open to receiving support from a chatbot. No student support services in higher ed can  live without a bot if they want to meet their students’ needs.

“The bot has allowed us to not only effectively manage the increase in chat volume, but it’s also saved us a considerable amount of money by not having to hire a lot more agents.”

Richard Branson, COO of Tangerine

Read the full story: Comm100  Chatbot Resolves 91% of Assigned Live Chats for Tangerine

Here are just a handful of chatbot use cases to improve student support services:

  • 24/7 service: Chatbots provide an additional channel for students to still get answers during off-hours so they can get assistance on their schedule, not yours. This is particularly helpful when understanding how to engage international students.
  • FAQs: Chatbots can handle common questions to free up your agents to handle the more complex or sensitive queries.
  • Gathering student information: Chatbots can pass off the who, what, where, when, and why to an agent, helping them contextualize queries and reducing time spent on each question.
  • Shorter queues, faster responses: Chatbots can handle an unlimited amount of chats simultaneously. They can also deliver responses more quickly than human agents.

When choosing the best chatbot for your school, it’s important to understand what it is that you want your bot to achieve, including being realistic about the scope of your bot. While AI chatbots can handle a lot of queries and tasks, you should never expect a bot to handle everything – all teams of student support in higher ed face questions that need a ‘human touch’.

3. Students expect: Support on the channels they use most

The solution: Social media

97% of students use social media, with those at university the most active of all students.

It won’t come as a shock to hear that students spend a lot of time on social media platforms. However, despite schools knowing this, student support in higher education is often neglecting this channel. While 98% of schools use social media, the majority use it to improve brand awareness, image, and engagement, while missing out on one of its most important uses – as a support channel.

By offering social media in a higher education as a support channel, institutions can connect with students on the channels that they use most – be that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WeChat, or WhatsApp. And what’s more, you can connect all of these platforms with the other key digital channel for an efficient and seamless experience. More on this in the next point.

4. Students expect: Helpful & personalized support

The solution: Omnichannel student support

77% of students want support staff to remember previous conversations they’ve had.

So far we have explained how students want to be able to connect with schools across a variety of digital channels – be that live chat, chatbot, social media, and email too- and the importance of student support services catering to this expectations. Many schools would shudder at the mere thought of offering all of these channels, worrying that some, if not all, of the following are true:

  • “We can’t manage so many channels without increasing team size.”
  • “Offering so many channels will increase support volume to an unmanageable level.”
  • “Knowledge and information between the channels will become siloed.”
  • “It will simply cost too much.”

All of the above would be true, if it wasn’t for Comm100’s omnichannel platform. This platform brings every digital channel together into one easy-to-use, unified agent console. Moreover, all the data within each channel is brought together too. This eliminates channel siloes and empowers agents to provide helpful and personalized support that students expect. In fact, 74% of Gen Z say they ‘prefer personalized products or services’, yet only 32% feel like they are being ‘treated as a unique individual’.

How to Improve Student Support Services

 With every channel connected, it means:

  • A live chat transcript with a student from three weeks ago is easily accessible to an agent providing email support to that same student today.
  • Agents can move between live chat, email, social media, and SMS support with little more than a click.
  • Saying goodbye to operational silos and hello to a flawless digital journey where students and agents experience fluid conversations across channels.
  • Routing between channels, agents, and even departments becomes effortless.

With an omnichannel platform, agents can provide the connected experience that 57% of students expect and treat every student like an individual.

Next steps

To level-up your student support services in higher education and match your students’ expectations, book a demo with Comm100’s specialists.

With live chat, messaging, voice, bots and automation all wrapped up in a secure, personalized and AI-powered solution, Comm100 fits your needs now, and later. Join the likes of Stanford University, McMaster University, California Southern University, and transform student support services in your school.

how to improve student support

Sky-high Expectations - How to Improve Student Support in a Digitally-demanding World

Student support expectations have never been higher. Learn how your school can meet these expectations and improve engagement and satisfaction.

+ Read more


Article by

Kate Rogerson

Kate is the Content Marketing Specialist at Comm100. She has extensive experience in content creation for technology companies across the world, including the UK, Australia and Canada. She specializes in B2B messaging, branding and soccer trivia.