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Live Chat for Colleges & Universities
– The Ultimate 101 Guide

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Higher education is at a crossroads. With undergraduate enrollment on the decline, student recruitment has become fiercer than ever. To stay competitive now, schools must cater to the expectations of today’s tech-savvy students by introducing digital channels like live chat for all aspects of student support.

By introducing live chat for colleges and universities, schools can:

  • Cut service costs to 1/3 of voice support
  • Boost student recruitment efforts
  • Easily handle high support volumes
  • Deliver student services more efficiently

In this guide, we’ll take a comprehensive look at live chat for colleges and live chat for universities to see how it can help institutions stay ahead of the curve in recruitment, student support, and more. We’ll begin with an overview of live chat for students.

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CHAPTER 1What is live chat for colleges?

Live chat is a tool that sits on websites that lets students communicate in real-time with support agents using a chat window similar to messaging apps. When live chat is available on a website, a prominent button appears for students to click and initiate chats. By clicking on the button, students can get instant assistance with any questions or concerns they might have.

Live chat has gained popularity in recent years, with 73% of consumers saying that it is the most satisfactory way to communicate. Importantly for higher education, popularity of live chat is very high in younger generations too – our higher education survey found that live chat is the most popular communication channel among current students. Email came second, and phone third. The sagging popularity of phone is reflected in other data too – 60% of Gen Z say they ‘hate calling people’.

What is your preferred your support channel?

By providing a fast and convenient digital channel, live chat for colleges and universities is uniquely suited to meeting the needs of today’s students. In the next section, we’ll explore further why higher education is adopting live chat.

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CHAPTER 2Why are colleges & universities adopting live chat?

As we’ve seen, competition for students among higher education institutions has become fierce. With schools needing to do more to both attract and retain students, meeting students on their terms has become a necessity to remain competitive. In this chapter, we’ll look at why colleges and universities are now adopting live chat.

1. Digital communication is a must

For the students of today, the Internet has become a part of daily life. 31% of adults in the U.S. now say that they’re online “almost constantly”  – and this trend only rises for students. To provide support that reflects this lifestyle, schools must deliver online, or digital, communication.

In our higher education student survey, digital communication was ranked as the most important support factor by current higher education students.

When students are more comfortable with online interactions than in-person ones, offering live chat for education is the perfect way to meet students on their terms.

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2. Today’s students want fast and convenient support

Students want digital support that is both convenient and fast. Gen Z have grown up with same-day deliveries for just about anything imaginable, meaning that service expectations are extremely high. In our higher education student engagement survey, we found that 59% of students are less likely to engage with a school if they have to wait more than 30 minutes for a response to their query. 53% of students also think a school should respond to their query within an hour.

In customer service, only live chat can offer the fast communication that students expect. This in turn improves engagement, satisfaction, and retention.

“The traditional way of communicating over just phone and email has become antiquated, especially within higher education. If you’re only offering phone and email support, you aren’t providing your students with the experience they need and expect, and this could damage everything from enrolment to drop-out rates.”

– Lachlan Todd, Communications & Systems Coordinator, Thompson Rivers University

In the next chapter, we’ll look into how live chat benefits higher education institutions.

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CHAPTER 3Benefits of live chat in higher ed

We’ve seen that live chat is uniquely suited to the needs of students in higher education, but it’s worth looking closer to understand the bigger picture. In this chapter, we’ll look closer at the top benefits of live chat in higher ed.

1. Improve the student experience

Live chat has now become the most popular support channel for students, and a variety of studies show how online chat for education can improve the student experience. In one study, 246 students were surveyed to learn how live chat for education impacted the learning experience. The following were some top responses:

Satisfaction for live chat as a communication tool 

  • Very satisfied: 74.8% of blended learners and 90.4% of online learners
  • Satisfied: 20.9% of blended learners and 9.6% of online learners
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  I like live chat because…

  • Instant / real time / convenient: 77% of blended learners and 78% of online learners
  • Access to staff / replicate face-to-face: 20% of blended learners and 49% of online learners

The reason I asked my question on live chat was… 

  • I wanted an urgent / quick response: 64% of blended learners and 75% of online learners

From these responses, we can see that live chat for students is popular among both blended learners and online learners. None of the online learners surveyed found live chat unsatisfactory as a communication tool. A high percentage of all students noted the convenience and speed of live chat. It’s also interesting to note that nearly half of online students favored live chat as a way of replicating face-to-face access to staff. As demand for online education grows, monitoring the experience of both online and blended learners has become critical for every school.

2. Lower wait times and faster issue resolutions

Research is repeatedly showing that live chat for students is overtaking phone support in popularity, especially among Gen Z and Millennials. One study found that 73.4% of Gen Z and Millennials would rather keep messaging apps on a smartphone rather than the phone app if they could keep only one.

Looking at why people prefer live chat to phone support, the highest cited reasons are:

  • No wait times (34%)
  • Convenience of communication (26.9%)

Compared to phone support, another way that live chat benefits higher education is with chat concurrency. This means that agents can handle multiple chats at once compared to phone calls where only one conversation is possible at a time. Rather than waiting in a long queue for a free agent as with phone calls, live chats allow students to get faster agent responses and, as a result, faster resolutions:

“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 at Dawson College

Platforms like Comm100 Live Chat also provide agent dashboards that consolidate all chats in one place, meaning that agents don’t need to juggle open windows. Ticketing & Messaging features provide not only a unified dashboard but also management of all chats, allowing agents to easily stay on top of messages in the order they’re received.

3. Lower support costs

One of the major benefits of live chat for education comes from the low costs to implement and support compared to other channels. Legacy phone systems can come with high costs for ongoing delivery and maintenance. While toll-free numbers might be free for students, they’re far from free for universities to provide.

We saw in the last of our benefits of live chat in higher ed that chat concurrency allows agents to handle multiple conversations simultaneously. Besides benefits to wait times and resolutions, this also has benefits to cost, as fewer agents can handle more students. With agent productivity 3 times higher with live chat than phone support and lower ongoing costs, it isn’t surprising then that live chat is less than 1/3 the cost of voice support.

4. Personalization of services

Personalization is becoming increasingly important across all customer service, including student support in higher ed. In our higher education survey, we found that 92% of students say that it’s important they are treated like an individual by the staff they speak to.

Live chat for colleges enables highly personalized student experiences because it provides support agents with a wealth of information they can use to guide their responses:

“Providing personal and genuine support to our students is really important to us. We want all of our students to feel that we care about them as individuals and Comm100 Live Chat lets us do just that. The people we speak to on live chat also really enjoy the more casual and colloquial nature of the support, which helps us to build relationships while still being informative and helpful.”

– Alison Caruso, Manager of Student Recruitment at Cambrian College

Unlike phone support or email, live chat for colleges can provide agents with information about academic history, student location, previous chats, and more – all within a unified agent dashboard. This is incredibly important given students’ high expectations – 78% of students want support staff to remember previous conversations they’ve had.

When information about students isn’t readily available, pre-chat surveys can be used to gain quick insights before an agent steps in to assist. Automatic chat routing can also help ensure that current students and potential students reach the right person the first time.

Live chat also supports auto-chat translation, meaning that agents can deliver highly personalized service in the language students are most comfortable with.

5. Better engagement and student recruitment

Another key way that live chat benefits higher education is in engagement and student recruitment efforts. As live chat is the most popular channel for students, offering live chat to students creates less barriers to engagement. With 68% of consumers saying that their online experience with brands needs to be made easier, higher education needs to take note.

Unlike phone support, live chat also provides a real-time communication channel that comes without high costs for those connecting internationally. This is significant for recruitment efforts focused on international students, as it again lowers the barrier to communication between potential students and a school. With support for multiple languages and built-in auto-chat translation tools, Comm100 Live Chat allows institutions to match the live chat interface to the website language and allows students to connect in the language of their choice.

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CHAPTER 4Higher education live chat use cases

Now that we’ve seen why live chat is popular with schools and their students, in this chapter we’ll look at examples of live chat for higher education in practice.

1. Engaging students with live chat at Thompson Rivers University

Thompson Rivers University (TRU) was founded in 1970 and serves more than 25,000 students across two campuses and through online courses and programs. The university prides itself on excellent support throughout the entire student journey. However, with only phone and email support, TRU wasn’t meeting student expectations, and looked to live chat for universities to help them increase student engagement, as well as improve the student experience.

“The traditional way of communicating over just phone and email has become antiquated, especially within higher education. If you’re only offering phone and email support, you aren’t providing your students with the experience they need and expect, and this could damage everything from enrolment to drop-out rates.”

– Lachlan Todd, Communications & Systems Coordinator at Thompson Rivers University

Implementing Comm100 Live Chat allowed TRU to step into the world of digital communications and connect with more students. After success in student recruitment, additional departments within TRU introduced Comm100 Live Chat to support expanded student services. TRU now sees strong customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores at 4.28 / 5, and an average 25 second wait time for support. By meeting student expectations, university live chat has allowed TRU to connect with more prospective and current students.

Read the full story here – Thompson Rivers University Adopts Comm100 Live Chat & Chatbot Across 5 Departments 

2. Boosting recruitment at Cambrian College

Cambrian College has been the leading higher education institution in Northern Ontario, Canada since its founding in 1967, and has a student enrollment of more than 11,000. The college values personalized and accessible support and found that their phone and email support wasn’t meeting the needs of prospective or current students. To improve student recruitment and engagement, Cambrian College turned to Comm100 Live Chat.

With the introduction of live chat, the college improved engagement with prospective students, both domestically and internationally. By delivering fast and convenient support, Cambrian College has boosted enrollment and is looking to expand live chat across other departments. Cambrian College now enjoys an impressive 4.5 out of 5 CSAT score, and positive feedback from live chat engagements that feel personal and genuine.

Read the full story here – Cambrian College improves recruitment with Comm100 Live Chat & Chatbot 

3. Meeting students ‘face-to-face’ with video chat at Dawson College

Dawson College was founded in 1969 and has a current enrollment of more than 11,000 students in more than 30 fields of study. Every fall, the college hosts an open house event for prospective students to visit the college and connect with representatives. In 2020, COVID-19 restrictions meant that the open house couldn’t proceed as usual. To solve this challenge, the college implemented Comm100 Audio & Video Chat in-built into the Comm100 Live Chat platform.

Built in to Comm100 Live Chat, the video solution allowed students to speak face-to-face with hundreds of department representatives, as well as talk to them over live chat. This ensured the college could engage with hundreds of prospective students during such a critical enrollment period, as well as show great interest and personability to every student. On top of this, instead of student queues that normally stretch 10 to 20 minutes, students never waited longer than 7 seconds to connect with a representative.

“Speaking with the students over video meant our college representatives had the chance to connect with the students on a more personal level, as if they were face-to-face. This is so important to developing relationships with the students and allowed us to recreate the experience of our typical, in-person open house events.”

– Derek Gaucher, Coordinator of IT Solutions at Dawson College

Read the full story here – Dawson College holds virtual open house with live chat & video engagement 

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CHAPTER 5Best live chat for higher education

It can be difficult knowing where to begin when selecting the best live chat for higher education. With so many options available, we’ve selected five of the best university live chat solutions on the market:

1. Comm100

Headquartered: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Founded: 2009

Comm100 is a global provider of live chat used by such higher education institutions as University of British Columbia, Thompson Rivers University, McMaster University, and The Open University. Comm100 Live Chat is among the best live chat software for higher education, with a fully integrated, all-in-one live chat solution that offers available AI-powered bots and automation within one integrated console. Comm100 is powered by zero downtime and the highest standards in security, ensuring students get answers anytime, anywhere.

2. Mainstay

Headquartered: Boston, United States

Founded: 2014 as AdmitHub. Rebranded as Mainstay in 2021

Mainstay combines engagement messaging with conversational AI-enabled chat technology to help schools increase student and staff engagement. Mainstay focuses on scalability and automation for large organizations, with higher ed customers including Georgia State University, West Texas A&M, and North Carolina State University. Mainstay does not publish their security standards or compliances.

3. Ocelot

Headquartered: Boulder, United States

Founded: 2003

Ocelot offers AI communication including 2-way texting, AI chatbots, and live chat to help student gets the answers they need. Their higher ed customers include Bakersfield College, SUNY Empire State College, and CSU Long Beach. Ease of use and implementation are both rated highly in reviews, but security compliances seem lacking. Reporting and analytics are also seen as an area of improvement.

4. Olark

Headquartered: Ann Arbor, United States

Founded: 2009

Olark is a live chat solution built around a simple platform for setup and use, with customers that include University of Virginia, Syracuse University, Ithaca College, and Harvard Business School. While scoring high in usability, Olark receives some criticism for a lack of deep integrations. While high profile CRMs like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics are supported, native social integrations are not included.

5. Zendesk

Headquartered: San Francisco, California, United States

Founded: 2007

Zendesk builds robust help desk solutions and has customers that include Beloit College, University of Louisville, and USC Annenberg. Compared to the best live chat for higher education, Zendesk offers somewhat limited functionality for campaigns, but provides a variety of agent-tracking metrics. This solution is easily integrated with Zendesk Support for omnichannel support.

Read more: Best Live Chat Software for Higher Education

Wrap up

If you’re ready to learn more about the benefits of live chat in higher ed, get in touch with Comm100 today and we can run you through a personalized demo to see how your school can improve student experience and engagement through live chat for colleges.

There’s a lot more where this came from!

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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.