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The world of higher education is a unique and challenging space. Competition is incredibly tough, and it shows no sign of getting any easier. The majority (86%) of higher education leaders expect competition to intensify.
Institutions across the world are battling to grab even the slightest bit of attention from an already bombarded student demographic to convince them to choose their school. And the work doesn’t stop once the student has enrolled. The institution must now work (hard in many cases!) to ensure that their students complete their course. In the US alone, student drop out costs $16.5 billion a year in lost tuition revenue.
From first to last touch, a student’s experience determines the success of the higher education institution. While this has long been the case, the experience has transformed into an almost completely digital experience – and Dawson College showcases this better than any other.
We sat down (virtually speaking) with Derek Gaucher, an IT Manager at Dawson College, to ask him about how Dawson College is embracing new customer service technologies and channels to provide a superior digital student experience for prospective and current students.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, Dawson College, and your experience working in higher education.
I have been an IT Manager at Dawson College since 2008, and before that I specialized in CRM solutions in the retail industry for many years – so as you’d expect, I have seen a lot of technological change in my time!
When I joined Dawson College, my first project was to replace the in-house information student system with a 3rd party, integrated system – and every year since then, we have brought in new technology, more hardware, and faster networks. Not surprisingly, the pandemic accelerated this move towards digital – from online learning and team collaboration tools to customer service via video and audio chat.
When did Dawson College launch its live chat service – and what triggered the decision to offer it?
We chose to set up live chat four years ago using the chat function included within our ticketing system. It was set up primarily to support our course registration helpline for enrolled students, giving them an easy, accessible, and fast way to reach out to us.
However, when the pandemic hit and we began preparing for the Fall 2020 course registration, we realized that we were going to need a much more robust live chat tool. We searched for a new vendor and found Comm100 – its chat management tools, extensive reporting, built-in audio and video chat sold it to us.
What was the immediate impact you saw once you had launched live chat?
Once we launched live chat and our students knew they could reach out on this channel, we saw an immediate drop in telephone call volume. This clearly indicated to us that live chat was a more popular channel for our students and confirmed that we had made the right choice! In fact, we’ve been so impressed by Comm100’s functionality that we have gone all-in on live chat for our Winter 2021 course registration and discontinued our telephone service.
What do your agents think of live chat?
Our agents find it very easy to use – and have from day one. They picked it up quickly and once they’d been taught the basics and best practices, it was up and running in no time. As much as it’s built with the student in mind, it’s just as much, if not more, geared towards the agent and making their life easier too.
So, your agents find it easy to use – but what about your students? How has it been received by them?
Live chat is the perfect channel for them. Our students are mostly 17 to 20 years old, so they’ve grown up surrounded by technology. But they’ve also grown-up with instant messaging so asking them to wait for a response can seem a lifetime to them!
With live chat they can get the answer to their question in seconds and get on with their day. And of course, they find it very easy to use as it’s similar to the messaging platforms they use every day. We also offer our live chat support via mobile which they use almost as much as they do via laptop or desktop.
What other technology have you introduced to Dawson College to connect with students?
As the pandemic continued into Fall 2020, the college was faced with cancelling its Open House. This is one of our major recruiting events of the whole year, so we knew that we were going to have to get creative!
The planning committee decided to hold a virtual open house spread across several days using a combination of pre-recorded videos, live chat, and video chat. We knew Comm100 Live Chat had a built-in video chat tool, and we thought it would be a great way to speak with prospective students face-to-face and build a more personal connection with them. We trained over 200 staff on the platform, from program coordinators and academic advisors to student services.
Was the virtual Open House a success?
It was a great success! We really didn’t know what to expect because we had never had to run an Open House quite like this, but it went very well. The event attracted over 12,000 visitors to our Open House micro-site from over 17 countries – far more than we could ever have achieved with just an in-person event.
Our staff interacted directly with almost 1000 prospects using Comm100, compared to 800 in person attendees during last year’s event. Training so many staff on the platform was a big project, but everyone found it very easy to use and learn (even our staff who aren’t so tech-savvy managed!).
Would you run another virtual open house – even if you can (hopefully!) run an in-person event too?
We successfully repeated the experience in February 2021 for information day, targeting prospects that were still deciding where to apply before the March 1st deadline. Given the success of both virtual events I expect we will launch a chat option for all our future recruiting events (whether they be online or on-premise) so we can keep connecting with anyone interested in attending Dawson College.
Finally, what are Dawson College’s plans for the coming year?
For us now, it’s about broadening our live chat offering. Our Academic Advising and Student Services departments adopted Comm100 chat this Winter to interact with students, and we’re in discussion with many other college services that are also considering adding a chat option too. We very much expect these initiatives to continue once the pandemic ends and we return to the college.
Further ahead than that, it’s hard to predict what will happen in the coming academic year. Will the gains we have made in online teaching, collaboration and customer services be solidified and enhanced? Or will they be squandered in our rush back to ‘normality’? I suspect we will end up somewhere in the middle.
You can read the full Dawson College customer here to learn more about their digital transformation and how they held a virtual open house with live chat and video engagement.
Are you meeting the digital communication expectations of today’s students? If you’re asking them to pick up the phone or send an email whenever they have a question, then the answer is ‘no’. The good news is, Comm100 can help – and at a price far below typical phone costs.Learn more