Higher education is losing in the game of digital transformation. Time to get back on track

Students who have grown up immersed in technology expect more than many institutions currently provide.
Chris Bechtel
Chris Bechtel

Higher ed leaders are lagging far behind when it comes to digital transformation. Take a look at the leadership of companies that have long leveraged digital and are at the top of the list of Gen Z.

Thanks to technology, student support expectations are at heights that have never been seen before. Why? Because they have grown up surrounded by brilliant experiences in a digital-first realm. Therefore, universities and colleges that aren’t providing digital student engagement can lose fast.

This in turn can damage almost every critical step of the student experience – admissions, enrolment, satisfaction, retention, graduation. When it comes to digital transformation — it’s more than apparent that higher ed needs to move quickly or get lost in this game. The state of enrolment rates dropping in the rise and fall of the pandemic hasn’t helped.

“These ongoing enrollment declines demand immediate attention from all who support students in high school, in postsecondary institutions, and in the workforce,” Kim Cook, CEO of the National College Attainment Network, wrote in an emailed statement to Inside Higher Ed.

So how can higher education meet these expectations and fulfill their students’ support demands? Simply offering digital support channels that are seamless, fast, convenient, personalized, and helpful for students.

It starts with the adoption of digital channels and moving away from phones — no matter what time it is — students can get answers in that moment. Leadership can step in by implementing strategies for student support services to adopt the right technologies. To step up student connections and strengthen student engagement, live chat is an excellent go-to. The speed of live chat is what students are looking for: immediacy.

Live chat lets students connect with an agent when they need it most and on their most convenient device. There’s nothing better than a real connection to lift student engagement.

Live chat customer satisfaction (CSAT) – 88.3% (84% across industries) — Comm100 Live Chat

Automation comes next, and chatbots are always ‘on call’ by offering support 24/7 to prospective students; this is almost impossible through traditional support channels. But it is an absolute necessity to manage the mounting incoming queries, both locally and internationally, which increases opportunities for student acquisitions. Chat bots take over after hours and support staff will see the good side too.

Chats handled by chatbots – 21% (43% across industries) — Comm100 AI Chatbot

Let the flood of incoming and repetitive FAQs be answered by a chatbot. But how can the more challenging queries be triaged? An agent takes over connecting with a student by chat or even video — and can turn a bad situation into a better one.

A unified knowledge base is a fundamental tool for student engagement for two big reasons. Overwhelming email is something agents often struggle with in this endless loop. Time and again it’s because a student can’t find an answer to their problem. A complete and well-directed knowledge base can cut this loop by showing students fast and accurate self-service.

The next big benefit is for training and onboarding. High staff turnover interrupts a seamless student experience and ultimately can affect the guarded reputation of many higher ed institutions. Moreover, costs can mount for investing more in recruiting and training. A complete knowledge base can make training easier and new support staff can quickly learn the “need to know.”

Foremost, students want to connect on multiple digital channels, from live chat to chatbot and even email. An omnichannel platform provides the connected experience that students anticipate, and it treats every one of them as a unique individual. With live chat, email. Twitter and What’sApp connected; it makes an agent’s day so much easier and seamless when information is right in front of them to help students. At the end of the day, they send them off as a happier student.

This may seem like a colossal feat, but the opportunities to excel in digital transformation are a larger benefit. Connecting with new and returning students to offer helpful and personalized support will only boost acquisition and retention.

Leadership at schools is now waking up to the necessity to invest in digital transformation to meet the sky-high demands of students and reduce costs. Moreover, institutions can rise to student support expectations and support their staff through tools that set up everyone for success.

Chris Bechtel is VP of Marketing at Comm100.

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