Student communications has been put to the test over the past year with the COVID pandemic. Now more than ever, universities are looking to deliver the student experiences like university Clearing and student support on preferred student communication channels.
With the goal of not only enhancing the student experience, but to also provide better care for mental health and to have the agility to quickly pivot during times of crisis.
This article will explore the ways your university can optimise student communications. Particularly for the busiest periods of the calendar like Clearing and to tackle student support issues.
So, how do Students like to Communicate?
The answer is complicated. Day-to-day, university students shift between multiple devices. Namely being their smartphones, laptops, and possibly a tablet. Email of course is a key route utilised by universities to reach students. Since it’s a form of communication that’s easily accessible on any device.
However, many universities we’ve been speaking to find that emails fall on deaf ears. Students just don’t read or engage with them. Speaking from personal experience now, this could be down to the large volume of emails received throughout the day. It just becomes digital noise.
University emails tend to be:
- High in volume – leaving inboxes flooded with digital noise
- Irrelevant or duplicative – providing redundant or confusing information
- Not personalised enough – actions that aren’t relevant to you
- Not always optimised for mobile – the channel students are most likely to be reading on
- Delivering content that is boring – not written in an engaging way
Of course, email is still a vital way of communicating for universities. Since all students are allocated an email upon commencing their first year, you can be sure it’s something that works. But email as a channel for communication should be limited.
Which Channels of Communication do University Students Prefer?
Social media is a key channel, particularly when communicating with prospective students. It’s where your students will go to connect with the university on a human level. Email, your website and telephony are also key channels to consider. For helping to support your self-service strategy and driving digital change.
University students are most commonly between the ages of 18 and 24. Their favourite mobile apps include, WhatsApp, TikTok, Messenger (for Facebook), Facebook and Instagram (Business of Apps). It’s all about communicating the right messages across the right channels.
How COVID has Impacted Universities
The pandemic has had a huge impact on student communications. Universities have had to negotiate key tasks like admissions, University Clearing and student support via all digital channels.
Usual in-person visiting experiences like tours, Q&A and course taster sessions have had to be held over remote working technologies. Then there’s the challenge of keeping the buzz alive for existing students. Understandably, there hasn’t been much to do but over half (53%) of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their social experience last autumn term (Office for National Statistics).
In addition, student support services have never been more important. With results from three different surveys concluding that well-being and mental health has worsened because of the pandemic (Office for National Statistics).
With life now finally starting to return to normal, COVID has forever impacted digital strategies amongst universities. It’s made them consider how efficiencies can be made to University Clearing and how to add more student support services.
Considering a New Student Communications Strategy
It’s all about adjusting your communications strategy to be on preferred student communications channels. It’s also crucial to consider the key problems your university students are facing and how your communication strategy will address these issues.
What are the Problems University Students Face?
- Adjusting to a new way of life
- Pressure from studies
- Debt and managing money
- Finding a new set of friends
- Housing issues
- Time management
- Mental health and well-being
Opening New Channels for University Clearing
Universities last year had to undertake the busy period of Clearing during lockdown. This mean handling hundreds of thousands of student enquiries remotely. A task made much easier when you can automate and deflect phone calls to other channels.
One Russell Group were able to broaden their digital channels and connect disparate Clearing teams. Using INBOX for automation, they were able to open the number of channels for student enquiries. The project included utilising email, a chatbot, WhatsApp, webchat, social media and contact centre to effectively capture information before passing to an agent or automatically routing the enquiry to a specific department based on the content of the interaction.
Some of the results they have seen so far were outlined in our annual event last autumn.
In the future, this could lead to a Clearing solution that enables 24/7 engagement with prospective students. They could also leverage the technology to automate other processes like registering interest in the university, open day bookings and the sending of prospectuses.
This further demonstrates how digital can help reduce transactional or monotonous tasks. Leaving universities to focus on delivering the best possible student experience.
Leveraging Technology to Deliver More Student Support Services
Student support services are becoming ever more vital. With the pandemic last year putting an extra strain on students, 73% highlighted that their mental health had declined during lockdown (Mind).
This is likely to have a long-lasting effect with students feeling disconnected from their peers, stressed with their studies and even worries about life starting to return to normal.
How can you Help Support Student Mental Health?
Research indicates that 1 in 5 students have a diagnosed mental health problem (Mind). You could support university students by having contact centres for crisis, webchat so that they could talk online anonymously, connecting students with others across the university who have recently been through a challenging time.
Last year saw students return to university only for campuses to be placed on lockdown. One of our customers wanted to get ahead and support their students whilst they were isolated.
They setup a crisis contact centre, an initiative driven by their marketing team. 10 agents from IT and marketing utilised a Mitel contact centre to respond and answer student enquiries (and questions from worried parents too!). A positive response means the University is looking at the next stages, with the possibility of extending the crisis contact centre across other key channels of communication like Webchat, SMS and social media.
The same principles can be applied when looking at student support. Your University could setup a small contact centre dedicated to student support services. Utilising a variety of channels like telephony, chatbots, social media posts and WhatsApp to help students to share their challenges or let the University know they are struggling.
Webchat might be a preferred channel for students to communicate their feelings, since it can be anonymous if they wish. This can make discussing topics like money struggles, housing, relationships, studies and mental health easier, particularly if the student doesn’t wish to discuss over the phone.
Start Improving your Student Communications Now
It’s never been more vital to think about how you can optimise your student communications. Whether it be to introduce new channels, automate key processes for key points of the year like Clearing, or to improve student engagement with more student support services.