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September 1

Greater Outcomes with Live Chat Systems


Many higher education institutions are still on the fence when it comes to using live chat systems in their enrollment communications workflow.

Of course, we all have experience with this kind of customer service as we engage on everyday ecommerce sites. 

In fact, most of us, I would say, have come to expect this level of immediate customer attention, even if it means texting with a chatbot. 

But chat systems are something that a lot of schools haven’t implemented yet due to a lot of misconceptions out there about how it works and the benefits of it.

Ben Congleton of Olark helps us understand how colleges and universities can leverage the power of live chat systems to increase enrollment. So in this episode of The Higher Ed Marketer podcast, Ben Congleton, CEO and CoFounder at Olark, talks about his journey to chat systems from the early days of website chat providers and how his team creates a more accessible, seamless journey for prospective students. 

Ben did a great job of explaining the benefits of live chat while helping us demystify the difference between live human chat versus chatbots. 

This is a great episode for anyone who’s looking to better serve their audiences, whether it’s enrollment, development, or internal students. Here are the highlights of our conversation with Ben.

The demand for live chat systems is growing.

The first thing to understand about live chat solutions for higher education is that the demand for live chat is growing across all sectors.

We’ve had instant messaging technology since the early 90’s with ICQ, MSN Messenger, and SMS texting

Yet while the technology hasn’t come on the scene recently, there has been a significant evolution in how humans interact with education brands using live chat systems.

A lot of us grew up using SMS, texting friends, etc. Now, you have Facebook Messenger, and you have people using Instagram messaging on the side. Short, rapid text communication is happening constantly everywhere. 

We’ve worked with higher ed for many years, but around the beginning of the pandemic, we started to see a lot more demand for this kind of solution. There are a lot of systems that were built for in-person communication that just broke down when everyone was remote. 

[People would ask us] “We aren’t doing campus tours anymore. How do we engage with students who are browsing our websites? This is maybe their first interaction with us as a school.”

[We also saw a big advantage when customers had] some admitted students, but they’re not on campus right now. What they learned is basically, when someone gets their housing set up there, they’re going to show up. The “summer melt” is not a factor once they have a place to stay. [So one of our clients] started putting RA’s [resident assistants] and some of their housing groups on live chat. 

It’s been interesting to watch this sort of customer service focus that we saw happen in e-commerce move into universities, where most of the interaction is [now] happening via the website. 

Basically, your enrollment yield funnel has a huge piece of it that has people interacting with the website [as opposed to] picking up the phone.

In today’s world, and especially with Gen Z students, visitors are simply not going to navigate away from your site to send you an email, Facebook message, or pick up the phone when they have a question.

You need to be there where the person is!

Whether they’re on a mobile device, sitting in front of their computer, or on a tablet, you need to be there so you’re not interrupting flow and so that you can help people move right through their journey.

The trend of using chatbots in live chat systems is also growing, but it is limited.

Sometimes schools can be nervous about the idea of using a chatbot. 

At first, chatbots can seem like a cold, impersonal way to help a visitor on your website. 

However, today’s students are not only used to interacting with chatbots with other e-commerce websites, they’re beginning to expect it.  

But that doesn’t mean you can replace your enrollment staff with robots!

There’s a big trend right now of seeing chatbots. I would call it adding automation to [your communications] workflow.

The challenge is that most of the time when people reach out and want to communicate with someone at an institution, it is when they have an exceptional case. It’s when they are trying to get something deeper than a question they could ask Google. 

Bots are useful, and we do some bot automation stuff. But my story has always been as a school, you’re basically trying to create belonging, and you’re trying to stand out from everyone else in that playing field. 

So you’re not trying to commoditize the interaction with your institution via your website. What you’re trying to do is automate away some of the really simple things. Then, [you want to] get over to someone who can deal with the nuance and really express to that prospective student what makes you guys different.

Digital technology like chatbots can automate simple, mundane tasks, but it cannot replace people.

Most people are self-sufficient. By the time they go to your live chat system with a question, they’ve already done a significant amount of research.

At this point, they’ve got a question that really needs a real person to help solve the issue.

Some institutions lean toward automation because call centers cost money. 

But from a college standpoint, we can’t afford to do that. 

We’ve got to be living out our brand all the way down to the way that we do chat. 

If we are trying to sell the fact that we’re all we’re all about community, but “Click on this chatbot here and we’re going to make you a number,” that goes against the brand. 

Leverage AI in live chat systems when it makes sense, but you can’t afford to replace human relationships with robots.

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Ben Congleton to get even more insights into:

  • How live chat differs from chatbots, automation, and AI
  • Where on your website to deploy live chat systems
  • What are best practices for staffing a live chat system

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Featured image via olark.com
Ben Congleton image via blog.olark.com

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