27 Apr 2021 By: Jessica Wise

Students are the heart of higher education. They pump energy, purpose and the almighty dollar into the veins of post-secondary institutions. 

Without students, colleges and universities would lose their beat. Unfortunately, since the pandemic, enrollments have seen a sharp decline.

According to a study by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, post-secondary enrollments declined 2.5% in fall 2020, nearly twice the rate of enrollment decline reported in fall 2019.

In an already competitive landscape, this has made recruitment efforts all the more challenging. 

 

More than one-third of prospective college students are reconsidering higher education in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Click To Tweet

 

More than one-third of prospective college students are reconsidering higher education in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, 43% of prospective students for one- and two-year programs are looking to delay enrollment. (Inside Higher Ed)

So, how can colleges and universities pivot their recruiting efforts and continue to fill the seats with eager young minds?

The answer is that post-secondary programs will have to get creative and find ways to virtually engage with prospective students. And, the institutions that provide students with the best online experience will come out on top.

So, without further adieu, here are 4 ways to provide prospective students with a quality customer experience online.

 

1) Virtual Assistants To Support Prospective Students

Depending on your institution’s needs, you may choose to equip your school’s website with a human-powered virtual assistant or an AI-powered virtual assistant. 

 

Students-Talking-With-Virtual-Assistant

 

The important thing is that both solutions can go a long way in improving the prospective student experience. In fact, 34% of online visitors say they would prefer to answer questions from AI chatbots or virtual assistants. (Chatbots Magazine)

 

Human-Powered Assistants

Human-powered virtual assistants are perfect for schools that don’t have the resources or the manpower to develop a complex, AI-powered virtual assistant software. 

For example, a virtual receptionist service like HelpSquad’s provides not only the live chat software for your website, but it also offers professional agents that will be trained and well-versed on your students’ most frequently asked questions. Additionally, the live agents will become an extension of your team, handling appointment scheduling, department routing, and social media interactions. 

The best part is that most live chat services (including HelpSquad) provide 24/7 coverage. So, inquiring students will receive immediate answers from a real person around the clock. 

That’s huge. 71% of consumers (age 16 – 24) believe that a quick response from a customer service team can drastically improve their customer experience. (Comm100)

 

AI-Powered Assistants

When an AI-powered assistant is properly designed, it can have a huge impact on not only the student experience, but on a university as a whole. 

Dartmouth’s virtual assistant, Dart, is one such ‘bot.

After the pandemic hit, Dartmouth began receiving a huge amount of IT service requests, while also being faced with the task of shifting to an online learning environment.

That’s when decision makers at the Ivy League school decided to partner with artificial intelligence company, Aisera, to create a new AI-driven virtual assistant focused on drastically improving the digital service experience for Dartmouth’s students and faculty. 

Aisera helped the institution develop the AI Service Desk solution, Dart, to automate answers to common questions and provide proactive user notification and engagement through an all-in-one conversational platform.

 

“At Dartmouth, we wanted our faculty and students to have immediate answers to their information and technology questions online, especially during COVID. Aisera helps us achieve our goals to innovate and deliver an AI-driven conversational service experience throughout our institution. Faculty, staff, and especially students are able to self-serve their technology information using language that makes sense to them. Now our service desk is free to provide real value to our clients by consulting with them and building relationships across our campus.” explains Mitch Davis, CIO of Dartmouth. 

 

The result?  Dart saved the school $1M in service desk costs, improved auto-resolutions by 60%, and is now supporting thousands of students and faculty members.  

“Aisera’s benefits were quickly apparent to Dartmouth in the form of greater than 60% improvement in auto-resolution of support requests and MTTR of only 50 seconds. By automating service operations, Aisera dramatically accelerates diagnosis and resolution times to enable increased user self-service. We can’t be anything but thrilled about these results for such an important institution during these unprecedented times,” says, Muddu Sudhakar, co-founder and CEO of Aisera.

 

2) Virtual Campus Tours

In-person campus visits might be tough for some prospective students to swing right now due to distance and COVID restrictions. 

But, by uploading a virtual, interactive campus tour to your institution’s website, prospective students can still see and experience all your campus has to offer. 

Since the pandemic, virtual tours have seen a huge increase in popularity.

Student-tour-of-college-campus

In a 2020 article from Inside Higher Ed, research and technology firm, EAB, reported that “between March 13 and April 13, nearly 1.4 million people viewed a virtual campus tour produced by YouVisit. High school seniors are taking these tours at a rate 228% higher than they were at this time last year.”

The University of Miami is one school that’s hopped on the virtual tour bandwagon.

Real U students guide the way on the UM tour, narrating and noting the university’s best features including the student center, library and lakeside patio.  Student guides also give participants a taste of the various degree programs on campus by spotlighting current students and their experiences.

You can check out the University of Miami’s campus tour here to get some virtual tour inspiration.

 

3) A Day In The Life YouTube Channel

Being a high school junior or senior on the cusp of becoming a college freshman can be scary. 

So, imagine if prospective students could get an intimate look at what a day in the life of a real college student looks like. 

Many schools, like the University of Miami, have latched onto this idea and are now taking it a step further by featuring current students who are enrolled in specific degree programs. 

UM’s YouTube channel titled “University of Miami Schools and Colleges – Stories of U,” is comprised of real students’ video diaries. Sports Administration, Architecture and Nursing are just a few of the curriculums featured.

 

4) Department Head, Alumni, and Faculty Meet & Greets

There’s a reason why prospective students do tons of college visits and hours of research. They want to know what to expect once they enter their field of study.

Sure, many students begin their secondary education “undeclared.” But, for those that already have a career path in mind, the amount of personalized information they receive can have a huge influence on their final decision.

So, why not give them the opportunity to talk with a department head, faculty member, or alumni that’s involved (or has been involved) in their program of interest?

Zoom-student-meet-and-greets

When a student fills out a form on your website to request more information on a specific area of study, send an email inviting them to a Zoom meet and greet. 

If possible, try to limit sessions to 5- 10 participants so the experience is more personalized.

 

The Bottom Line

Some believe the pandemic has accelerated the push towards digital transformation. Maybe it has. Maybe it hasn’t. The point is that e-learning is poised to become a big part of the education industry’s future. A quality online customer experience is what today’s prospective students want and expect. Institutions that work towards making the transition now will see the most success in maintaining enrollment numbers. 

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