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Providing advice and support to students at scale during the coronavirus…and beyond

As Australian education providers navigate the immediate and complex challenges presented by the novel coronavirus and the immediate impact on Chinese students and parents, communication is the bedrock of a successful strategy risk mitigation strategy. The ability to enable prospects, students and their parents caught up in the crisis to communicate with their institution through the channels they are most comfortable with, and when they need to, forms a significant part of operationalising the strategy. Due to the sheer scale of the need, institutions are struggling to provide this level of service within operational constraints.

As noted in the recent Insight Brief by The Lygon Group, providers are implementing strategies to offer maximum flexibility to students who are temporarily unable to return to Australia. They correctly highlight that “It is imperative that our interim emergency response is seen for what it is: Australia’s international education sector doing everything it can to assist impacted students with compassion and empathy at a difficult time”

The brief calls out for a compassionate and personalised response, noting that the concerns and recent experiences of Chinese students should be placed “front and centre”, meaning amongst other things:

· Emphasising personalised communication and engagement with Chinese students that remain in China

· Building messaging that emphasises online as an interim emergency response and reassuring students that online courses are a means to continue towards a world-class Australian qualification

· Provide advice and support through the digital challenges students use – like WeChat.

Whilst most institutions are engaging with students and parents using WeChat, increased demand caused by the current crisis is challenging institutions’ ability to maintain high levels of service. To address these challenges, implementing solutions that enable Conversational Engagement/Commerce allows institutions to simultaneously maximise their student satisfaction and efficiency. Conversational Engagement/Commerce combines technologies that students enjoy using, such as WeChat with artificial intelligence and expert staff members. This combination of technologies and people can result in a significant number of questions from students or parents being answered by a bot, and only those that are complex being automatically work flowed to staff members to handle.

Stephanie Baghdassarian, research director at Gartner, explained that while they don’t replace humans, bots can handle discovery questions and offer solutions without the intervention of human agents.

“Bots can go as far as enabling transactions, handling payments, ensuring delivery and providing customer service,” Ms. Baghdassarian said. “Perhaps the key aspect of conversational commerce, however, is that it allows users to converse in their platform of choice, and therefore takes channel transparency to the next level.”

CEO Magazine notes that “A fantastic Australian example is Open Universities Australia, a leader in online higher education. As well as traditional channels like voice and email, students can contact OUA over SMS and Facebook Messenger to get the services they need. OUA has effectively blended AI and human resources, for instance, when its customer service team is not in overnight or they’re experiencing a surge in demand, a concierge bot named ‘study bot’ steps in to triage enquiries.”

By implementing Conversational Engagement/Commerce OUA increased customer satisfaction metrics from 60% to 80%, and saw a 250% return on investment within the first 6 weeks.

When a question is complex and is work-flowed to a human, tools that allow staff members to simultaneously manage and respond to multiple communications and enable responses from the desktop or a mobile device are a must. Some of the attributes to look for in such systems are:

· A single platform that allows staff the ability to conduct multiple conversations at the same time.

· Capability that enables the easy insertion of frequently used answers and knowledge-based information to augment the personalised content.

· The ability to workflow communications around an institution both manually and automatically, based on pre-set rules.

· The ability to measure customer satisfaction and internal performance through live-time and historical reporting.

· Enterprise-grade security that includes encryption in transit, top tier data centres, and regular security scanning measures.

Lastly, selecting a solution that future-proofs an institution is paramount. The ability to add further messaging channels, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, SMS and even email will scale communications to a wider population than the immediate need to communicate with students stranded in China. The ability to add further automation, AI and bots will also increase institution efficiency, as well as student experience by enabling simple, routine questions to be answered 24/7 using existing systems and databases.

Implementing a solution that incorporates all of these attributes will enable an institution to not only provide the compassionate and personalised response to students currently in China, but also allow the same standard of student experience to be rolled out across all cohorts.


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