In this ultimate guide to live chat for education, learn how to use live chat to boost enrollment, increase engagement, and save resources for your educational institution.
What’s in this guide:
- Live Chat for Education: Not Just for Business
- Benefits of Live Chat: The Data
- Live Chat 101: How it Works
- Software-only vs. Outsourced Solutions
- Live Chat for Education: A Different Ballgame
- Live Chat as Brand Ambassador
- Getting Live Chat Right
Live Chat for Education: Not Just for Business
What is Live Chat?
It’s 2021; chances are unless you’re a) living under a rock or b) a modern-day Henry David Thoreau, you’ve used live chat before. The past twenty years or so have seen an overwhelming shift to digital communications in both life and business, with the advent of so many technologies we now take for granted in our everyday life (email, text messaging, video calls, etc.).
Live chat has quickly become one of the most important real-time communications tools for digital brands. It allows businesses to provide the instantaneous service of a phone call without sacrificing the convenience of a text-based conversation. As we embark upon a new decade, consumers now expect businesses to offer live chat as a round-the-clock option for support and engagement. This need has created a huge market for live chat products spanning a broad range of features, capabilities, and price.
Who Uses Live Chat?
There are also ample resources for businesses large and small that are looking to incorporate live chat into their business strategy, whether it be primarily for lead conversion, customer support, or another purpose. However, the majority of the live chat products and resources on the market are focused on a B2B or ecommerce audience.
The benefits of live chat are there for organizations that fall outside the more general classification of “business” or “ecommerce,” but the needs of these verticals are often quite specific, requiring a more tailored solution to make live chat as effective as possible. Healthcare, finance, and education are great examples of sectors that have very obvious consumer support needs and very specific compliance requirements.
This blog post will address the segment of live chat for education. We’ll discuss how an industry-specific solution can reap huge benefits when it comes to growing enrollment, improving engagement, cutting costs, and saving resources.
Benefits of Live Chat: The Data
Here are just a few statistics that demonstrate the importance of live chat:
- 79% of consumers prefer live chats because they offer instant responses.
- Live chat has the highest consumer satisfaction of all customer service channels rate at 92%.
- 70% of consumers prefer human agents to AI technologies.
Live Chat 101: How It Works
At its most basic level, live chat is a tool that allows web visitors to chat with a brand, business, or (in this case) school directly from your website.
When a visitor initiates a live chat, usually one of three things will happen:
1. The user will be guided through a standard logic tree of questions and answers, typically presented in button form. Based on the buttons the user pushes, the application will provide a predetermined answer. You’ll often see this on sites that use live chat for product recommendations or customer surveys. In this type of live chat conversation, users often don’t have many opportunities to submit free-form, unstructured questions or responses.
2. The user’s question will trigger a chatbot that uses AI to analyze the text for sentiment and intent and, based on the outcome of that analysis, will produce an answer that best suits the question. A common application for this kind of live chat is for large businesses with high chat volumes that include a lot of repetitive, frequently asked questions.
3. The user will get connected with a live agent who will receive and respond to the user’s questions in real time. This represents the pinnacle live chat experience because web visitors get their questions answered in real time by an expert agent who can provide responses to complex inquiries that couldn’t be handled by automated chat applications.
Software-only vs. Outsourced Solutions
As previously mentioned, there’s a huge market of solutions for live chat in education at the moment. Most of them can be broken down into two broad categories:
1. Software-only solutions. These tools place the burden of setup, launch, and ongoing management squarely on your team. As a result, many of the mass-market, low-cost chat solutions fall into this category.
2. Outsourced contact centers. These solutions bring the benefit of a fully outsourced, managed solution with limited effort required of your team or organization. Many include live chat agents that can staff your chat at all hours of the day. These solutions, however, often require significant budgetary resources and are designed for large-scale teams and organizations.
Typically, software-only solutions are, financially speaking, much more accessible than outsourced live chat solutions. This is due to the cost of staffing your chat with live human agents. The cost of live agents doesn’t just include the hours that they’re answering chats for your business. Call centers also need to account for the cost of the technology, hardware, office space, and agent training, not to mention the management and administrative salaries of other call center employees.
As a result, most call centers require a minimum expected chat or call volume before taking on new clients. Often, these minimum volume requirements can be too high for smaller organizations to meet, even if they could benefit from outside help.
Is a Software-only Solution Right for My School?
Many smaller colleges and universities turn to software-only chat solutions. Usually, this includes access to a product that will allow you to add a live chat widget to your website and have one or more people from your team answer the chats. While this strategy can be effective if your team is large enough to have a dedicated live chat agent on staff, in most cases, software-only products end up doing more harm than good when it comes to improving web visitor support and engagement.
All too often, overworked team members are tasked with the additional responsibility of answering the website live chat for education institutions. But since, in reality, most of us aren’t chained to our desks all day (especially college admissions officers), most of the chats that do come in end up being missed or answered extremely late. What’s more, there’s typically no opportunity to engage all of your after-hours web traffic, since no one is in the office to manage the live chat 24/7. The result is a frustrating website experience that makes users feel like it’s hard to communicate with your brand – a difficult first impression to overcome.
Is an Outsourced Solution Right for My School?
While outsourced live chat is almost always an improvement over software-only solutions, there are different challenges that come with trusting your live chat operation to an outside vendor. One of the greatest benefits of keeping your chat operation in-house is the peace of mind that comes with knowing the people who are representing your organization. You can trust that your employees are intimately familiar with your brand and that they’ll provide accurate information to your prospects.
In contrast, all of us have at one point or another had the experience of being stuck on the phone or in a live chat with an inexperienced customer service rep who simply doesn’t have the experience or information that we’re looking for. From the organization’s perspective, entrusting your customers into the hands of complete strangers can be a terrifying prospect, especially if you have no hand in training or overseeing the agents on a day-to-day basis. When vetting outsourced solutions, make sure to ask about their training and supervisory processes to make sure you’re comfortable.
Ultimately, the decision between in-house and outsourced comes down to your budget with your enrollment goals. The questions in the next section can help you make this decision. It may also be worth talking to peer institutions about their live chat platforms or even testing them out.
Live Chat for Education: A Different Ballgame
If you’re a college, university, or other educational institution looking to add live chat to your website, you should ask yourself a few questions that will help you determine the solution that’s right for you:
- What results do I want to drive with live chat?
- Who is the target audience? Who’s most likely to engage with this tool?
- What’s my budget?
- Do I have sufficient resources to staff and manage live chat internally?
- What website traffic am I receiving on the pages where I plan to host the live chat?
When it comes to healthcare, banking, education, and similar industries that involve the exchange of sensitive or confidential information, compliance is a critical consideration for any live chat initiative. With education specifically, organizations are faced with the dilemma of finding an application that conforms to the guidelines laid out in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
It’s also key to use a platform that’s accessible for people with disabilities. Check with your webmaster to ensure that it meets the accessibility standards for your site.
If you’re an educational institution looking to add live chat to your website, it’s imperative that you do your due diligence to ensure the tool you’re using is FERPA-compliant and accessible.
Live Chat as Brand Ambassador
As schools and universities have had to grow and adapt to create a robust digital presence for prospects and students, it’s likely that you or your marketing team has asked yourself at least one of the following questions:
- What kind of student are we catering to?
- What matters to our students most when they’re choosing where they want to go to school?
- How do we want people to feel when they think about our brand?
- What do we want our students to tell their friends, families, and colleagues about us?
Assuming you’ve answered these questions for your school (if you haven’t, you should), live chat is one of the best possible ways to put these values in action.
That’s because live chat is also one of the best ways to give people a sneak peek of what it’s like to be a student at your school.
For example, imagine a prospective student visits your webpage and initiates a chat. They get connected with a real, live agent almost instantly, and this agent is knowledgeable enough to answer their questions in full. What’s more, they’re able to connect the prospect with an admissions rep in real time, starting the prospect down the application funnel in just a few minutes.
This positive live chat experience has demonstrated to your prospect that your school is responsive, easy to work with, considerate of your students’ time, and eager to welcome this student into the school. Your brand’s actions have told your student more about you than a brochure or welcome video ever could.
Now imagine that a prospect visits your website and tries to start a live chat. This time, however, they get a message saying someone will answer their chat in 10 minutes.
Unfortunately, the story ends there, because guess what? No one wants to wait to get the answers they need.
Walking away from this conversation, the only impression you’ve made on this student is that your school is not responsive, difficult to contact, and maybe even outdated (since you can’t seem to understand how live chat works).
Perhaps none of this is true, but you may never have a chance to convince your student otherwise – the damage is done. Why would they bother applying?
Getting Live Chat Right
Here’s the primary takeaway from these two sample scenarios:
Live chat can make or break your digital brand experience.
Live chat has the power to set you leagues ahead of your competition by rolling out the red carpet for prospects before they ever set foot on your campus (or in your inbox).
It also has the power to turn prospects away before you have the chance to show them what your school has to offer.
There are a few key actions you can take to make sure live chat works for, not against, your brand:
Make it available 24/7.
When first launching live chat, most schools try to staff it entirely with existing internal resources. Answering chats becomes an additional responsibility for employees, usually admission counselors, who already have a full day’s worth of work to do.
This also means, however, that there’s only someone there to answer live chats during standard working hours.
The problem is that most of us aren’t doing the bulk of our web browsing during business hours. High school students are at school, and adult learners and parents are typically at work.
By staffing your live chat only during business hours, you’re neglecting all those website visitors who log on in the evenings (or even early mornings) to do some research before taking the huge leap of enrolling in college.
Making live chat (and, specifically, live people) available to your website visitors 24/7 is the best possible way to ensure that your prospective students will be taken care of, no matter what time of day or night they show up.
Have a real, live person there to answer chats.
All of us been hit with the false hope of initiating a live chat only to discover that there’s no person to answer our questions on the other side.
One study also found that across 1,000 websites, 21% of live chat requests went unanswered.
Many universities use live chat as a glorified contact form, allowing people to submit questions that are then emailed to a support team to be answered at a later time.
The problem with this approach is that your prospects have been conditioned to expect a certain experience from live chat – namely, that offering live chat means you’re actually giving people to opportunity to chat with someone in real time.
What’s more, the rise of instant messaging has made website visitors increasingly intolerant of delayed responses from the brands, businesses, and institutions they’re engaging with.
The bottom line is that offering live chat comes with certain user expectations – specifically, the ability to actually chat with someone in real time.
Keep response times lightning-fast.
There’s nothing worse than starting a live chat only to see that you have a wait time of 5+ minutes. But making people wait doesn’t just create a poor brand experience. It can have a tangibly negative impact on your engagement, lead generation, and conversion outcomes. According to Forrester, 1 in 5 customers would consider abandoning a product or service if live chat response times are too slow.
While this statistic is not specific to higher education organizations, it’s reasonable to assume that the data is relevant to colleges and universities, too. Keeping prospective students waiting for answers sends a clear message that your institution is, at the least, difficult to communicate with and, at worst, outdated or technologically inept.
Put differently: how does a slow, frustrating live chat experience do to incentivize students to trust your brand, to entice them into investing thousands of dollars in your institution?
If you’re going to offer live chat, keeping dedicated chat agents online and available is critical to keeping response times low (preferably under a minute).
Realistically, however, most institutions can’t afford to hire full-time, in-house live chat agents. That’s where the next tip comes in.
Outsource your live chat to high-quality agents.
For university admissions and marketing teams that are already spread thin, outsourcing live chat has clear benefits when it comes to offering a high-touch chat experience without overburdening your employees.
However, outsourcing agents can be a costly affair, the resolution to which is often seeking out offshore call center operations. While this strategy may be feasible for ecommerce companies with low-cost products and relatively simple product-related conversations, it’s almost never the right choice for higher education.
Partnering with offshore live chat operations typically brings pretty specific challenges, namely language and cultural barriers. While this is not as significant an issue in chat as it is in voice, it can still lead to miscommunication and a misunderstanding of the nuances of language and the American college experience.
Additionally, using offshore call or contact centers to staff your live chat can create administrative challenges when you account for delays in communication and time differences.
If you’re going to use outsourced agents to staff your live chat, contracting onshore, college-educated agents is the best way to ensure a high level of fluency, communication, and understanding between your agents and your prospects.
Create a standard knowledge base for all chat responses.
Outsourcing your live chat to people outside of your organization can be scary. It’s critical that live chat agents possess a thorough understanding of your brand, and it’s even more important that agent responses to visitor questions are the same from agent to agent.
That’s where your chat knowledge base comes in. Whether you’re using outsourced agents or not, maintaining a library or database company information and standard responses to visitor questions is critical for creating a consistent and reliable experience for your prospects. It’s also a great way to ensure that in-depth answers are readily at-hand for your agents or employees, making it easier for them to maintain fast response times.
Additionally, creating a robust live chat knowledge base gives you greater control not just over the content of your live chat responses, but also the voice and language in which they’re delivered. This is really important when it comes to making sure that your live chat doesn’t just create a great customer experience, but a great digital brand experience.
Infusing your brand voice into all of your live chat responses is a great way to subconsciously improve your branding authority and recognition among prospects and distinguish yourself from competitors in the space.
There’s definitely a lot to process in this guide, so if you’re an admissions director, marketer, or enrollment manager looking to implement live chat and don’t know where to start, reach out to us and one of our live chat experts can help you.