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How Universities Are Connecting With Would-be Students


As much as we may hate to admit it, times have changed – dramatically. Yet many of the ways in which universities connect with students (and potential would-be students), especially during an opportunity such as Clearing, are now archaic practises. It’s time to update.

A decade ago, student “to-be’s” would prepare by buying a fancy notebook, a plethora of pens, pencils and erasers and a few overpriced study books. Today however, they instead purchase the latest top-quality laptop, make notes on their mobile phones, share files digitally and purchase e-books to read online. And so, it’s important that universities are connecting with students and would-be students using methods that they frequent often.

The use of technology to connect with people is nothing new – especially considering Google has been around since 1998! Yet still many universities implement few new practices and more effective ways of engaging with would-be students. Live chat is one such example that’s helping both marketing and admissions teams do just that. It’s an alternative to the more traditional phone and email enquiries; an alternative that not only provides a quicker and more informal way to communicate, but one which the generation leaving school today is far more comfortable with. Research tells us individuals spend just 6 minutes a day on voice calls versus 26 minutes of text. It’s obvious when said aloud, but solving the riddle of what changes you should be implementing to combat this can be difficult.

The University of Gloucestershire had been using a live chat service for a few years and it proved highly successful in the way that it allowed them to interact with students. But with the EU GDPR becoming the minimum standard for the use of customer data, they needed a more robust platform that could give them guarantees on how and when collected data would be used – something their live chat service couldn’t do. So, they implemented our Meet & Engage live engagement platform in June this year to use the 121 chat functionality to help with in-bound clearing enquiries.

One such innovation that we’ll see more and more…

Natasha Cresswell, Admissions & Enquiries Manager for the University, found that live chat allowed for longer and more meaningful conversations. “We’ve found people are more comfortable expressing themselves on live chat, much more so than they are by phone, and as a result they ask all manner of questions.” She went on to say “the technology is easy and intuitive to use and it allowed us to limit the number of multiple conversations. This was hugely beneficial when staffing levels were down as it meant we could switch to a lower number to suit the team but the end user wasn’t affected or aware of our staffing levels.”

On a daily basis, Natasha had three or four members of the team covering the 121 live chat, ramping up to fourteen and fifteen during peak periods. With pop-up alerts to notify the team once a new question came through, it meant they were easily able to get on with their other responsibilities. The other key benefit for Natasha was the audit trail of the conversation that you can access at any time, “this is particularly key when offers have been made via the system”, she goes on to say, “as it allows a record to be kept.” It also meant that if a student came back at a later date to ask an additional question, the team member answering the new query had sight of the previous dialogue.

Another university to make use of the Meet & Engage live chat platform during clearing was Leicester University. They hosted group chats in the lead-up to, and after A-level results day aimed at key influencers, in this case teachers and advisers. The group chats were marketed as a way for them to ask any questions they might have on behalf of their pupils. Its success was proved when an offer was made during the chat as a result of the additional information a teacher was able to give on behalf on one of their students.

Using group chats is also be a way for universities to hold virtual open days over the course of the main Clearing period. With the ability to share content such as video as well as inviting guest moderators such as student ambassadors to join the chat, it allows prospective students to get a real insight into a university when it’s not possible to visit in person.

Right now we are in a constant state of innovation. Fail to keep up, and you’ll soon be left behind. Live engagement is one such innovation that more and more universities are implementing in order to stay ahead of the curve and really maximise their student recruitment efforts both right now and ready in time for Clearing next year.

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