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Achieving Excellence in Online Student Service


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If you’re looking to provide the kind of online student experience that truly differentiates your school you need to first know the three ingredients that make for a truly excellent student experience in any channel – and apply those key tenants online.

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Achieving Excellence in Online Student Service

  1. 1. Achieving Excellence in Online Student Service 5 Checkpoints to Help You Get There
  2. 2. Achieving Excellence in Online Student Service What Does World Class Online Student Service Look Like Anyway? If you’re looking to provide the kind of online student experience that truly differentiates your school you need to first know the three ingredients that make for a truly excellent student experience in any channel – and apply those key tenants online. Over the past few years, two undisputable truths have arisen in student service: 1. Students are going online for information more than ever, using a variety of devices and channels. 2. Higher Education Institutions have a way long way to go in order to meet student expectations for service online. “Old school” online student service is just not cutting it – and schools are paying the price. The good news is that there are methodologies, technologies and best practices today that are proven to transform the quality of the online student experience. Following the Right Recipe Much like preparing a great meal, success depends on getting the right recipe, and following it. We make this “recipe” for a world-class student experience easy to understand, by outlining the three core ingredients in this simple schematic: World Class Student Experience Recipe Enjoyable Easy Effective © 2013 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. Make the student experience enjoyable Make the student experience easy Meet student needs 2
  3. 3. Achieving Excellence in Online Student Service 92% of Schools Have Work to Do! Unfortunately, many schools view the student experience through a practical lens only, assuming that the path to excellence begins and ends with getting good at meeting student needs. But effectiveness is only part of the formula. As our recipe card denotes, fewer and fewer schools provide “easy” and “enjoyable” experiences. In fact, in a 2010 Noel Levitz survey one in four prospective students said they have dropped a school from consideration due to a bad web experience. Schools have work to do! The problem, however, is that when setting about to improve the student experience, the old-school mentality prevails. Schools set about investing in the wrong area – i.e. adding student service agents and training. But this misses a key distinguishing characteristic of the modern student: Today’s student does not want to pick up the phone to troubleshoot issues. The clear preference is to go online and find the answer to their issue themselves. Therefore, delivering a problem-free online student experience begins by getting online self-service right. If you’re among the majority of the population of higher education institutions who are offering a less than stellar online student experience, odds are your online self-service experience is the root cause of the problems – and THIS is where you need to focus your improvement efforts. But how do you get there? What you need is an easy way to spot the problems inherent in your online self-service experience so that your own unique path to improvement becomes clear. That’s where this guide can help. It provides you with the first-ever publication of The Five Checkpoints of online self-service, co-developed based on best practices by Forrester Research, Inc. and IntelliResponse. Use these Five Checkpoints as a guide for assessing the quality of you institution’s online self-service experience. A Word of Caution: Our experience indicates that most higher education institutions that put their online self-service tool through these Five Checkpoints discover shortcomings in several areas. That’s why the methodology in these checkpoints is highly effective—the questions and exercises are virtually guaranteed to help you pinpoint specific areas for improvement. © 2013 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 3
  4. 4. Achieving Excellence in Online Student Service Accessibility and Availability From the student perspective, simply engaging in online self service is typically a difficult and nonintuitive exercise on most web sites. This first checkpoint involves visiting your student-facing website and asking yourself this honest question: How EASY is it to find your institution’s online self-service? To help you stay objective in your reply, consider these more detailed additional questions: Proportionately, what percentage of the page does this take up ‘above the fold’? Is it supported by any words or imagery that invite students to engage? Is it easily missed, effectively buried behind a single-word “Help” or “FAQ” menu link, or reduced to a non-descript and generic looking “site search” field? Answering these questions will help you assess whether or not the average student, visiting your site for the first time, would be able to spot the online self-service mechanism instantly, and know with zero doubt that this is the entry point to online self service. The University of Texas at San Antonio places their “Ask Rowdy” Virtual Agent on their website. Having a pleasant digital persona who invites students to ask questions makes for a highly engaging and enjoyable student experience. Georgia Tech uses VA technology to make online-self service consistent and highly accessible. Students can ask questions from their mobile device in exactly the same manner as they would on Georgia Tech’s main student-facing website, while enjoying a user experience that is optimized for mobile screens. © 2013 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 4
  5. 5. Achieving Excellence in Online Student Service Findability (of Searched-for Content) The next checkpoint to assess the actual effectiveness of your self-service tool. Looking at your student-facing website, the question to ask yourself is this: When students use your online search tool, can they easily find the information they’re looking for? The primary job of any self-service tool is to effectively deliver the right searched-for content. This is where most schools come up dreadfully short, because most assume their content is easy for students to find when it isn’t. If this is the commonly-held assumption at your school, the following exercise will expose the cracks that can help you dismantle the assumption. Here’s what to do: Step 1. Pick a specific topic of interest for students. For example, financial aid. Step 2. Visit your FAQ page. How long does it take you to find information on this specific topic? What must you do in order to find your way to this information? How much scrolling and clicking through pages is required? Step 3. Enter the same topical keywords into your site search tool. What results do you get? Most site search tools will return hundreds of possible answers. From the perspective of your current or prospective students, however, the sad fact is that any answer above one is actually a “fail” in terms of the student experience—because multiple answers introduce a strong element of doubt and lack of confidence in their mind. Students don’t want hundreds of possible answers, or even two possible answers. They want the one right answer. © 2013 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 5
  6. 6. Achieving Excellence in Online Student Service Relevancy In cases where your student does manage to find the correct answer to the searched-for question, what happens next? Are they presented with other contextually-relevant information—such as answers to the next most-likely follow-up questions, or to supplementary information? Such contextually-relevant content is the key to creating an automated online conversation with students that results in high satisfaction or decisions. Yet, for most schools, the online conversation never actually gets going. Instead, it gets truncated, coming to an abrupt end on a non-useful FAQ page, or in the face of hundreds of search results that students simply chose to abandon. University of Texas at San Antonio maximizes student satisfaction and engagement by providing links to contextually-relevant follow-up information questions at the bottom of every answer page. © 2013 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 6
  7. 7. Achieving Excellence in Online Student Service Escalation When engaged in the online self-service experience, can students escalate their calls from a self-service channel to other channels seamlessly? Some institutions can answer, “Yes” to this question to some degree, as it is not uncommon to find contact information such as phone, chat and email prominently displayed. Yet, institutions that do make escalation options clear are cautioned not to pat themselves on the back, because just having the presence of the contact doesn’t replace the necessity of providing a resolution online in the first place. A variety of industry data over the years has shown that as much as 72% of people who call a contact center do NOT wish to do so, preferring instead to have found their answers online. Escalation options are easy to see at the bottom of every Cuyahogo Community College page. © 2013 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 7
  8. 8. Achieving Excellence in Online Student Service Feedback The final checkpoint requires that you look at your student-facing website and ask this question: Is an easy-to-use student feedback mechanism integrated into your online self-service experience? No institution can legitimately say it pursues excellence in online self-service if it does not provide a mechanism for students to rate its performance in this pursuit. The mechanism can be as simple as a Yes/No question such as “Did this answer your question?” or a star-ranking feature, where the student is asked, “How would you rate the quality of this answer?” An open comments field, where the student can provide detailed feedback, can also be provided. Only when the feedback feature is served as a natural extension of the self-service experience will a school be able to know with certainty how users truly perceive the online self-service offering. Penn State University solicits feedback by providing a number ranking feature that makes it easy for students to rate their experience with one-click. © 2013 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 8
  9. 9. Achieving Excellence in Online Student Service Achieve Student Service Excellence Online with Virtual Agents The five checkpoints above give you an understanding of what’s required to get on the path toward delivering “excellence” in self service. Adhering to these five checkpoints will ensure that your online experience is effective (i.e. meets student needs) and is easy to use. But to truly vault into the zone of excellence in online student service, your self-service experience must also be enjoyable – the third key ingredient in our recipe for excellence. A world class Virtual Agent solution will deliver against the five checkpoints in spades, while also providing you with the engaging, enjoyable experience to really ‘wow’ your current and prospective students. Next Steps Having read this guide, you are now better equipped to: i) ii) iii) derive an honest assessment your current online self-service performance using the 5 Checkpoints, understand where the shortcomings are, so that your unique path to improvement is clearer, envision how online-self service technology gives you the competitive edge needed to deliver all three ingredients of world class online service, namely, being effective, easy and enjoyable. IntelliResponse is here to help you in your immediate next steps. As the leading provider of virtual agent technology solutions for higher education .Our patented Enterprise Virtual Agent solutions create profitable online conversations for hundreds of leading colleges and universities across North America and Europe. IntelliResponse has a wealth of expertise to support you as you travel on the path to making online student service excellence an achievable reality for your higher education institution. Contact IntelliResponse to schedule a no-obligation 30-minute consultation on your next steps. 1-866-454-0084 About IntelliResponse Systems IntelliResponse is the leading provider of virtual agent technology solutions for higher education. Our patented Enterprise Virtual Agent Solutions create profitable online conversations for hundreds of leading colleges and universities across North America and Europe. For more information about IntelliResponse, visit To learn more about taking online self service to the next level for your students, visit