The State of Live Chat in Higher Education

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Ben Congleton, CEO and Co-Founder at Olark joins the podcast to talk about the enrollment power of a live chat experience, and how these chat transcripts in the aggregate can become some of our most valuable inputs and feedback loops for website content improvements.

You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university. A proud member of the connect e Du podcast network, Him Eric Olsen, with Helix Education, and we're here today with Ben Congleton, CEO and Co founder at O Lark. Ben, welcome to the show. Great to be here. Really excited to talk with you today about the state of live chat in higher education. But before we dig in, can you give the listeners a little bit of background on Oh Lark? Yeah, absolutely so. o Lark is a live chat and automation platform. We've been, we're very focused on accessibility. So, you know, in our core or a public benefit corporation, so everything we build is designed to be, you know, accessible, not just by the checkbox standard but by like really like pushing, pushing the limits of what you can do there. We're, you know, a platform, meaning that we integrate with other systems that you use, like whether it's slate or salesforce or target x or things like that. So you can think of us as like tool, a communication tool that strings everything together and then helps you connect to your students, and we also like thinking of ourselves as it's kind of like a strategic communication tool, not just like another channel, not just like the phone, but like a way in which you can kind of like move numbers, like make progress by like inserting, you know, chat as a tool to move someone along a process or a pipeline. Yeah, I think how you're thinking about live chat is super, super interesting and a lot of your case studies help me understand some benefits that that weren't typically top of mind when I've heard institutions talk about it. So let's dig in. Ben Can live chats as a customer service offload...

...and not just another new expense and a new technology to onboard into staff for? Yeah, great question. The short answer is you are already staffing communication with with folk, right with students, protective perspective, students with parents, and so you have a welcome center, you have admissions counselors and live chat is a medium in which, perspective, students want to communicate over and so I think look at it as like you're moving people off of phone and on the chat. You're moving people off of in person conversations and on the chat. Those those channels are very expensive. But what you're also doing is you're also like there in the moment when someone is engaged with your brand. They're on your website, they're evaluating your product, you know, the education they're going to receive at your university, the experience they're going to receive attending there, and so you have an opportunity in that moment to engage with, you know, that perspective student, and that's a very unique opportunity versus some other channels you're used to write. When you call someone on the phone and they pick up, when they pick up right they they're not gonna pick up most of the time. They are they actually on your website evaluating, you know, their school? Are they reading materials? Probably not. When you text someone via SMS, like are they like, you know, are they looking at your website? Are they engaged with that message right now, or are they doing something else that you're interrupting them? And so I think with live chat, it's it's really the only tool where you can take the website, the context that's sitting in front of the student and use that to your advantage in that conversation. Like you can know you know they're looking at your athletic program or that they're looking at dorms or residential life, or maybe they're, you know, afford students struggling through an application. Like there's an opportunity to just be there in that moment and help someone without that context shift, because you know, right now attention is the scarce resource and live chat is a way for you to be there when the attention is focused on you, meaning...

...that some of those other costs you think about, like those context S, which costs and other channels, aren't really happening. Right you call someone, there's time spent kind of moving them from some other idea in their head to like, you know, something, something in front of them. Yeah, I love that concept of utilizing the transcript to personalize your communications. I also loved what I saw about using these transcripts in the Haggargate to make our website experience better. How can the transcripts from these live chat conversations become some of our marketing team and our web team's most valuable inputs and feedback loops for website content and UX improvements. Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the one of the case that we have on our website today is a case study for University of Montana and what they did is they had a head of the RESTER's office who was very interested in using content and from those conversations as chats back and forth, to refine the website and the way they approached the website and the way they improve. Appreciate Processes. So, if you can imagine, many processes on the universities are still done in person. Rightly, someone shows up to an office and they run into someone, they communicate in person. Sometimes, you know, a process might be via sending an email, a couple of emails back and forth. Anything about chat is you get that conversation, you get that back and forth between the student and the university and you have complete context around that. You know what page of the website they're on at the time. You know what marketing campaign they came in on. You know the demographics of that student, depending on where they are in the enrollment process. Are they you know perspective? Are they an inquiry? Are they posted admit? So you start gaining a lot of context tied into that conversation that is sometimes harder to extract when it's on a phone call or in an email box somewhere, and you now have it all in all in one place...

...and tied back to that that student record, if it's set up correctly. And so with that you can start aggregating, kind of think of it as like Voice of the student, Voice of the customer, against those transcripts to try to understand like, what are people talking about at each stage of that enrollment funnel? What are people talking about on this, you know, digital campaign that we're running. It gives you kind of a level of insight that is possible but often hard on other channels. I think that insight is so, so helpful versus even professionals who just look at a website and have instincts on how it can be improved, or even if you're looking at click through data and heat maps in the site and kind of theorizing of where students are struggling, getting to hear it from their voice without extraordinarily expensive focus group or customer study. You have all those inputs coming in all the time. It's super interesting and I think I key piece of that, Eric, is the dialogue because, like you can run a survey, you can do a little surveys or feedback mechanisms on the site, but what you what you get when you're having a dialogue with someone in context on the website is you get the ability to ask deeper questions, to dive in a lot deeper than you would say like an inquiry form or like a feedback form or just you know, it's click here to email us. And I think that that that kind of insight is just completely invaluable to marketers and it's so intriguing. Ben Is heavy chat volume a bigger indicator that chat is helpful or that our websites are confusing and require help navigating? For example, from a KPI perspective, should we be trying to increase or decrease our live chat volume over time? So I think that's a great question, but I think it's actually looking at the wrong thing right. So I don't think chat volume broadly is something to optimize for. I think what you're trying to optimize for is it serves as some other goal. So an example might be like your chat value is really high,...

...but your call center volumes really down. Well, what that tells me is that, like, your cost have gone down, because handling a call is far more expensive than handling a chat. Another thing you might want to look at is, let's say I'm running a couple of different digital campaigns and one of them has a much higher chat volume than another, and my goal of my campaign is engagement. Well, now I'm seeing that, like, my engagement numbers are up for this particular campaign versus the others. So I think a lot of it is a little bit more goal directed and a little bit more new wants to just straight up volume. Generally speaking, though, I think that I I like to use chat as a tool to solve a specific problem. And so if my if I'm adding chat to like an admissions funnel and I'm seeing that I'm getting a lot of chats on like my application page, I'd like to dive into that and try to understand why. And if the answer is because there's something confusing on the page that I need to fix, I want to know that and I want to go fix that page. If the answer is because, you know, people are like want, want more information about like financial aid, like maybe this does require like a like a human there to help alleviate some some concern. So so I try to like understand like what's going on, what is what is the intent behind the question? And then is this scen area where like having a human there to build trust, to build that relationship makes sense, because you could imagine, you know, a website with a really optimized flow that kind of got someone into completing inquiry form, or you could imagine a website with a similar flow that got someone having a conversation with an emissions counselor, and I think that you might find that the conversations with the admissions counselor represent a higher level of engagement and potentially like a stronger relationship than you know, your one click here,...

...give me your email address form. And so yeah, there's there's a little bit of nuanced like what are you trying to move and does that extra level engagement show that you're moving that or not? So, yeah, I would start with the goal that you're trying to accomplish and then figure out how volume correlates that goal. I think you just gave another little bit of nuance there as well. In terms of we've talked about live chat being a slight communications off float in terms of ease and flexibility of response. This kind of half sinc half a sink response. But then you talked about a potential goal being get the student excited, then get him on the phone with a live person. Is it both of these? Is it you know, is live chat an interesting filter to find those with high intent to give them an easier on ramp toward a live conversation? Is it to make sure that we're not wasting live time on those with with less intent? Are are both simultaneously through? I think both of those some thaniously true, and I think that I've seen other vendors out there basically trying to sell you, like pure automation for chat right there, like Oh, like, look at the volume of Bot usage that you get on this particular website. Right like that's a great indicator that, like, this tool is working really, really well, and look how like little staffing you had to do to accomplish this. Now, I think a better way of looking at the problem is, like what are you trying to do? Are you trying to optimize for relationships, or are you trying are you trying to differentiate your school from other schools? Because if your job is to minimize costs. Will probably there's many things you can do to minimize, absolutely minimize costs. That commoditized the real benefit of of going to, you know, h certain universities right like a lot of universities, you know, compete with big state schools, and so if you're trying to stand out from a big state school or stand out from a community college, you...

...better provide some value that someone is going to be better than you know, like a like an AI chat Bot. You better show that you're going to provide some relationship value. It's a little different than the community college down the street, which is going to be very focused on cost and just driving costs down. Now, like I said, I like to think about chat being used strategically. So you can imagine on a certain pages of your website and certain processes in the flow, the R O I of a human interaction at that point might be pretty low. Maybe you're not really focused on the relationship management at that point, you're more focused on cost reduction and so you can use automated FA ques, etcetera there, whereas in another stage of your flow or a digital campaign, especially early in the process, you might be very focused on relationship creation and in those cases we want to make sure that when someone arrives on your website and it's engaged, they can reach a human and feel valued for their humanity as a host to, you know, basically navigating comcast phone tree, which is, I think, a direction that I've seen many kind of automated AI products go. One like quick thing to think about is when someone's trying to sell you like fully automated Ai is, look at how great like Google now and Sri we are right. That's that's like those are the people who have the most money to spend on natural language processing and intense detection and action. And think about how many times like that has fallen short. And that's like far better than what you're going to be able to accomplished with like a vendor who's trying to sell you like an ai specific n LP solution to this problem. Like we're just the tech isn't there, and I think a lot of people are selling a dream of this like magical ai and the cloud that sounds really cool but that no one's ever seen. And so I think, you know, if I were, you know, trying to stand out with my university, I think about the bat things that I...

...do have. I have like, really great admissions counselors. I have a really great welcome center. People are not calling those numbers as much as they used to and I'd like to take those folks and get them in front of students when they're, you know, basically taking the campus tour digitally, like when they're on the website browsing around, looking at programs to study and show that you know that, you know my institution is there and is responsive and has people to connect. Yeah, so helpful. Let's stay a little bit even deeper into these different kinds of chat experiences, because even listeners who started listening they're they're bringing paggage to this conversation. Many of us have had really bad chat experiences. You mentioned some of them. We've seen really impersonal just lead capture devices that are cloaked as customer service that aren't. We see scripted prompts that have nothing to do with my actual questions. We even see live agents who can't answer any of my questions because they don't know the company well enough, and then then they're they're clearly not full time employees. What's the biggest difference between a bad and a great chat experience. I think a lot of it comes down to the agent. I think the agent is probably the most like valuable differentiator in that situation, and a lot of this comes down to like how much context, so they have, like how many people are they trying to serve? At the same time, like, you know, an outsourced agent that didn't attend your university may have like a big, long list of F A Q s they can probably answer, but they're not going to be able to answer nuanced questions. And so I think you know work study students or you know, experienced admissions counselors that have matriculated from the institution. They know a lot more and they're able to answer questions and communicate with the students that are dealing with. And I think, at least, like my philosophy, is really like how do you how do you empower these these agents? How do you how do you help the people are actually on the front line like do the best job they possibly can? And a lot of...

...that is about building a tool that's easy to use and it's fast, I'm simple and super powerful. It's also about, you know, really like standing up for these folks and like helping them like manage their load, you know, so that it's easy to say, like say, Hey, I'm busy, don't send me any chat or like, you know, step my limit, like limit the number chats I can receive at the same time. But like too, that's something I can handle it like at the same time, like let's give some power back to the agent. Another thing that old ark has done for a long time. There's there's always this fear right you add chat to the website, you're gonna get overwhelmed, like your staff is not gonna to handle it. But one thing we've always done is make it so you can more or less like hide the chat when your staff is busy. So you could run experiment where you literally have the ability for one person on the website to chat with one person in your company or your institution like at a time, and otherwise there is no chant on your website. So just just have it show up when someone's available and make sure the person who is available is ready, ready to do it. So obviously, like you can try to add, I would say, probably poorly done, automation and qualification in front of that agent, like obviously can lead to their never being a connection to that human being. And so obviously, in that case, like the agent is kind of irrelevant. If, if you you've put enough barriers to make it possible to reach them. But generally speaking, I think is if you're if you don't ask your chatters to jump through too many hoops and you don't throw a ton of like ai n LP in front of them before they can reach a real person and you make sure that they can actually get from that qualification process to a real person rather than like Oh yeah, actually, we're we never staff this thing. We'll get back to you later. You know, I think clear expectations for the visitor are are also incredibly important. So, like, if you are going to build like a fully offline experience, make it pretty clear to the person is using that experience that there...

...is no way they can actually communicate with someone using the school, because many, many vendors that are selling the no staffing solution to to chat. That's what they're selling. And like the process of going from, you know, the fic q m LP thing that they kind of throw up there to actually communicating with something is often like Oh, call this phone number or like send an email to this person with like passing along no context of the conversation that just occurred and so and I guess that's another piece of it. It's just make sure they agents have the full context one day when I start that chat. So like whenever OL ARC escalates over tween agent Asians, see everything that happened prior. If you know if you're using some qualification or some natural language processing before it got over the agent and make sure to pass it on and really great stuff. Leave us with some next steps. Advice for people who came in with baggage. They've heard stories at their institutions that, yeah, you know, we're not sure what the technology we're not sure how to integrate it. Maybe, maybe, but someday. They've gotten excited about the promise and the potential for live chat. Now how should they think about it? What should some next steps be? Well, if you want to have a conversation with someone who understands it, but, like I'm always happy to have those conversations, you can, you know, just go to old Ark Dot Com and, you know, reach out and schedule. You can chat with our team there directly. You can email me then, at old ARC DOT com. I'm always happy to take those emails and hop on it. I think if I was going to leave you with a couple of ideas. One it's it's quicker and easier to run a pilot than you probably think. It is. Like a lot of our a lot of our institutions can go live and, you know, a matter of weeks, which is, you know, especially if if you're if you're if you're not doing a ton of automation, you can go live in days, and so that's that's often useful for people. Right you can experiment on just one campaign, with just one development campaign. I think a lot of people have this baggage because they've seen it. You is poorly and I think it's important to recognize that. You know,...

...when we're talking about GEN Z and we're talking about trying to reach people where they are, reaching the people that are that are on your website, engaged with your product, with your institution, at the time that they're actually doing that, not like in between videos on Tiktok like you are like. That is the best time to be there and move someone through a process. So so think about I guess just don't look at chat like another channel that you're trying to add. Look at chat as a strategic tool that you can deploy in the funnel where you're trying to move a number around, and then let's think about a strategic way to use chat to move that number. Awesome, Ben, thanks so much for joining us today. Absolutely are Super Fun. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Keelix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Download it today for free at Helix Education Dot Com. Slash playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (264)