Is it Time to Disrupt your Higher Ed Call Center?

I recently received a letter from a major university. The letter stated that they needed some additional information and verification to process my application. The problem? I had not applied to any university, much less that specific university. The application and/or the letter was obviously fraudulent. The letter instructed me to send or call a toll-free number to share the required information and verification. I opted to call the toll-free number (believe it or not, fraudulent applications are a big problem for colleges and universities). What happened next may or may not surprise you.



Using a combination of the keypad on my smartphone and my voice responses, I was routed into a hold queue. I was informed my wait time would be 23 minutes. Awesome. 45 minutes later, I hung up. The letter let me know the call center was open from 9 AM to 6 PM, Monday through Friday.  Being this was Friday afternoon, I set a reminder to call them at 9 AM on Monday.

Monday morning, I played the IVR ACD CTI VRU-alphabet game again and got into the hold queue, where I was informed my hold time was one minute! Success! Two hours and twenty minutes later, I hung up. I looked up the main switchboard for the school and called that number. Within moments, I was connected to a human! Yes! She would be able to help me. Before I could speak, I was transferred to…you guessed it…the same number I had called previously.

Later in the day, I was discussing my experience with a colleague. He reminded me that it was Indigenous Peoples’ Day (formerly known as Columbus Day)…perhaps they were closed. Ugh! That made the experience even worse…there are no holidays in the digital world. This whole scenario was totally preventable!


The Customer Experience

My example is just one in a tsunami of bad customer experiences. At the core of digital transformation, at the core of the agile mindset, is the focus on the customer experience. A true bellwether of successful transformations is just that…a maniacal focus on providing the best (or improving) the customer experience. Clearly, some of our institutions of higher ed are failing in their transformation efforts. Let’s examine how this experience could have been different.

The letter I received assumed that my application was legitimate. Yet, the day before I received the letter, I received a phone call from another university’s fraud department. Their question was simple. Did I apply to attend classes? When I responded ‘no,’ they immediately flagged it as fraud and advised me to check my credit reports for other suspicious activity. Their systems analyzed the same data available to the first university and flagged it as possible fraud.

Even if their systems were not sophisticated enough to do this, they could take a page out of just about every SaaS provider’s playbook and add language similar to the emails we receive when we make changes to our account information. You know the ones. “A change was recently made to your account information. If you made the change, no further action is required. However, if you did not make the change, please call us immediately.” Then, provide a number to call (or a website to visit with a QR code) that goes directly to the proper department and is answered 24/7 (fraud and fraud detection are a priority, right?).


The Call

Let’s shift to the call experience. Modern contact center platforms based on artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and natural language processing (NLP) can make a significant difference in the customer’s experience.

Leveraging NLP for the use case I have been describing, I would not even need to speak to a live agent. Using the application ID from the letter I received, and some simple verification of who I was, I could have told the bot I did not apply to the school and to flag the application as fraud. The bot could have told me to contact the credit bureaus to check my credit report. Or, even better, the bot could have reported this activity to each of the three credit bureaus and triggered them to send me a copy of my report.


The Agent

By talking with the bot, the contact center software could also route the caller to the appropriate agent. The bot could prepare the agent for the conversation by bringing up all related data and presenting it to the agent in advance of their answering. In the rare case that the agent would need to transfer the caller, all data and call history would be transferred with the call to the new agent…and the agent would know it is a transfer call. The call routing software would give priority to a transferred call based on the amount of time the call had been active, the amount of hold time the caller had experienced, and the severity of the issue prompting their call.


Two sides of a coin

Next-generation contact center solutions can dramatically improve the customer experience. Leading institutions understand the customer experience can be the difference between market success and failure. They are measuring the cost of obtaining and the cost of customer churn. They realize the cost of a bad customer experience drives both of those even higher.

Despite this, one of the biggest roadblocks for companies wanting to implement these solutions has been costs. This is no longer the case. These solutions, including AI, ML, and NLP, are available in cloud-based solutions lowering the costs significantly.

The other side of the customer experience coin faces inward: the employee experience and engagement. In my next post, we will explore the impact the next-gen contact center solutions can have on your staff.