24 September 2014
Are UK Universities Accommodating Enough?
Are UK Universities Accommodating Enough? Call the pun police and throw us in the pun-itentiary, this month we’re discussing the importance of supplying the tools and environment so that your accommodations team can thrive. Even the most experienced builder will struggle if their toolbox is full of blunt instruments.
It’s nearing the end of September and, bar the occasional room-transfer request, your accommodations team should be grateful to see the back of June, July and August. Now is the time to reflect on lessons learnt and challenges to come. How well did the accommodations application process go this year and how can the team ensure a smooth collection of the first instalment of rent?
With universities handling hundreds of housing-related enquiries, the paper and pen approach has never been as redundant as it is today. To make matters worse, the education sector is highly competitive with a very Darwinian – survival of the fittest – essence. So the next question is: How does the accommodations team survive?
Tools of Survival
Time is money, ergo something that takes longer costs more money. It’s a sad truth that universities need to squeeze the most out of all their resources; the accommodations team is not exempt from this rule. We already discussed the most common housing-related questions in Unsung Heroes of the Academic Calendar: July, 2014 and how these can eat up the valuable time of your team, but we didn’t really offer you a solution.
It’s all about finding the right tools to optimise existing resources and scale back without losing productivity
If one Accommodations Officer could handle 3-4 phone calls simultaneously they would effectively treble or quadruple their value and their contribution to the university. Now imagine that these calls all result in a finite conclusion for those students because all questions and concerns were handled during that session. It was even possible for that team member to send across a pamphlet on your accommodation and have the student ask further questions with the information in hand. This would be the perfect situation.
The good ol’ fashioned phone is certainly great for creating a pleasant accommodation-booking experience, but it isn’t close to this dream situation. Despite many spirited attempts, it’s still impossible for your accommodations team to hold more than one phone conversation at a time. If students ask for a pamphlet, you have to email it to them and hope they don’t need to call again. Returning enquirers can singlehandedly leech the productivity from your accommodations team.
Face-to-face is even worse in terms of time-consumption
It’s considered rude to multitask while in a conversation and a lot of time is lost making small talk to ‘settle in’. Unless you plan on handing over a tablet to every single person, you also need to print off a hard copy of that pamphlet.
Emails do a little bit, a lot better in fact. You can send across files, draft up multiple emails at the same time and get a thread going. However, the email thread going back and forth can get broken so that you end up with duplicate records of correspondence, causing email to fall short of being the perfect tool. Another big hurdle is the delay in email communication; it can take days to get a reply and weeks to complete a conversation.
This means there is an onus on the accommodations team to manage their inbox properly and a high risk of students becoming dissatisfied because of late replies (or no reply at all). Expecting your team to manage their own workload in this kind of setup can also be very stressful; generally lowering moral and the energy of the office.
Let’s go back and compare webchat software to our perfect scenario.
Q.) Could your Accommodations Officer handle multiple engagements simultaneously?
A.) Yes, they would soon grow proficient to handle 3, 4 or even more.
Q.) Could you share a digital pamphlet?
A.) Yes, like email you can share any attachment of reasonable size. But, unlike email, you won’t accidentally hit send before adding it.
Q.) Could all enquiries be resolved on first contact?
A.) Our experience shows the majority are. First contact resolution is much higher compared to email and phone. This is why:
Live Chat on website is the simplest format for establishing the nature of enquiries before they reach your accommodations team. This means you save time establishing what their problem is and who they need to talk to, which in turn means they should have all their questions answered in the first instance. Even if the student initiates a chat with the wrong department you can invite colleagues into the dialogue or transfer the entire conversation to the relevant expert. Web chat software has the potential to create the perfect situation.
Coming back full circle to start of this blog; the tools of the accommodations office need to create an environment that optimises resources by maximising productivity – it’s about resource management.
Head of Accommodations from universities across the UK should be scrutinising their team’s performance over the last 3 months to make sure that they are making the most of their time. As non-profit organisations, performance management is absolutely vital to universities. Most reviews will involve a simple yet arduous process of accounting for each student’s housing status; how many students received their first choice accommodation, how many students missed out, who is moving on/off campus and what were the most common questions are just some of the things an accommodations team needs to be tracking.
Web chat software can simplify and enrich performance monitoring. Where the results of a phone conversation are hard to categorise and need to be manually recorded, live chat categorisation is done in real time. Email presents a strategic nightmare for getting feedback but live chats can be followed-up with a customised questionnaire on the performance of that specific Accommodations Officer. This information can then be used to monitor the productivity of the team and identify room for improvement in the accommodations process in general.
Our University Coordinator is currently showing accommodations teams all across the UK how to manage repetitive questions, increase first-contact resolution and monitor engagement productivity using web chat software. The University of Liverpool, Southampton Solent University and Glyndwr University are just some of the institutions making life easier with Click4Assistance software.