Enhancing Higher Education Through Video Collaboration

NEC Collaboration SolutionsThe integration of Web technology and collaboration solutions into higher education has become a popular trend within the University community. With the evolution of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consistent development of mobile technology, video collaboration, too, has become highly mobile. No longer does it require highly equipped teleconferencing suites with banks of equipment. Thanks to the advent of mobile technology, learners and instructors can videoconference with the click of a button on their smartphones, tablets, laptops or other mobile devices, no matter the location. This sharing and exchange of information is particularly beneficial in a higher education setting. With audio, video and web collaboration solutions, interruptions in class schedules for unforeseen circumstances such as weather or emergency school closings are a thing of the past.

 

§  Real-Time vs. Pre-recorded video options-With real-time (synchronous) and pre-recorded (asynchronous) options, administrators and educators have the tools they need to effectively collaborate within the community in the method of their choosing that they deem best for a particular student group. For example, pre-recorded messages may work best for a group of students who learn better in a self-paced educational setting.

 

§  Customized collaboration options- Many solutions offer features which have the ability to facilitate an experience just like being in a “real” classroom. An example is white-board collaboration, where the meeting facilitator can draw or write on the white board during presentation. Another beneficial feature of collaboration solutions is the ability to upload files for download. With this feature, faculty members have a place to house important class documents, and students can in turn access and save files they need without the need for the facilitator to print them, resulting in a decrease in printing and supply costs for the University.

 

§  Cloud Service utilization- Perhaps the most widely used example of cloud services is the provision of e-mail. Additionally, many colleges and universities also use tools such as YouTube and wikis to circulate information. Blogs may be used for remote communication within private groups such as a research team. Both stationary and mobile devices come in a variety of platform flavors, yet users of all types are able to meet in virtual video space. Regardless of the method, each of these tools facilitates collaboration and can enhance the learning environment and student experience.

 

§  Security- With file sharing comes obvious security concerns and questions, as data security can be compromised in the case where one or more universities may share a data center, or contract for services through a commercial provider. And while collaboration solution applications may not come without a level of risk, these concerns are easily addressed. Your individual situation will determine your methods of protection and whether you yield the greatest value in securing the devices where data is housed, or securing the data itself. Additionally, many solutions are equipped with the latest in security, from requiring unique PIN ID codes for meeting participants, to protecting the information shared within a meeting so it is only seen by those invited attendees. This reduces the need for external security applications at an additional cost to the University.

 

The benefits of collaboration within higher education extend to those within the higher education community as well as the information and communications technology (ICT) community. Many opportunities lie ahead for more extensive collaboration approaches. The collaboration opportunity for the two affords an invaluable exchange of knowledge and experience which can, in turn, be used to create additional infrastructures. Download the document to see how NEC’s Collaboration solutions are changing the way information is being exchanged while improving teamwork and reducing cost.

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10 Key Capabilities of Contact Centers in Higher Education

nec-contact-center-higher-education-part2Long hold times and staff inefficiency are just a few flaws that can affect customer service and experience. In our last post we highlighted the first five of ten ways you can put your contact center to work for you by using it to enhance your campus. Keep reading as we reveal 6-10.

6. Agent Assignment Flexibility and Statistics

When your contact center has flexible agent assignment capability, the administrative offices can increase or decrease staff available to take calls during peak activity times. There are two methods to accomplish this objective: process and technology.

With the process method, any individual who takes calls is established as an “agent”. At normal times, only those whose primary job function includes answering incoming queries log in to the contact center application. As call volume increases, additional personnel can log in to take calls and relieve any backlog, and log off when the call volume decreases. A unified communications (UC) enabled desktop application for agents simplifies this process by allowing agents to easily view the information that they need through a desktop client.

With the technology solution, again, any individual who takes calls is established as an “agent”. The contact center application is programmed to send calls to back-up personnel only when certain thresholds are met – the number of waiting callers or the longest time any caller has currently waited. The benefit of this technology solution is that it tends to respond more quickly and reliably to spikes in the call volume.

7. Auto Attendant and Campus Directory

The Auto Attendant provides call routing capabilities for the campus. You may recognize this feature as the familiar situation where the caller hears a greeting message and is given up to ten options to begin directing the call – for example, “For Administrative Offices, press 1, Health Center press 2, etc.” Auto Attendant options can be processed several ways: play an automated message, transfer to an extension number or contact center, or further qualify with additional prompts.

You can implement an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system to produce messages that provide answers to common questions. When you do this, it takes the load off of staff, giving them more time to provide assistance to other callers.

8. Mobile and Remote Representatives

You can easily allow your campus representatives to become mobile by merging your contact center technology with wireless technology. Doing so improves efficiency and means that help desk staffers can be reached while providing in-person computer repair, and bookstore personnel can walk around the store to check stock on an item. The “Remote Agent” capability allows staff to be reached even when out of the office. This is an ideal way to provide flexibility to your staffand assure that critical help lines remain open regardless of any campus closure.

9. Outbound: Preview and Power Dialing

Outbound contact center capabilities can improve the accuracy and effectiveness of a fund raising campaign. When the dialing process is automated, time spent on wrong numbers is significantly reduced. You can go a step further and integrate with a database of historical donations, thereby streamlining the information gathering process so solicitation can begin immediately.

Once a campus representative becomes available for the next call, preview dialing enables that individual to preview the information regarding the next call prior to the placement of that call. With the press of a button, the system dials the call. Power dialing is similar, but automatically dials the next call when the representative becomes available, while simultaneously displaying the preview information.

10. Self-Service Applications (IVR and Web)
You can further enhance your contact center efficiency by transferring tasks to self-service applications enabled to work over IVR or web interface. Good candidates for self service are those which integrate a user interface with data in various campus databases, for example, student and personnel records, library services, etc. Self-service applications allow users to access and work with distributed content from a single interface.

A few self service opportunities on a campus include:

  • admissions and registration processing and status
  • health and medical database information
  • order status for recent purchases
  • password reset
  • time sheets and time tracking
  • benefits administration

You can rest assured that security concerns are addressed by establishing the strongest possible authentication and identity management measures. Single sign-on and identity management applications enable the user to login to multiple locations through a single login manager with a single unique password.
When evaluating applications for potential self-service implementation, the campus should evaluate not just the cost savings but also the improvement in customer service by enabling users to have access at their convenience.

Check out our previous post where we listed the first five ways a contact center can help improve your campus, and, to learn more about the benefits your campus can reap with a UC enabled contact center, download the white paper.

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10 Key Capabilities of Contact Centers in Higher Education

nec-contact-center-higher-education-part1We’ve all been that frustrated caller on hold waiting to speak to a “real” person who can address our concerns. While waiting, you’ve probably thought of all the ways your experience could be improved if they would just answer the one or two quick questions you wish to ask. While you can’t get any of your time back, the good news is, there are several contact center features that can minimize your customer’s frustration, and, as a result enhance their experience. It’s no secret that a consolidated,centralized contact center can increase staff efficiency, but how is this increased efficiency accomplished? The following list highlights the first five of ten ways contact centers enhance institutions of higher learning.

1. Contact Routing for Multimedia Contacts

Multimedia contact centers enable students, prospective students and other customers to interact with campus offices however they please – whether by phone, e-mail or Web chat. Regardless of the medium they choose, call routing ensures each student receives the priority attention they deserve.

For example, many campuses may sell tickets to campus events over the Internet. Potential customers include not only students, faculty and staff, but members of the community as well. If your campus contact center offers customers an extra opportunity to have their questions answered by offering a web chat capability, you can very well decrease the number of abandoned shopping carts, while increasing the number of completed sales and simultaneously providing opportunities for personnel in the ticket office to better serve customers.

For offices taking calls from existing students, faculty and staff, contacts can be routed based on campus identification (ID) numbers. This number enables the call to be routed, along with caller information from a stored database, to the most appropriate representative. For prospective students or other callers, the Automatic Number Identification (ANI – typically the caller’s phone number) can be used to route or set a priority to the call.

2. Response Library and E-mail Auto-Response

A knowledge-based library houses responses to frequently asked questions (FAQ). Use of these pre-defined entries can simplify the representative’s job and significantly speed the process of creating responses.

One useful element to store in the knowledge library is a response to be automatically delivered to the sender of a message to give them an idea of when their inquiry may receive attention. When an e-mail is received, the multimedia application should automatically reply with a message acknowledging receipt and committing to a personalized response in a specified timeframe. In doing this, the campus has a much greater opportunity to meet expectations – and met expectations translate into customer satisfaction.

3. Screen Pop

When a caller can be identified by either campus ID or phone number, database information for that caller can be presented in a pop-up window to the representative at the time the call is received. This feature is known as “screen pop” and eliminates the time required for a representative to collect key information from the caller, resulting in increased productivity and improved accuracy.

4. Queue Announcements

At a time of high call volume (which is typical in contact centers), it is inevitable that some callers will wind up in queue waiting to speak to a campus representative. However, implementing queue announcements can discourage callers from hanging up by offering other contact options and providing useful information.
Did you know that a caller in queue is using campus resources – ports in the communications infrastructure, IVR resources, and potentially long distance resources? If this caller becomes frustrated with the wait, hangs up and calls back later, then the campus pays for twice as many resources for that one caller. This costly situation can be avoided by providing information to set the expectation for the caller, making them much less likely to “abandon” their call while waiting in queue. In either case, resources are not wasted since the campus only pays for the caller to wait in queue one time.

5. Callback

Callback can help improve caller satisfaction. In addition, callbacks decrease indirect costs and direct costs. Indirect costs are associated with the ports required to keep calls in queue. Direct costs are reduced as the campus does not incur toll charges for the time the call remains in queue awaiting an answer. The callback capability offers to return the call when an agent becomes available, thus preserving the caller’s place in the queue. The result – reduced resources required to support the call on hold. Additionally, callers can be offered a return call at the time when their call would normally have been answered, or they are offered the opportunity to request a callback at a specific time.

Whether you’re looking to increase productivity and efficiency, enhance student experience, or make a financial impact, your campus or university may have much to gain from a successfully implemented contact center. We’ve just scratched the surface on the benefits you can reap, to learn more, check back for 6-10 and download the White Paper.

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The Impact of Contact Centers in Higher Education: Administration & Student Services

nec-higher-education-contact-centerTraditional contact centers: you know, the ones where rows of agents wearing headsets process large volumes of calls? While they’re extremely functional in certain venues, they do not have much of a place in Higher Education. Higher Education is a channel where contact center technology should be used to improve the student experience, streamline administrative processes, increase sales for bookstores and ticket offices, support fund raising campaigns, and enhance the college or university as a whole. To accomplish these goals, contact centers in higher education have a unique profile that influences both practices and communications architecture.

Collegiate contact centers are “casual” or “informal”, meaning they are typically made up of small groups staffed by representatives for whom answering the phone is not their primary job function. For example, these staffers must be enabled to work on projects, attend meetings and carry out other duties that will require them to be away from their desk and, therefore, their phone. Administrative, auxiliary and academic offices around the campus all experience fluctuations in demand for services in relation to the time of year and the progress in the current semester. Contact center technology in a campus or university setting can accomplish unique objectives for the various types of departments as well as accommodate temporary expansions that occur as a result of fluctuations in volume. Contact center opportunities exist in a number of administrative offices; let’s first take a look at how Administration and Student Services are impacted.

As a new semester begins, administrative offices can be overwhelmed by phone calls from students trying to make schedule adjustments, complete financial aid requirements or settle into a residence hall. These offices don’t have the man power to handle the high call volume that results. Ultimately, this means inconvenient back-ups, callers waiting on hold for long periods of time, and growing frustrations. In addition, it takes more time and resources to handle callers during periods of long wait times. Callers are likely to get frustrated, hang up, and call again at a later time. This ties up communications resources twice – once for each call. If the contact center is able to assist the caller the first time, it not only improves customer service, it increases cost effectiveness. Additionally, a beneficial feature of contact centers is the ability to utilize queue announcements which can be used to encourage callers to continue to wait – including providing an estimated wait time or the number of callers currently ahead in the queue.

While adding more staff on a whim is likely the desirable option, it is not typically the most feasible. To accommodate this, there are several contact center technologies available that allow campus departments to respond to the demand of their resources:

 

  • UC-enabled desktop applications allow others to login as an agent and help out as needed. For example, administrative and advising staff can login when call volume is high and view the availability/presence of other co-workers to transfer calls as needed or conference someone in with just a click of a button.
  • Multilevel/multilingual auto-attendant allows you to build a script where the campus can provide answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) or redirect callers to the university Web site to find the information they’re seeking. This can help to decrease the overall call volume that reaches the administrative staff.
  • Applications that deliver phone calls, e-mail and Web chats. Simply hire temporary student workers to help process calls during times of heavy volume. The training is quick and easy, and once trained, these students can provide basic information and execute simple requests so experienced staffers can handle the more complex issues and calls.
  • On each phone or desktop, a display can inform the individual of the number of calls waiting and the time that the longest call has currently waited. This information notifies other department members that the call volume is increasing and enables them to login and take calls until the volume starts to subside again. Where departments can collaborate, the contact center application can be designed to deliver calls to an alternate department in the case of extreme call volumes. This enables a department or group that is potentially less busy at a given moment to help take care of the callers waiting for assistance.

Campus administrative offices are the “face of the campus” for currently enrolled students as well as prospective students, parents and visitors – all of whom represent potential customers, so to speak. As a result, how calls are handled will directly impact the experience of a current student as well as influence the decisions of prospective students. Both groups represent potential revenue to the campus, so there is little to no room for error or inefficiency. For example, the goodwill of the existing student may eventually influence future monetary donations, and the decision of the prospective student will determine whether their tuition dollars help fund this institution. It’s an ongoing cycle, and, therefore customer service is directly related to “the bottom line”. Download the white paper below to learn more about how the advanced technology of contact centers can improve the “bottom line” in your institute of higher learning.

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Top 5 Non-Emergency Uses For Mass Notification

nec-mass-notificationWhat do you do when you need to deliver time-sensitive information to hundreds, or even thousands of people? Do you have a mass notification system in place to help get the word out quickly and efficiently? There are times when alerts sent to the general population of a hospital, school or business are not only helpful, but necessary. In a hospital setting, implementing a mass notification system extends beyond emergencies – doctors, nurses and administrative staff can also be alerted of shift changes or increased availability. This can be accomplished with little to no effort when a mass notification system is in place. With the systems that are available today, the same message can be broadcast to literally thousands of people. For those messages that need to be dispersed quickly, mass communication sent to personal devices is becoming very popular. Within minutes, an important alert can be sent in a timely fashion to everyone who is affected by the content of the message.
Mass Communication Alerts

Historically, the reason for a mass communication has been emergency related. Mass communication alerts have typically been sent for extreme weather bulletins or when there is a dangerous situation taking place at a specific location, such as a particular building on a campus or business site. While mass notification systems incorporate a variety of response mechanisms to allow educational institutions to improve their communications in the event of an emergency, the systems can also be used to improve the business process of hospitals as well as major corporations.

Now that alerts have become broader in scope, it is becoming more common to see alerts about:

  1. Event Notification: to alert of upcoming, canceled, or even impromptu events
  2. Attendance alerts: in an educational setting, this can alert parents and guardians when a student is tardy or absent.
  3. News Updates: about a particular item that affects the group.
  4. Building Closure: for maintenance reasons or an outage of electricity.
  5. Ad-hoc meetings: when it is necessary to gather a group of individuals

There are multiple methods of communicating messages, from text messages and e-mail alerts to delivering a voice message. Read on to determine the differences and assess for yourself which would be most successful within your organization.

How are messages delivered?

Most systems offer features which allow you to call recipients and leave a pre-recorded message. Seems simple, but on one hand, when a call is received from an unknown phone number, it is often ignored or sent to voice mail. Thus, defeating the whole purpose of the mass notification, as the event may have already taken place once the recipient retrieves the voice mail.  In response to this, some systems have taken steps to alleviate this problem and skip calls altogether and send a text message. This approach could prove more successful, since research shows that when a text is received, it is often checked sooner than a voice mail even from a known caller. It is quicker to check when the phone signal is weak and the receiver can still get the full text message. The New York Times references data from uReach Technologies, who operates the voice messaging systems of a leading wireless provider. The data states that over30 percent of voice messages go unheard for a minimum of three days. But what about wireless subscribers who do not use or even have the ability to send or receive text messages?
This is where multi-modal systems come in and prove to be most effective. Leading manufacturers now offer multi-modal systems, which allow you to use multiple delivery methods to communicate your message. Whether you want to send a voice call, e-mail or text, these multi-modal systems can handle it all. Some systems have the ability to know when a voicemail system answers and can leave a message but also continue to contact other devices simultaneously, avoiding any downtime in getting the word out. Are you the information officer for a large school district and wondering how you will know if students, faculty and parents received your message? Or maybe you work in a hospital setting and you’re experience a staff shortage so you need to alert team members who are not currently in the hospital. How will you know if they’ve received word that they’re needed? Problem solved – when you select a mass notification system that offers full reporting capabilities so you can always keep track of who received your message.
Deploying: Premise-based vs. hosted 
If cost is your major concern, then a premise-based system will prove to be more cost-effective than hosted with delivering mass notification alerts. Emergency notification lends itself to utilizing larger numbers of lines and shared equipment to get critical information out to big groups as rapidly as possible, and in those cases hosted solutions may be ideal.  For ongoing, less time-sensitive communications however, a small investment in technology can lead to large returns in stakeholder experience and loyalty.  By using trunks and lines that are already paid for, in most cases there will be no additional operational expenditure to send these messages. Regardless of your preferred method, it is necessary to take the steps to implement a mass communications system, as early warning is critical since most people in these environments cannot be mobilized easily.