With the recent FDA approvals for COVID-19 vaccines, and plans to swiftly distribute the doses, many people are looking positively towards the future, envisioning what life will look like post-pandemic. With stay-at-home and social distancing orders changing how we lived in 2020, the new year is offering hope for a safe return to normal.
One benefit to the pandemic that has been largely discussed, however, is innovation. From creating remote work environments to building a vaccine in a matter of months, the innovation that the pandemic necessitated is something that will hopefully continue after we’ve returned to normal.
For higher education institutions, there have been some excellent innovations implemented to help with remote access to learning and student services. And as the vaccine distribution begins, schools have to decide how to continue. Although in-person learning helps schools financially by ensuring higher enrollment rates, improving remote learning can help encourage international students to enroll. Higher education institutions need to understand that the way they approach education and customer service will forever be altered.
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How Higher Education Has Changed During COVID
Over the past year, students and staff have become accustomed to virtual classes. Even after the pandemic, there will likely be growing interest in alternative options for education. Virtual classes reduce commute times and allow students to live further away from their colleges, saving them money on transportation and housing.
Much like how remote work is taking off around the world, post-COVID education may see an increased demand in remote learning options. Many schools currently host online classes, but post-pandemic, they may need to increase the number of classes and courses that are offered online, including offering virtual final exams.
In the same way, professors may see the benefits to both teaching or hosting office hours online. Virtual video conferencing queues can be implemented to help facilitate office hours and meetings with professors. During busier times, such as exam season, students who are looking for help can join a virtual queue. They’ll receive updates on their place in line and, when their professor is available to help them, they’ll be able to join a video conference to get the information and help they desire—all from a distance.
Another aspect to consider is how to effectively serve students. From academic advising to financial services, higher education is full of moments where students are forced to line up or wait in crowded lobbies to get served. Post-pandemic, students may be hesitant to wait in crowded spaces, even when social distancing guidelines are dropped. In the long term, this will require reimagining physical spaces, but in the short term, schools can turn to technology solutions.
By implementing a virtual line management system, students can join the waiting line virtually from an app on their phone, allowing them to wait in their car, dorm or anywhere that allows them to remain safe and socially distant. The app will inform them of their place in line, approximate wait time and when someone is available to serve them.
This eliminates crowded waiting rooms, which can help ease anxiety and improve the health of staff and students. Line management solutions also help to provide a better customer service experience by allowing students the freedom to attend classes or grab a coffee instead of wasting time waiting in lines.
[Related: The Role of Technology in Post-COVID Spaces]
Online Solutions for Higher Ed
Virtual appointments and call centers can even be implemented to move the entire student services experience online, taking the place of queue management systems. Although many schools utilized these systems throughout the pandemic, reimagining them for the long term means that schools need to consider the call center customer experience.
Call center queues can be improved in a similar way as in-person queues by implementing customer service technology. This technology can allow students to enter “call-back queues” to get served instead of having to wait on hold. After entering the call-back queue, they’ll receive text updates about their place in line and the wait time.
During periods of increased uncertainty—near fall and winter enrollment dates, student loan due dates or bursary deadlines—call center requests will increase. Call center technology is pivotal during these times, as it helps staff serve students more efficiently.
An unforeseen benefit to the pandemic is that industries have been forced to challenge the status quo. In higher education, there was an extremely limited timeline to adapt to the pandemic. This forced colleges to experiment with new technological solutions. In many cases, these technologies proved to be extremely beneficial, creating a better customer experience and allowing for more options to meet students’ needs.
Although the post-pandemic future remains uncertain, there is no doubt that technology will be pivotal for universities looking to take the next step—and for helping them transition to new expectations.
Read next: How COVID-19 is Changing Future Workplaces
About the Author:
Kevin Grauman is the CEO of QLess.