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Answering the Call for Innovation in Higher Education: Four Considerations for Transforming the University Contact Center

Feb 06, 2019, by Ben Fineman
Tags: Internet2 NET+, Recent Posts, Voice Over IP

In a student-focused world, text messages, chatbots, IMs and other multi-media interactions are changing expectations for university contact centers—increasing the need for an omnichannel solution that combines voice and data capabilities in a single, seamless interface. For many institutions, a cloud-based contact center is increasingly the answer, offering an improved user experience and other advantages compared to hardware-based, on-site contact centers.

The Cloud Contact Center: What it is and How it Works

Hosted in the cloud in secure data centers, a cloud contact center is an omnichannel hub that handles all in-bound and out-bound communications via voice, email, web chat, SMS, and social media. Colleges and universities often choose to modernize their call centers with a cloud solution due to the increasing use of these digital communications channels. Unlike on-site call centers, cloud-based contact centers simplify agent responsibilities, provide seamless integration and interoperability, require no upfront capital investment and provide state-of-the-art capabilities without the need for ongoing upgrades.

Now more than ever, contact centers are designed for students and families immersed in a technology-rich environment—with the omnichannel experience becoming the norm. Remaining technologically current and anticipating the expectations of today’s tech-savvy user population can boost institutional reputation. According to the 2018 Students and Technology Research Study published by EDUCAUSE (ECAR), “students’ overall experiences at their institution, not just the classroom experience or completion rates, are now part of ensuring student success.” 

Transforming the institution’s contact center into a modern student experience center requires a number of considerations before selecting a platform and a provider. 

The Internet2 NET+ SIP Service

Through Internet2 NET+, members  and cloud service providers drive secure, easily deployed and integrated commercial cloud applications that help maximize efficiencies and minimize the business and legal challenges, financial costs, and technology risks of using cloud-based solutions.

Mitel Clearspan is the hosted voice platform within the NET+ SIP Service—governed by an advisory board who keeps their finger on the pulse of the service and provider relationship. The dedicated Mitel Clearspan deployment for the research and education community utilizes a powerful processing architecture capable of serving over 100,000 users without sacrificing ease of management or reliability—with key customizations for the needs of universities and other high-demand institutions, and deployment directly on the Internet2Network.

Cost
For most colleges and universities, cost is a significant factor in the selection of a contact center platform and provider. An on-site contact center requires upfront costs for hardware, licenses, and housing servers onsite. It also requires on-site installations every 5-10 years for aging hardware, and repairs and updates are needed. A cloud contact center, on the other hand, does not require a large upfront hardware or infrastructure investment. A strong internet connection with sufficient bandwidth to support multiple voice and data channels is the only requirement, equipment costs are minimal and installation burdens are eliminated. And, typically, a monthly subscription fee is the only ongoing cost.

Deployment
College and university communities typically include thousands of users who depend on a communication system for prompt and reliable connections on a daily basis. Any disruption to that routine—especially a prolonged one—could have negative and long-lasting impacts that few institutions can afford. A cloud-based university contact center offers accelerated deployment. Its relative lack of infrastructure permits faster implementation with virtually no on-site IT staff support, typically deploying in hours rather than weeks. While any transition from an on-site contact center to a cloud-based solution may result in a temporary and minor disruption to call and data services, the extent and duration can be minimized by choosing a provider with a proven track record and clearly defined transition processes.

Continuity 
When disaster hits a university community, there is often little time to react. But extreme weather events and other crisis situations do occur, making it imperative to keep your campus environment and contact center up and running and lines of communication among students, faculty and families intact. A cloud-based contact center typically offers stronger disaster recovery functions than on-site solutions. When outages occur, on-site solutions can be compromised or disabled, and both internal and external communications are negatively impacted, often for prolonged periods. However, cloud solutions enable continuous operational functionality and high availability, allowing users to continue to connect and communicate through a variety of business, home and mobile devices.

Scalability
Colleges and universities are especially prone to change, either seasonally or annually. User demand for contact centers can fluctuate based on the academic calendar or the addition or subtraction of satellite campuses and can have significant impacts on contact center volume and staffing requirements. Unlike onsite contact centers, the built-in flexibility and on-demand nature of a cloud contact center offers options to scale the system up or down depending on user demand. With a hosted cloud contact center, new multi-campus locations, users and services can be added as needed, ensuring that the system capabilities mirror the institution’s evolving needs, while paying for only the features and capacity that are needed.