Chatty Cathy

Technology has given us devices that can answer your doorbell, change the thermostat settings, call a cab, and make dinner reservations by voice command. Technology also offers limitless ways to get information.

College students these days were the first babies that we saw in 3D ultrasounds. It is no surprise they were surrounded by tech in utero, and can run circles around any type of smart phone, tablet, or laptop. Students use technology in every aspect of daily life, and those expectations stretch into the colleges they attend.

I’m sure you have seen chat options available on more and more sites these days. Maybe you’ve tried it, or maybe not. Either way, it’s obvious that the growth of chat is on the rise. Chat features started in the 1970s. It is expected to grow as much as 87% over the next 12-18 months. 30% of customers today expect live chat on your website.

Emails and faxes are now viewed as archaic, slow, and clumsy. Texting and Twitter are the most popular choices of communication with millennials. 78% of 18-24 year olds use Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter daily. These are considered faster pace applications than Facebook which is most popular with Gen X and Baby Boomers. There are over 100 million Amazon Prime members… and their average age is 37.8 years old.

So where does that leave chat features? Interestingly enough chat is used across all age groups from millennials, Gen Y, Gen X, and on to baby boomers. If you are not utilizing chat as a tool to communicate with students and their parents, you are missing out.

Students are choosing colleges that are tech savvy. They want apps, texts, and easy communication. Their parents want a balance of human interaction and tech.

According to one study 77% of people shopping online want to make contact with a real person before making a purchase or decision. Over half of them said that no interaction resulted in them not buying anything or moving forward.

Chat has proven to reduce expenses for companies due to lower interaction costs. It gives your institution an edge over the competition, and taps directly into the pain points of your students. Given a short amount of time this information can help you improve your student’s overall experience.

Why do users choose chat?
Chatting allows you to ask a question with the minimum amount of effort.

  • Why not call? Have you tried to find a phone number on a website lately? They buried it like treasure! Find the number, dial the phone, push the right buttons on the menu, wait on hold (while listening to horrible music, sales pitches, and multiple messages that always tell me how convenient it is to get information online), and hope someone will actually know the answer to your question.

Did you know that more than half of customers reported they would rather chat in real time online than call someone?

  • Why not email? Ok, find the email address. Write email. Send email. Get an auto response they have my email. Wait for reply and hope it is correct. If not, repeat these steps.

  • Why not go speak with someone face to face? Often this is not an option, especially for an online student. In the land of quick answers, this option usually falls flat.

What do users want from chat?
Users who engage in chat are looking for answers, and they want those answers FAST. It’s really that simple. Getting there is the hard part.

How do you make chat successful?
Most chat software has the same bells and whistles. How you choose to utilize it is what makes or breaks it. Preplanning is an absolute must.

  • Location, Location, Location: where you choose to plant your chat windows is extremely important. Put the right people in the right places to help the target audience.
    o For example: Have FA Staff available in the existing student portals. Enrollment Advisors could be available on pages in your website that are targeted to potential students.

  • Be aware of your audience’s needs: You already get calls and emails from students and parents. What are they asking you? What do they struggle with? If you don’t know what they need you will not be successful in helping them.

  • Use those bells and whistles: Users want a fast response. Chat software is designed to get a response quickly to your target audience by allowing you to profile complete responses to a user with one click.

  • Set your style: What tone do you want to set through chat? Think about your target audience and how to relate to them while keeping in line with the mission statement of your institution.

  • Don’t be Creepy: Some users will shy away from an aggressive chat campaign. Scheduling windows to pop up too frequently could scare away a potential student faster than a car salesman approaching in the used car lot. Know your audience.

  • Know your Stuff: The end game is the knowledge (or access to knowledge) your employee has to assist and solve the concern.

If you have not added chat to your arsenal of communication tools I highly recommend it. It’s always nice to know there is a person right there to help you!