Contact Center Solutions Case Study
Top Community College Helps Manage Soaring Enrollment with Contact Center Solution (Cont'd)
Student satisfaction is very important, and with our record enrollment numbers it's a challenge to keep everybody happy."
Crystal Brodis, Director, Information Center, Cuyahoga Community College
About Tri-C (Cuyahoga Community College)
Tri-C (Cuyahoga Community College) Facts
Cost-efficient way to manage the needs of a growing student population at multiple campuses
Contact Management Solution lets students get assistance quickly, even during peak times
Outstanding customer service, increased student satisfaction and improved ability to measure effectiveness
Over 55,000 students; annual revenues approaching $280 million
Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) opened in 1963 as Ohio's first community college and remains the state’s largest. Since then it has provided affordable education to more than 800,000 students; tuition at Tri-C is among the lowest of all colleges in Ohio. Tri-C's three regional campuses and two corporate college locations feature state of the art facilities and equipment. The college ranks first in Ohio and 45th in the nation in conferring associate degrees in all disciplines. Its students comprise a wide range of ages, education levels and ethnic groups and many are the first generation in their families to attend college. Fully 64 percent are women and 38 percent are members of minority groups, including a sizable number of Hispanic students.
Tri-C’s focus on its mission to provide quality education has resulted in half a century of steady growth with record-breaking enrollments the past two years. Managing the needs of the recent influx of students stressed the college’s information center as agents struggled to handle record numbers of calls for help with financial aid, scheduling and other issues. Tri-C wanted to ensure good customer service for all students, track the number and nature of calls and measure the time it took to meet each caller’s needs.
AT&T recommended, designed and implemented an Integrated Contact Center technology solution using Cisco equipment, which enabled Tri-C to improve services provided to students. The cost-effective solution links the college’s remote local area networks to support intelligent call routing and management capabilities, giving Tri-C the bandwidth to satisfy its student population today as well as accommodate future growth.
A Keen Understanding of Community Needs
In the face of a nationwide economic downturn and Ohio unemployment rates higher than the national average, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Community College has experienced years of record enrollments. Thanks to a profound understanding of its community, the college is well positioned to assist students who want to improve their professional skills or learn new ones to take advantage of different job opportunities and careers.
The solution will grow with us to help us maintain a good level of customer service."
Crystal Brodis, Director, Information Center, Cuyahoga Community College
“Tri-C really has something to offer everybody,” said Crystal Brodis, Director of the Cuyahoga Community College Information Center. “Our administration does a great job of being in tune with the community and business leaders to make sure that we’re running the right programs to educate students for the jobs that are available.”
The college recently added a number of new programs and buildings, including creative arts and hospitality management centers. It plans to open a health and technology career center, a college center in a neighboring county and a workforce training center to offer emerging technology and energy education programs. The expansion is necessary because of the breadth of the college’s curriculum. Each semester Tri-C offers more than 1,000 credit courses in 140 career, technical and liberal arts programs. It serves more than 55,000 students a year in traditional classrooms, on TV, over the Internet and through independent learning programs.
Managing the needs of thousands of students and offering courses at more than 130 locations require not only a strong commitment from college staff, but also a robust infrastructure that enables them to assist students with admissions, financial aid and other aspects of student life.
Doing More with Less
The increasing enrollment – the college has 4,500 more students than a year ago – has created logistical problems. “We are expected to service a lot more students without any new resources,” Brodis said. “Student satisfaction is very important, and with our record enrollment numbers it's a challenge to keep everybody happy.”
In addition, student expectations have changed dramatically, in part because of technology. “We have experienced a huge increase in the number of students taking classes online and we have begun offering a number of hybrid courses, with in-class meetings and online work,” she said. “We have to make resources available online and during non-traditional hours.”
Students can use the college’s website to apply and register, schedule their classes, apply for financial aid and pay tuition. Most have embraced the technology; 89 percent of Tri-C students registered online this year. “When we see the increased foot traffic on campus we can only imagine what it would have been like if they all had to come in to register at the counter,” Brodis said.
Despite the popularity of its online applications, college officials understand that change does not happen quickly. Students who had trouble with online processes sometimes found it difficult to get help quickly when they called the college. To assist them, Tri-C established a temporary call center solution, but soon found that it lacked many of the features the college desired, such as the ability to track the number of calls, how long each caller was on hold and how many transfers were required to answer the caller’s questions.
Members of the college’s IT department, which had a long relationship with AT&T, began discussing how Tri-C could use the networking expertise from AT&T to further improve customer service.
A Smart Solution
AT&T designed and deployed an Integrated Contact Center technology solution using Cisco equipment that delivers intelligent contact routing, network-to-desktop computer telephony integration and multichannel contact management over an IP network. The AT&T network links the college’s remote local area networks to support the solution, making it much easier for callers to reach someone who can quickly answer their questions. Calls are distributed based on touch-tone or natural language responses to prompts and routed to the agent best able to handle them. On an average day 3,000 to 4,000 calls are managed. This rises to 8,000 calls during peak times such as at the beginning of a semester.
Helping callers in the past was complicated by the fact that each student service department such as admissions and financial aid at each of Tri-C’s three campuses had a different phone number. “There was a lot of transferring calls back and forth between locations to get the student to the right department,” Brodis said. Now, with skills-based routing, calls are distributed to functional departments where agents have the expertise to answer a caller’s questions. “This makes it much easier to field these calls,” she said.
The college has 190 agents on staff, with approximately 60 agents logged in during peak hours. Tri-C decided against a traditional call center model, with agents working together from a single location, opting instead to route calls to specific departments where agents can be assigned to peak hours and complete other tasks when volumes slow down. “They may only be assigned to be on phones from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day if that’s our busiest time,” Brodis said. “Otherwise they may be in the back room processing documents or at the front counter working with students.”
The college also has trained some staff to handle basic inquiries across departments. Previously a student who wanted to make a payment had to wait to speak with someone in the business office. “Now anyone who has that payment skill set is able to take the call,” Brodis said, “so it’s typically handled a lot faster than before.”
Average caller wait time has decreased by 20 percent since Tri-C deployed the contact center solution, and call abandonment has dropped 41 percent. Tri-C now has the ability to track the number of calls and how quickly each call is handled. “It gives us the information we need to allocate resources appropriately,” she said. “The solution will grow with us to help us maintain a good level of customer service.”
The solution incorporates self-service functionality, providing quick access to information. “If students want to check their requirements or loan status they can do it over the phone,” Brodis said. “Our student database provides basic information specific to them once they have entered their student ID and password.”
On-hold messages give callers their estimated wait time, a welcome feature for people who are careful about using cell phone minutes. The college also provides targeted messages for some departments. A student waiting for help with financial aid may hear answers to frequently asked financial aid questions. “Our goal is to answer their question as they are waiting, or tell them where they can find more information online,” she added.
Ready for Continuing Growth
Brodis said agents found it easy to use the Contact Management solution from the first day. “The transition was very smooth. The key for us was making sure that during the design phase we had everyone who was going to be affected by the system at the table,” Brodis said. “We got all the buy-in ahead of time, which certainly affected how easily we were able to make the transition.”
Preparation was vital to the success of the implementation. When college officials first began considering contact center products, AT&T account representatives met with them to learn as much as possible about their needs. They discussed topics such as the agents’ current processes and pain points, back-end data systems and computer telephony integration and then recommended the Cisco solution.
“AT&T has been great,” Brodis said. “Our account team was there through the whole process. It was good for us to see that support. I think it’s been a perfect partnership.”
The future looks very bright for Tri-C, with its record enrollments and ambitious capital improvements, so it’s important that the contact center solution can handle increasing volumes. To enable agents to manage the expected growth and further streamline communication with students, Tri-C plans to integrate e-mail and chat functionality into its contact solution. “The system is big enough to allow us to customize it across all the different student entry points,” Brodis said.