Every August the phone lines to universities all across the UK are jammed with calls from students.
Some are consolidating their successful applications; others inquiring about accommodation, but the vast majority are going through the process of 'clearing'.
Clearing is the route some students take when they haven't been successful with their university application. On results day around the country, universities open up and university hopefuls ring around trying to find open spaces on courses they want to take.
For the University of Greenwich, this means having a contact centre capable of dealing with nearly 6500 calls in one day.
Not only must the centre deal with those calls, but it must also deal with them in such a way that will leave the caller with a positive impression of the university, so short waiting times and accurate information dissemination is key.
Paul Butler, head of information systems at the University of Greenwich, says: "For a number of students, the clearing process is the first experience they have with our university. Competition is fierce so it is crucial to engage with as many prospective students as possible and provide them with the right information at the right time.
"Effectively, we had a very old, physical telephony system that had been in the university for 20-plus years and it was really beginning to creak. The university wanted to procure a VoIP system in order to get all the bells and whistles that come with VoIP, particularly the UC element, but also to have a level of resilience and redundancy elimination that the previous telephony system didn't have."
The university had its base requirements that were needed to be met, and needed to think about the future.
For the solution, it decided to choose Siemens Enterprise Communications.
With the implementation of Siemens Enterprise Communications' OpenScape Contact Center, the University is able to more effectively handle the increased volume of calls during the UK student clearing process and the enhanced intelligence of the system improves first call resolution and, therefore, the overall student experience.
UCAS results day in 2012 saw the contact centre receive 6433 calls - a 97 per cent increase in inbound calls from usual levels.
"We wanted to make sure we had a risk-free clearing. Last year's clearing coincided with the change to £9,000 fees, and in a fairly rocky environment where fewer students are wanting to go to university, our ability to handle and manage a large number of tools was very important. The Siemens system certainly stood up to the job," says Paul Butler.
"Siemens were on-site with us - we even had the EMEA Head of Services with us. They took it very seriously and it worked."
Through embracing the use of Siemens technology, the University of Greenwich has transformed its contact centre to provide a superior service to current and prospective students.
The OpenScape Contact Center scales to the required 80 agents, including a proportion of students who were contracted to support the clearing process, and has the capacity to support 180 simultaneous calls.
To enhance its performance over 2012, an interactive voice response system was also implemented in 2013 clearing.
"This year we put in IVR, and it's had a really positive impact on the valuable clearing calls. The max queue time was around 6 minutes, which was a drop from 40 to 45 minutes in 2012. The average call was about one minute 16 seconds on the primary clearing calls, a radical improvement," says Paul Butler.
"So, the proof is in the pudding. The number of offers we dealt with this year was two and a half times that of 2012. Whilst that performance is not completely down to just Siemens technology (we did have other strategies in place) but the net performance was more offers than the previous year and the IVR system certainly contributed to that."
Real-time reporting enables the contact centre management team to allocate staff and students resources dynamically and quickly identify peak call times.
Agents work through a simple, graphical drag-and-drop interface that puts the relevant information at their fingertips. Such clear and instant access to information results in higher levels of first call resolution.
In addition to solving resourcing requirements, employing current students in the contact centre during the clearing process provided applicants with unique insight and first-hand experience of the university.
An effective clearing process and system provides benefits to both students and the university. It is crucial that students are allocated places as quickly as is possible, while the university must ensure that it meets government quotas in order to secure funding in an ever more competitive market. With overall student numbers declining, universities are competing harder than ever to secure students.
"The OpenScape Contact Center enables us to do this effectively thanks to the insight it provides into the calls we receive. As a consequence, we are better placed to deal with the spikes in demand that we experience during the intensive clearing period.
"In previous years it has been a challenge dealing with and resourcing the unpredictable nature of the call volumes, but now I am confident that we have the right team, the right supplier and the right technology in place," says Paul Butler.
George Aristidou, Sales Director, Public Sector, Siemens Enterprise Communications, says: "This is a significant project to deliver a reliable and scalable communications infrastructure. The clearing process is critical. It is essential that there are systems in place that enable smooth and effective applications. Calls must be effectively and efficiently handled as potential students need to know as quickly as possible whether or not they have secured a place."
With the Siemens OpenSpace centre, the University of Greenwich has achieved a first-class VoIP telephony system that will enable the continued success of the institution and its students for many years to come.
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