At the core of every successful higher education institution lies a complex network of communication, essential for nurturing the academic environment. However, in the midst of this dynamic interaction, effective communication can sometimes be overlooked, leading to common challenges across many institutions. We will navigate you through the intricate landscape of communication obstacles, offering valuable insights and strategies designed to help you develop a communication strategy that goes beyond mere functionality to truly thrive.

Communication challenges that higher education institutions face

Where information is everywhere, getting students to pay attention to important messages is quite the challenge. In a higher education environment, the competition is tough. You're up against personal messages, social media, online entertainment, and a barrage of announcements from different campus groups, clubs, and jobs. It's a crowded and noisy landscape, making it tricky to get your message heard. This complex situation poses a unique challenge for communication within the world of higher education.

Challenge 1: Use of multiple devices

Students are continually juggling a variety of different devices – from laptops and desktops to smartphones and tablets, they're constantly connected. The 2022 Student Device Usage Report by The Open University highlighted that students use up to 9 different devices to study, with most students hooking up at least two devices to the campus Wi-Fi on any given day. With this multi-device lifestyle, students encounter a variety of communication channels:

  • Email
  • Text messages
  • Mobile push notifications
  • Platform-specific messages (like announcements and alerts)
  • Direct messaging or chat
  • Phone calls and voicemails

This diversity in communication tools complicates the task for higher education institutions trying to disseminate information effectively. The challenge lies in selecting the most appropriate channel and format for each type of message. Given the wide digital footprint of today's students, reaching them where they are most accessible is crucial, particularly for urgent or time-sensitive information. Relying on a single method of communication and expecting students to adjust is no longer feasible. To ensure your messages are seen and heard, it's essential to adapt to the communication preferences of your audience.

Challenge 2: Being ‘ghosted’

The flood of information that students face on a daily basis can become daunting, particularly in the absence of a cohesive communication strategy across the institution (a topic we will explore later). Often, this results in students overlooking or even opting out of your messages. Given their familiarity with customising communication settings on various platforms they use regularly, students are likely to apply the same approach to your messages if they lack personalisation. While there's a common belief that it's better to overcommunicate than under communicate, bombarding students with too many messages can dilute their impact. An overload of communication can lead to students becoming numb to the content, especially if most messages lack immediate relevance or importance.

Challenge 3: Email alone isn’t cutting it

Gone are the days when email was the gold standard for reaching out. What used to be a reliable channel to connect with your audience is now falling short, especially in the context of higher education communication. The challenge with email is twofold. Firstly, the fragmentation of email systems across different departments leads to an overwhelming influx of messages for students. Secondly, the reality is that today's students are not as diligent in checking their emails. The deluge of promotional content and irrelevant messages flooding inboxes has diminished the impact of email, making it increasingly difficult for important messages to stand out. If email remains the cornerstone of your communication strategy in higher education, there's a significant risk that critical information is being overlooked. Email isn’t dead – just remember it’s not the only avenue.

Challenge 4: Students are missing important messages

Inadequate communication is more than just a minor hiccup; it has tangible, serious consequences. When communication falls short, vital information slips through the cracks, leaving students uninformed about important matters. This can lead to significant issues for both students and institutions, such as decreased enrolment which leads to a high cost for the institution, overlooked financial obligations and missed deadlines resulting in low grades and even failing. The issue isn't necessarily a lack of effort in conveying messages, but rather a failure to engage students effectively. The problem might stem from an overload of communication channels, causing confusion about where to focus, or an overwhelming volume of messages that leads to disengagement. Sometimes, students might see the message but delay action, eventually forgetting about it altogether. This is where the importance of personalised targeted follow-ups and reminders become evident. Without addressing these communication barriers, the consequences can be dire.

The solution to improving communication in higher education institutions

Be omnichannel

Given the ubiquitous presence of students across various platforms, your communication strategy needs to match this diversity. Relying on a single mode of communication is no longer sufficient in our interconnected world. Adopting an omnichannel approach to communication is crucial for ensuring your messages reach students effectively. This strategy involves engaging with students across multiple platforms, catering to their preferred methods of communication.

Incorporating a mix of channels in your omnichannel strategy is key:

  • Email, despite its challenges, remains a staple and shouldn't be completely discarded.
  • In-app notifications and alerts can capture attention within digital environments.
  • Text (SMS) messaging and Whatapp offers direct and immediate reach.
  • Mobile push notifications can provide timely reminders and updates.
  • Chat functions facilitate real-time, interactive communication.

By diversifying your communication channels, you can tailor your approach to the context of each message, enhancing the likelihood that students will engage with and respond to your communications based on their personal preferences.

This comprehensive approach to communication can be effectively achieved by leveraging Five9's Unify omnichannel student communication platform. Five9 simplifies the task of engaging with students by providing a unified platform that supports a variety of communication methods including voice, email, web chat, SMS, social media, and video. Additionally, it offers the flexibility to accommodate work-from-home and hybrid work models, which is increasingly important in today's environments. The integration of AI and automation further enhances the efficiency of contact centres, ensuring that student interactions are both effective and seamless.

At Britannic, we have established a strong partnership with Five9, positioning us uniquely to assist your higher education institution in enhancing its communication strategies. Our collaboration with Five9 enables us to offer tailored solutions that address the specific needs of your institution, ensuring that you can connect with your students in the most effective manner possible. Want to discuss this further? Let us work together to revolutionise the way you communicate, making every interaction with your students more meaningful and impactful.