Educational institutions are facing a tough future as lockdowns ease — here's how WhatsApp can help them reconnect with new and existing mobile-native students.
The global education sector was already under financial and logistical pressure before the pandemic hit. But the stakes are now far higher as COVID-19's fallout on student enrollment, accommodation income, and more, hits home. For instance, the higher education sector in the UK is facing a £19 billion blackhole with 13 universities at risk of insolvency because of the losses caused by the outbreak, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
This pattern is echoed across the world, and means the education sector must find new and innovative ways to attract, engage, and support residential/online students whether they're leads or are already enrolled on a course. But how? A small but vital part of the answer lies with the students themselves — typically Generation Z (16-24 years-old) — and their expectations that all customer experiences should meet their mobile-first needs. According to a American Express/Forrester Consulting report:
“Gen Z is ushering in a new world order of empowered and entitled consumerism … [Business leaders] need to become customer obsessed and deliver experiences founded on the pillars of empathy and delivering utility such as immediacy, personalization, security and entertainment."
How WhatsApp can help bring educators and students together
Because of this demand, enterprises are increasingly turning to messaging platforms such as WhatsApp to power their customer experiences (CX). Boasting over two billion users globally, the chat app is the world's most popular messaging platform with 74% of Gen Zers signed up to it, according to GlobalWebIndex. Critically, this deep penetration means education providers can leverage a channel that many students already congregate on, and offer a range of chat- and notification-based digital services whose immediacy and personalization are ideally suited to servicing a mobile-native generation:
1. Why WhatsApp should be the go-to channel for the education sector
Phone calls, websites, and email are falling out of favor with Gen Z as they hunt for faster, friction-free responses to their queries and searches. This in part explains why email open rates are 21% while WhatsApp rates are 99% with messages typically opened within five minutes.
Such accessibility is something that forward-thinking education providers are already taking advantage of. For instance, EF International Language Campuses uses WhatsApp “to reach our target audience when they are the most receptive." Subsequently, the educator enjoys a two-times higher response rate and three-times higher conversion rate compared to phone calls.
2. How to successfully promote WhatsApp to students
To ensure pupils know WhatsApp is available to chat on, educational services and institutes can deploy a suite of tools to market the channel:
Conversation buttons — these can be placed on key website pages, requiring only a press to open a WhatsApp conversation.
Click-to-chat — a WhatsApp click-to-chat button embedded in a Facebook or Instagram ad instantly connects the lead with the educator when pressed.
QR codes — codes can be scanned in the 'real world' from print ads or billboards, automatically opening up WhatsApp and launching a chat.
3. How to 'WhatsApp' student lead generation, applications & enrollment
The messaging platform can serve both students and educators across the entire acquisition journey from lead nurturing through to enrollment. For instance, live agents or inexpensive chatbots can answer typical lead queries about an education institution and its offerings, using text, images, PDFs, and video to provide, say, information on curricula.
Bots can be designed to ask the lead pertinent questions too, in effect automating the entire process and creating more efficient lead qualifying at a reduced cost. Application friction can also be minimized by offering the student timely updates and notifications delivered in-app so they never feel left 'out of the loop'. Even registration and enrollment can be simplified by enabling students to upload critical documentation (in the form of images or PDFs for instance), all from within WhatsApp.
4. How WhatsApp can support students throughout their learning journey
Ensuring all learning, even online courses, retains a 'human touch' is vital in education.
Student life away from the class room can be complemented by the platform as well, enabling educators to push out status updates on up-and-coming events such as guest lectures, webinars, social gatherings, and major projects.
If classes or lectures in a physical location are disrupted, WhatsApp can step in temporarily and offer virtual classes supported by text, video, and audio messaging.
From Bhutan and the Dominican Republic to Jamaica and India, the messaging platform has already been employed to hold lessons during the pandemic. For instance, in India, a major EdTech social enterprise that works with schools, communities, and grassroots organizations, has launched an at-home learning program over WhatsApp to ensure children keep learning during the pandemic. During the first three days of its launch, the company exchanged over 2 million messages with quizzes to students all across the country.
From access to advisors or counsellors to club chats and exam results, WhatsApp can be used to service many aspects of a student's academic and social life. For instance, tyntec client Oxfordcaps provides housing and accommodation solutions to students in Singapore and India.
The company uses WhatsApp to deliver faster onboarding for its Gen Z clients, offering complete support via documentation, instant chat, and even maps. This helps reduce the stress typically associated with moving to new accommodation in a city or location that is often unfamiliar to a student.
Online educators rely on the messaging platform to forge and retain connections with customers. For instance, PlayKids, the global education platform for children, is using the platform to message the families of children using the service. Messaging includes status updates on ordered items, additional information about new products in the store, and even stories delivered to caregivers to read to their children at bedtime.
Critically, messages are also sent to reconnect with inactive users. This approach has seen a 90% decrease in the number of lapsed subscribers compared to email and telephone; a 40% increase in message open rates compared to email; and a 66% decrease in time to reactivate lapsed subscriptions compared to email and phone.
Educators: Create digital conversations to renew growth
While WhatsApp does not represent a magic bullet for the challenges facing the education sector as it adjusts to the 'new normal', the platform does offer an important opportunity for reaching out and engaging with students on a channel they know, like, and trust.
However, rolling out the WhatsApp Business API that underpins the commercial use of the messaging platform may represent a bridge too far for educators already juggling so many logistical and budgetary concerns. It's why choosing to partner with an official WhatsApp Business API solution provider such as tyntec is becoming increasingly popular. Such specialists offer expert consultancy on the design, implementation, and roll out of the messaging platform — and any supporting technologies such as chatbots — and can tailor WhatsApp's functionality to the education client's specific needs.
By relying on an official provider, educators can quit worrying about technical headaches, and instead focus on what they do best: Delivering the education students need to ensure they not only survive — but thrive — in a post-COVID world.