When Covid-19 hit, the world was in many ways clueless on how to cope with it. Measures were disjointed, with little to no coherent strategies. Education was one industry that was sent through the wringer, and it’s affected a huge portion of the working population and students.
If you’re the parent of a K-12 child, you know that life since March 2020 has been nothing short of chaotic. Surely still clear in the minds of parents is that first school closure, which happened suddenly and was initially planned to last just two weeks. Of course, we know how the story unfolded. The weeks turned into months then bled into the next school year and eventually went to some form of in-person hybrid schedule.
With the 2021-2022 school year in full swing and many students now back to full-time, in-person learning, one thing remains: confusion. Masks or no masks? Quarantine or no quarantine? Chromebooks or textbooks?
Education Makes The Transition To The Digital Age
Unfortunately, prior to Covid-19, the industry had been a digital laggard. Less than 4% of the education sector’s overall expenditure was allocated to digital services, according to HolonIQ. But given the strain of resources, mixed with the sudden closures of many schools worldwide, digital transformation beckoned.
The pandemic ratcheted up the shift to digital in all areas of our lives and education is not an exception. Teachers and students alike have increasingly accessed digital toolboxes, ranging from online courses to virtual learning systems and, of course, the increasingly ubiquitous mobile devices and digital textbooks. As the digital transformation of the education sector unfolds, it might be important for leaders in education to pass that on to another important factor: communication.
My company has helped many international businesses effectively use omnichannel messaging to communicate with their customer base during the pandemic, keeping them apprised of impacts to the business, demonstrating support for those customers and more. In working with these companies, it has occurred to me that many of the same lessons businesses learned around the effectiveness of digital communications during Covid-19 also apply to the education sector.
Why Omnichannel Messaging Is Key
With the Delta variant raging on, changing conditions and requirements will likely present yet another challenging school year. As educational facilities step into the digital age, a dynamic omnichannel approach to messaging can ease some of the pain of confused faculty, staff, parents and students.
Communicating with all these stakeholders means educational facilities are ultimately communicating with multiple generations, each with their preferred means of communication. Omnichannel messaging could allow school administrators to reach all stakeholders on their preferred channel, as some may want to engage on social media, others on chat apps and still others through SMS.
Here are five situations educational facilities can leverage omnichannel messaging to communicate with faculty, staff, parents and students:
1. Find Out Who’s Coming: From recruitment to attract new learners, to planning attendance for graduation ceremonies, omnichannel can help deliver updates, reminders and general information to stakeholders.
2. Quickly Communicate Changes: In the months since the Covid-19 pandemic began, we’ve all learned that we must prepare ourselves for the unexpected. Omnichannel messaging allows stakeholders to be notified rapidly about unplanned school closures, Covid-19 contact tracing updates, adverse weather or technical issues.
3. Absence Communications: When a parent has a sick child at home, the last thing they want to do is wait on the phone to share that information with a school administrator. Similarly, when a teacher is working with students in class alongside quarantined students at home, emails can easily get lost. Omnichannel messaging enables parents to communicate with administrators in their method of choice. Or, if a child is unexpectedly absent, schools can easily get a parent’s attention with an alert across various messaging channels.
4. Grade And Test Updates: For report cards or exams, school administrators can send exam confirmations and subsequent reminders via an easy-to-use channel. Students and parents could also receive alerts that scores have been posted to their online portal.
5. Gauging Community Opinion: Educational facilities can take the pulse of the student body, parents and faculty through omnichannel messaging to get instant feedback on how all stakeholders feel about a specific issue.
Best Practices For Implementation
Omnichannel messaging enables educational institutions to effectively communicate with stakeholders. However, it’s important to be sure you’re implementing a true omnichannel approach vs. its cousin, multi-channel messaging, which also leverages multiple communication channels but on the backend they aren’t unified, leading to a potentially disjointed customer experience. Critical to a successful omnichannel strategy is the mandate to deliver the same great, seamless experience regardless of channel. Additionally, there are a few best practices to keep in mind.
It’s important to consider which communications channels are preferred by different populations; students may prefer chat apps while parents may prefer email and faculty may prefer another channel. It’s also important to find a balance between too little and too much. As a rule of thumb, simplicity is key when communicating with faculty, staff, parents and students. Less is more when it comes to tone and volume of content, and that can vary by channel. For example, multiple text messages per day might be okay, but multiple emails in one day might be too much. Finally, automation can be a powerful tool in an omnichannel program but should be used with caution. An automated response may be appropriate for some communication (RSVPing for a school dance or parent/teacher event, for example) while other communication may be better served with human interaction, such as questions regarding Covid-19 protocols.
In this time of uncertainty, perhaps the best gift an educational facility can give its faculty, staff, parents and students is clear communication. By delivering an omnichannel approach to messaging, educational facilities can put all conversations in one place, without the need for technical resources or complex integrations, no matter which channel they’re on. Just as in business, when all communications are managed within the same tool, it’s much easier to communicate important information to stakeholders.