7th February 2020

Let us make clearing bearable

Nick Buckingham
Head of Experience and Product Design
Love to learn sign on university

There comes a time in every university's year when the usual rules don't apply. When call lines are jammed and websites are flooded with panicked would-be students trying to sort their futures out in a matter of days. 

It's the moment university websites are called on to churn out high volumes of detailed information in a very short space of time. Clearing. 

That magical time of year when some students may not have made their A-level grades or might be changing their mind about their direction for the next three years. 

Every one of them will go through a process where they start from scratch, contacting new universities and trying to get accepted. 

In 2018, 60,000 students found their placements through clearing. 

So, with summer 2020 on the horizon, I'm taking a look at exactly how higher education websites can manage that increased flow of visitors, retain the highest quality students and fortify their systems for the following years. 

Just a phone call away?

I'll say it: clearing is a stressful time. For the students, unsure about their future, to the universities, unsure about who's going to fill their courses. And a lot of it takes place on the phone. 

Students spend days frantically calling around, waiting in queues and learning to love hold music. 

The phone is fine – it gets one-on-one attention and advice for every single person who wants it – but it is time-consuming. 

On the phone, there's no way to sift through callers and see which ones actually need the most help. 

There's no way of tracking where they've come from or how they're finding the process so far. And worse, with wait times spiralling, the most attractive students with the most options elsewhere might simply hang up never to be seen again. 

There is a better way, and it begins online. 

Hot prospects

By harnessing your website's data, we can streamline every user's journey, minimising low-grade calls and building a more informed system for the future. Let's imagine a prospective student hits your website during clearing. 

They search for a suitable course, but can't find it. Instead of clicking away or picking up the phone, they're served the option of a chat window, run by one very clever chatbot. 

This automated service is able to direct them to the best place, based on key information in their messages. 

If they're a hot prospect, a phone call might be needed, but if their grades aren't up to par, it can offer them alternatives, like foundation courses. 

This frees up the phone lines, minimises staffing costs and gives students the help they need without waiting in a phone queue soundtracked by bad saxophone.

Data, data, data

It also gives us data. By understanding what queries the chatbot gets most, we're able to tailor the website to work harder for each user. 

The same goes for other tracking data that allows us to see where users click, which pages they enter and exit on most and what their behaviour is on those pages -  it's all designed to help us build a real picture of our audience and their behaviour, so we can make user journeys that are as pain-free as possible. 

Because clearing lasts for such a short window of time, it's much easier to set up systems first, rather than tweak once it's started. 

Here at Deeson, we like to kick things off with an audit of where your website is right now. 

No judgement: we just like to see what measurements and systems you have and understand how they're working for you. 

Then, we'll speak to actual students who've been through clearing, to find out what makes them tick and what makes them want to throw their laptop at the wall. 

After this, we'll be able to identify key opportunities and improvements, rolling them out ahead of summer 2020, and analysing data as we go, ready to optimise for 2021. 

In essence, it's about taking a busy, stressful time and making it easier for both the students and the university teams. It's about ensuring the right candidates get to the right courses, and nurturing the right people from the second they land on your website. And it's about taking some of the legwork out of the whole thing, for both sides.

Get in touch to find out how we can help you to optimise your clearing for 2020, and get the academic year off to the best start possible.