A Customer Service Crash Course for eLearning Companies That can Turn Short-term Demand into a Long-term Boon

Written by Can Ozdoruk on Apr 22, 2020

AI helps online learning, MOOC and learning management technology companies provide A+ support

Face-to-face classes at K-12 schools, colleges and universities are cancelled. Online classes, once sought out by only those who required more flexible schedules, have now become the only means for completing course requirements and degrees. Stay-at-home orders mean people across the globe are looking to better themselves or quell boredom by upskilling or learning a new hobby.

eLearning companies are seizing the opportunity. Coursera is offering 100 free online courses. Udemy, meanwhile, is touting its risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee. Others are offering Covid-19-specific courses to drum up new students1.

And it’s working. 

The result is unprecedented demand for online courses and learning management software (LMS). In one example, Class Central’s CEO tweeted about the mind-blowing new demand for the company, reporting that in 48 hours, 1M+ people found classes on the site. Across the board, search volume for “online classes” peaked at 2.5X the search rate over the same period last year. 

An often overlooked part of a business during a period of unprecedented and unexpected growth is customer service. The support that companies provide, though, is what can turn short-term demand into long-term value.

If you look at the search volume for “online classes” over the past five years, there are noticeable peaks occurring in early January, potentially as a result of New Year’s Resolutions, and again in August. During Covid-19, the search quantities have doubled that of the busiest times of the year – 2.5X the search rate over the same time last year.

The ‘Black Swan’ moment impacts eLearning and Distance Learning companies 

When discussing the new normal of online learning from home, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Goldie Blumenstyk says, “it seems safe to say that this will be not only enormously disruptive but also paradigm changing 2. The ‘black swan,’ that unforeseen event that changes everything, is upon us.” 

With a new, digitally-connected audience of learners, the future of education may be transformed forever. Companies offering self-paced online classes like Coursera and Udemy have the opportunity to earn life-long fans and students. At the same time, LMS companies catering to K-12 and university audiences like Schoology, Instructure’s Canvas, Blackboard and Google Classroom have already changed the perception of learning from home, and potentially, could lay the groundwork for broader remote learning in the future. 

This era of online learning could be boon or bane for these companies, As one publication points out, beyond the content and usefulness of self-directed classes or the ease of use of the platform itself, it’s the user experience that has the potential to rewrite the future and drive the education boon that has been lurking on the horizon for years 3. To satisfy the demand for online courses while providing a top-notch customer experience, companies need to be available and support customers when they need them. Providing resolutions to questions and issues quickly, effortlessly and conveniently is the key to building customer trust that can lead to long-term relationships, advocacy and engagement. 

New customers lead to a strained customer service department  

For most, logging in from home to take a class is a new experience. With any new behavior and technology, questions arise: How do I submit a project? Am I eligible to earn a certificate? Can you help me log in to stream my class?

As a result of the enormous customer surge, customer service teams and call centers for eLearning and LMS providers are overwhelmed with tickets, resulting in hours- or days-long response times, and desperate and frustrated customers who aren’t afraid to air their grievances publicly.

Hilarious tweets about home-schooling have been followed by complaints about the platforms schools have adopted, marred with technical difficulties, straining parents and students in these difficult times.

A look at the impact of AI for Customer Service: Proactive, Revenue-Generating and Immediate

It’s unrealistic for companies to hire a customer service team to provide the immediate, effortless support that customers need right now. Many of the issues that arise are time-sensitive – coming up when someone is set to stream a class, take a test, or submit an assignment. 

To respond quickly and offer high-quality resolutions, companies would have to hire an army of people to answer questions around-the-clock, 24/7, across multiple channels (email, chat, social). It’s simply cost-prohibitive for these companies as a customer base swells.

Instead, eLearning companies are turning to AI to scale customer service across channels, reduce costs and assist agents. The result is happier customers that turn into advocates and long-term users. Here are the three biggest opportunities for which AI can help customer service groups of online learning and LMS companies:

1. Immediate Resolutions

First and foremost, AI helps customer service teams resolve issues faster, and deliver solutions when customers need them. Repeatable, simple queries like streaming issues, obtaining a certificate, billing and payment issues, and usability questions can be resolved in seconds, without any human intervention. 

This offloads mundane work from human agents teams, who can now focus on complex queries or specific audiences. LMS providers, for instance, might want to always have human-led support for administrators, while questions from students and parents are more likely predictable and therefore, can be automatically resolved. 

By carving out frequently asked questions from their queue, human agents can provide better support to these VIP audiences while resolution time is decreased across the board. In this way, automated customer service results in happier customers and more-productive agents.

2. Proactive Support

AI can enable companies to anticipate issues before they happen, such as common snafus that arise during the lifecycle and even when a customer is at risk of churning.

By analyzing historical data, AI can understand in which circumstances a person gets stuck and needs assistance, or when the customer journey specific questions tend to come up. This could be a teacher creating a first assignment who has missed a crucial step or a student taking a test for the first time. By integrating with a CRM, AI can be trained to trigger messages or emails at the exact time of relevance to the customer, providing critical information and resulting in deflection from expensive support channels. 

For online course providers, AI can also anticipate when a student is at risk of churning and not finishing a course. A message of encouragement, a prompt from the instructor, or a reminder on how far she’s come can keep people engaged enough to complete a course. 

Offering proactive care can also significantly cut costs: over a 12 month period, proactive customer service can lead to a 20-30% reduction in call center calls — lowering call center operating costs by as much as 25%4.

3. Revenue-Generating 

Targeted upsell can also be initiated at the exact moment of relevance. Think of it like the Netflix Recommendation Engine for eLearning. An AI can upsell to a premium plan, recommend add-on products or new courses. This can all be done by analyzing the potential return, as well as user profiles, interests and usage of a product. Targeted incentives can be provided to hook high-revenue customers, while skipping those customers who are not likely to be profitable in the future. 

Boon or bust? The time for AI in eLearning is now

The customer experience provided today can encourage people to continue to use and recommend your service when things settle down. Excellent customer support is the foundation of long-lasting relationships and profitable customer lifetime value (CLV). Delayed and frustrating customer support will be sure to beget the bust, while effortless, convenient and immediate service is sure to bring on the boon. 

Interested in learning more about how to earn good marks for customer service with AI? We can have you up and running in as little as two weeks. Let’s chat