Netcall | Customer story

Improving Call Experience

From clearing to business as usual


  • Handled clearing during pandemic with remote workers
  • Deployed the same solution for business as usual
  • Improved reporting and management information
  • Proactive management of calls to reduce avoidable demand
  • Integrations with in-house systems

University of Hertfordshire is a campus-based university with a student community of over 30,000 mainly studying UK-based programmes across three campuses. The University concentrates on students’ employability, with career-focused courses aligned with the needs of industry and the public sector. One of the busiest interaction challenges for any university is clearing, where universities get to fill up any vacant spots on their courses.

Handling clearing during a pandemic

The enormity of tackling clearing in 2020, in the midst of COVID, meant that Hertfordshire needed to find a solution that would enable them to get through this vital period while most of their staff were working remotely.

Head of Admissions, Jilly Crosby, manages a team dealing with all aspects of online applications and UCAS applications. Usually clearing was handled by a team of “Networkers” – staff from different departments across the university plus a small number of student recruits. Networkers sat in designated rooms on the campus to take calls. They temporarily had to leave their usual workload to assist, although they might not need to be on the phone all day. Decision makers were rota-ed to be in the same room to enable Networkers to get answers for their callers.

They had to find a way to enable Networkers to successfully handle the same volume of calls remotely. They contracted Netcall to provide Liberty Converse, our contact centre solution, as a temporary clearing solution.

For clearing 2020, they:

  • Enabled Networkers to work from home or their usual desk at the University. Staff could get on with their usual work, between clearing calls. A clearing call comes in, they handle it, transferring and getting answers for the caller, then return to their other work.
  • Had more people on the clearing calls – desk space for Networkers in the designated rooms had been a restriction at times.
  • The previous system didn’t allow for reporting on call volumes – the Converse supervisor dashboard provided real-time management information, showing live call peaks and queues to allow the supervisor to instantly shuffle networkers to manage the volume.
  • The Networkers have always provided a friendly, helpful service, but now they can get to the applicants quicker. This helps students to get the answers they need at a very anxious time.
  • Networkers have greater information at their fingertips and confidence in the system when transferring calls. The time, kindness and answers that they can provide makes a huge difference to students.
The pandemic helped us to assess how we were handling clearing and move forward. The university can now handle clearing with Converse, deploying the same number of staff but using their time much more efficiently. We’ve gained so much management information from the reporting which helps us to continue to drive improvements.

The benefits that they saw led University of Hertfordshire to deploy Converse as a year-round solution. Each year since, they have been able to further develop their use of Converse for clearing, for example, this year they intend to utilise the softphone for the Networkers.

Rolling out to a business-as-usual solution

The rollout was very agile and Hertfordshire went live with Liberty Converse as a business-as-usual solution in March 2022. University of Hertfordshire considered whether to deploy Liberty Converse in the cloud or on-premise. They opted for a cloud deployment as it offered optimum resilience.  

They initially began with the Student Information Service, a student facing information, advice and guidance team and then gradually rolled it out through the rest of the department and other areas of the university. Mark Partridge leads the team and worked with Netcall on the deployment.  

One of the benefits of utilising Liberty Converse as a clearing solution before rolling it out for business as usual, is that we’ve replicated the clearing approach for day-to-day use. We understand how it works and knew it could increase staff capacity and make it quicker for a caller to get a resolution to their query.

Mark Partridge – Head of Student Information Service and Student Records and Enrolment

Providing the intelligence to be proactive

Improved reporting and management information is the first of the big advantages for Hertfordshire. They now have more insight than they’ve ever had before.

Converse offers access to customisable management information tools which are designed to ensure that the university has transparency, such as real-time reporting, customisable dashboards and data exports. Hertfordshire has used activity codes and reporting dashboards to open doors to data that they were never able to access before.

They can now be much more proactive. When they see a surge in demand on a particular topic, they can work with their Marketing colleagues to reduce calls in on the same topic, by pushing out targeted messages via social media or segmented communications to particular students, with the information that is being requested. Creating a tighter link between inbound and outbound communications has enabled them to reduce avoidable demand.

The reporting dashboards are light-years ahead of what we had in the past. We can better keep on top of call volumes and understand trends with insights. It doesn’t reduce the demand, but it helps us to manage the demand better and delivers a smoother customer journey. It gives a greater impression of the University for prospective students, as the individuals who are triaging and managing queries on the course have better capacity to help callers effectively.

Softphones for hybrid working

Softphones are software-based phones which present the phone interface on the agent’s computer, enabling users to make and receive calls directly on their laptop or desktop device, with no need for additional software. The softphone has opened up remote and hybrid working at Hertfordshire – staff can genuinely carry out their job from anywhere in the world.

Mark can now enable his workforce to be much more flexible, innovative and modern, and that has boosted morale. Student Information Service agents can now experience a hybrid model of working and all the benefits. Staff get a more varied workload working on site, or they can have the benefits of working from home, such as lack of commute cost and time.

As a front-line service, the Student Information Service team were some of the first staff to return to the office during the pandemic. Now, with Converse, the technology enables them to work from home easily, allowing the university to offer parity with other departments.

Equally, softphones have provided the university with greater business continuity. They can now maintain staff continuity with a simple laptop or portable device.

remote worker

Intuitive and easy to use

The user interface and functionality of Liberty Converse was also well received by the team at Hertfordshire.

The modern look and feel of Converse is simple and intuitive. It reminds me of a mobile phone interface / functionality.

Mark Partridge – Head of Student Information Service and Student Records and Enrolment

The call centre supervisors at the university have found that Converse benefits them with:

  • Editable dashboards that can be used to display performance information clearly, which gives them much needed clarity to make operational changes when needed.
  • The ability to listen to call history for all agents, which is great for further training and development.
  • As a service which has incredibly high call volumes at some times, the call back option means that callers don’t have to wait on the line for long. This enables them to provide a better overall service and customer experience to the caller.
  • Changing agent skills allows supervisors to choose which agents are prioritised for queues – this is especially beneficial when new staff begin to answer calls.
  • Creating scheduled reports on activity codes and busy codes allows them to spot trends and work proactively.
As a self-confessed technophobe, I found the transition from the previous telephony system to Converse easy and stress free! I like that you can see if a caller has called before and who they spoke with, so I can check with my colleague what was discussed previously. I find the agent dashboard exceptionally clear and the system is intuitive and self-explanatory.

Integrating with the in-house clearing system

It’s easy to connect Liberty Converse with a huge range of systems – from enterprise platforms to bespoke home-grown applications.

A Developer at University of Hertfordshire, Tom Swaddling, built an application to integrate Converse and their in-house clearing system.

It identifies students through the application process, so, when a student phones, Converse recognises the student’s number and populates the agent’s screen with their information. The student’s name, email address, phone number, UCAS number and points are all pulled into Converse and pre-populated.

This offers a valuable time-saving to the agents, who don’t have to toggle between two systems. They are free to concentrate on the conversation and seamlessly handle the student’s query.

Looking to the future

At present, most interactions into the contact centre are voice calls, but Hertfordshire is always exploring ideas to either achieve efficiency savings or result in happier students. They aim to integrate email interactions into Converse, enabling the same team to handle the enquiry. They are looking into online forms and live chat to open up new more supportive and accessible channel options for students. Plus, they recognise that their agents can manage multiple live chat enquiries at the same time, which will be extremely beneficial when the CRM integration with Converse is completed.

We’ve found Converse to be exactly what it said on the tin. It’s been really intuitive and simple to use. The support during the build and deployment was positive and the Netcall team was nimble, making changes that we asked for and giving timely feedback.

Mark Partridge – Head of Student Information Service and Student Records and Enrolment

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