An unknown person once said, "If we don't take care of our customers, someone else will."
The customer in The University of Texas-Pan American's case is the student and with its BroncLINE call center, the university is trying to provide prompt, responsive answers needed to questions that occur in the most critical academic times for its students close at hand.
The center targets answering calls rerouted from four key departments related to enrollment that receive the most calls -- Admissions, Student Financial Services, Registrar and Payments and Collections. While not in operation year-round, BroncLINE answers calls 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and until 5 p.m. on Friday, during times of the academic year identified with the highest number of calls to those departments - January 2 through the first week of the spring semester and the first week following May finals through the first week of the fall semester.
"We were getting concerned with the number of calls that were being dropped (unanswered) by a number of offices on campus involved in enrollment. We were seeing up to 50 percent of the calls not being answered due to the volume of calls. When you are getting between 10,000 to 15,000 calls a month that percent is significant," said Richard Trevino, director of Student Support Services and the Learning Assistance Center, both in the Division of Enrollment and Student Services.
Finding costs to hire an outside service to help handle calls prohibitive, Trevino said the University chose to set up its own operation. The center employs approximately 20 full-time equivalent operators, primarily UTPA students. Operators undergo training from each department they assist and are given guidance on phone etiquette from human resources. They are also provided reference materials with key information such as deadlines and financial aid disbursement dates and access to ASSIST, an online student services system, and BANNER, a software application providing student information, to help them handle calls quickly and efficiently. Operators are supervised by Center Supervisor Mary de Leon, while two of the operators serve as team leaders.
"We found initially that we were able to handle about 65 percent of the questions coming in," Trevino said. "We are now able to answer approximately 80 percent of the questions in the call center."
Trevino said the highest volume of questions involve the receipt of financial aid and admittance information. Of the 20 percent of calls the center can't handle, they are either sent to a secondary phone line in each department or, if that person is unavailable, the number is given to the caller or the caller is transferred to a voice mail.
In 2009, BroncLINE answered 93,451 calls and so far, in summer 2010 the center has answered 23,421, a 4 percent increase in calls over the same time period last year. Their record keeping also shows that most calls are being picked up within 20 seconds.
Trevino said when BroncLINE is in operation it provides many benefits besides meeting the needs of students. It frees office staff in those departments to handle walk-ins with often more complex problems and based on the types of calls they get, Trevino said it is also a good way to identify processes that are not working. In addition, it serves as a training tool to help educate students on how to find information on their own that is readily available.
"We try to teach our students that they do not need to call by directing them to Web sites, the Ask Rio information database, ASSIST, BANNER or other locations the University has available to students where they can check out information on their own," Trevino said.
The center, relocated late last year to a modernized site adjacent to the Ballroom and cafeteria, houses cubicles for each operator and overhead screens to refer to for current key dates or information that operators might be questioned about. It also has a series of lights that indicate the number of callers on hold to facilitate quick processing of calls.
Center employees also do outgoing calls for departments to obtain information from students with missing information that might delay the processing of their financial aid for example. During after hours or times of year when BroncLINE is not in operation, the call center has additionally been used by University Advancement for phonathons, the Alumni Association for recruitment drives or by University programs to contact prospective participants.
"We have found that for the money this center has been very productive," Trevino said."We do not charge the students for this but feel it is something we need to attend to the needs of our students."