The story of Zone.college
An online alternative for open days helps future students to choose the program that’s right for them.
An open day for Zone.college is the most important tool to showcase what the educational institution is all about. Future middle school students (in Dutch, known as voortgezet onderwijs, or known elsewhere as secondary education) visit a location with their parents and get a taste for the atmosphere. They typically take a tour of the facilities and speak with current students and teachers. It’s also the chance for future students to ask questions, get an experience for a specific program and visit the classrooms where learning would take place. But then came the coronavirus…
When the global pandemic threw a monkey wrench into the machine and cancelled in-person open days, Zone.college decided to take the road less travelled. The future MBO (vocational) students could get the experience of an open day online across a series of web pages. The team at Zone.college put together an online expedition for the future students. This allowed people to experience an open day online. Watermelon’s chat feature allowed online visitors to ask questions of the students and teachers at the school locations about the programs that Zone.college offers.
Zone.college offers prestigious and sustainable education for all generations: from middle school students to adults. They offer a variety of programs from their locations in Overijssel and Gelderland, where care for every living creature is integrated into every program. Sustainability and innovation are important to everyone at Zone.college; they’re always looking for new technological possibilities. When it wasn’t possible to organise the open days in person, Zone.college started looking for new ways to provide information to prospective students online.
Let’s get started!
The pandemic cancelled many events that were important to informing both prospective and incoming students. “Our main way of providing information was open days. Students could get a feel for the atmosphere, have conversations with teachers, all in a way that was easy for them. These events typically happened in October in correlation with scholarship programs, but these were cancelled due to the pandemic. The open day planned for November was also cancelled. The experience taught us that the open days are very important to incoming MBO students in helping them make the right choice in terms of program of study. For students in middle school, the open day is the preferred way of discovering our programs and locations”, explains Yvette, Marketing & Communications Advisor for Zone.college.
“Getting a feel for the vibe of a location, exploring the classrooms and labs, asking questions of teachers - all of this offers a complete picture as to what program or course of study to choose. How can we bring that experience online? Now that was a challenge!”
meaningful chat conversations
weeks until go live
“No “you ask, we deliver” mentality, but rather a Customer Success Manager that actually collaborated and thought along with me. I really had the feeling like I had a colleague on my team.“
An open day online
There were a number of online platforms set up such that visitors could log in on a specific day and experience an open day online. Future students and apprentices could chat during webinars and request one-on-one conversations with current students. “We considered it very important to offer a chat feature for the open day. We feel that live chat is an easy to use form of communication, offering information to the visitors in an efficient way, or pointing them to a webinar where they could get even more information.”
“The approachable method of contact you’d typically have on a physical open day needed to be simulated digitally”, adds Zone.college’s Customer Success Manager Elmer. “On an open day, you just walk up to someone when you have a question. We wanted to make it just as easy to do that online!”
Time to design and build!
“We worked with Watermelon to see what was possible. We needed different types of users working from different groups. These people all needed to be active during a number of events in January. I used Excel to build a map of which question needed to be transferred to which person.” Considering the unprecedented circumstances, the design and build of the chatbot, and training of users all needed to happen online. “It definitely demanded organisation”, reveals Yvette.
An exciting trial by fire
Nearly 200 studenten, apprentices and teachers were ready to answer questions from visitors during the open days. Every chat conversation was an opportunity for the representative of Zone.college to answer the questions as best they could. “We provided instructions in advance, but it was still a little nerve-wracking. You can’t just ‘try it again’ if things were to go wrong.”
Was the chat used often? “More often than we had expected? We didn’t have a real expectation because it was a completely new concept. The number of visitors to the website was comparable to the number of people we’d see at a physical open day. But the number of chat conversations, that was something completely new. We actually ended up having many conversations, almost 350 in total!”
The chatbot as an online receptionist
Visitors to the online open day didn’t get a general person that gave every answer, but rather could choose with whom they wanted to chat, just like they’d do in person. “The live chat had to ensure that the website visitors could get in touch with someone who could give them more information. As a sort of professional dispatcher, the chatbot transferred the right conversation to the right person”, explains Elmer.
“Our MBO programs had the chatbot set up so that the bot first asked the visitor which location they were interested in exploring. Thereafter, the visitor could choose to speak with a teacher or a student. The bot asked them a maximum of three questions before the chatbot transferred the conversation. This approach allowed us to make the open day online personal.”
“The middle school open days were a success”, says Yvette enthusiastically. “Students and teachers really enjoyed the experience. We also got a lot of positive feedback from visitors to the online open day. They felt the online expedition was very satisfactory.”
A hybrid model
“During coronavirus times, Watermelon was a solution for our open days”, says Yvette. “Next year we’re going to see about using a hybrid model. It would be a waste to simply not offer an online option, because there will always be people who can’t make it to an open day. That’s why we’re going to investigate if next year we can implement a hybrid form of open day where both physical and online options are possible.”
Would you recommend Watermelon?
Yvette: “Watermelon is a partner that’s readily available, collaborates with you, and helped us get what we needed in a very short amount of time. We worked quickly and got responses right away. Also, if something didn’t work right away, we communicated and the issue was handled professionally. The approach we took was new for both sides, so it was actually pioneering work for both of us. I really felt like I had a colleague on my team. No “you ask, we deliver” mentality but rather someone that actually thought along with me and helped make everything possible very quickly. Keep up the great work!”
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