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Reply to Tony Bates' criticism of AU Call Centre Model

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By Rory McGreal January 29, 2014 - 4:26am

Tony Bates' article is here

TB>>  is an excerpt from Tony's article

RMc>>> is my response

My response:


You have provoked me to a response:

TB>> “Some might call this the Telus or Bell system of phone service customer support, and we know how well that works.”

RMc>>> Let’s get real. Few people remember how well the previous system worked at Bell. I do. And I know that it worked very poorly. Bell NEVER provided the personal support that you are talking about. You often waited ages for answers to simple questions. At least with their call centre approach you can now get standard answers. For more unusual questions, you are transferred to someone who knows about the issue. In the past, you would eventually get a person who also would then transfer you to someone who possibly had answers. So, their call centre model is better for simple queries and at least just as good for more complex ones.

TB>>“Under the previous tutorial system, a student has direct contact with someone teaching the course, and the tutor can initiate contact.”

RMc>>> This is not exactly right. The student could try to contact the tutor and leave a message for call back in most cases under the previous system. Sometimes, they might catch the tutor on the first call.  So, to call it “direct contact” is not quite accurate. In the call centre, they will reach a professional immediately. This professional, unlike the tutor, will have training in the most common questions, queries, concerns that student have regarding administration, schedules, programme requirements, etc.  If it is a subject area related question, they will be immediately directed to an appropriate tutor.  Or, they can use email for more direct contact.  Previously, and even now in most cases, when a student asks a non-subject area question, the tutor directs them to a professional.

TB>> “This is clearly an attempt to save money” – Bob Barnetson.

RMc>>> Of course it is. And why is it a problem when a cash-strapped university (or even one that is ok financially) attempts to save money? Why pay more for an outdated system when a more economical one is available? As an advisor on costing, I would have thought that this would be the one aspect of the model that you would support.

TB>> “the research on this issue is clear: the earlier students receive a response to a question, the better their performance, and the less likely they are to drop out.”

RMc>>> The call centre model is especially designed to provide students with the response they need as soon as possible. The previous tutor model allowed for a reasonable call back time of 48hrs. This is no longer acceptable. Students demand the response they need when they need it.

TB>>  “many of its undergraduate programs are still mainly print or text-based, a costly and antiquated model, supported by tutoring”

RMc>>>How does this jive with your previous comments supporting this tutor-based “antiquated model” over a more technologically advanced and adaptive one?

TB>> "Rather than undertaking a general review of its undergraduate teaching with an attempt to develop more interactive, online programs, more emphasis on social learning, and more flexible course designs, it is tinkering with what it sees as the most expensive part of its program delivery."

RMc>>> I can only agree with your call for a review and support for updating our programs. However, the call centre is NOT “tinkering”. It is a substantive and reasonable adaptation to the online environment. It has been successfully tested in one centre for many years; it is now being tested in another centre. If anything, we have been too slow in adapting.  -- Your Titanic analogy is a bit of a stretch, but yes AU has to change course.

All the best.



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