How Chatbots Are Revolutionizing Higher Education

The way people interact with businesses, and technology, is changing rapidly. In the era of instant gratification and digitization, people expect immediate answers to their inquiries – college and university students are no exception.

To meet the demands of the modern consumer, applications are increasingly integrating with a popular conversational interface called the chatbot. These types of applications can be as “chatty” as you want them to be and you can find them already in your home with items such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home. 

Based on current rates of interaction, chatbots can ensure that we are both more informed and more productive. For example, instead of searching through a website to check the weather, you can simply ask Amazon’s Alexa for the current forecast in your area.

Not to mention, in today’s connected environments, automation is what sets organizations apart. Chatbots are one of the technologies offering support and market automation, answering and/or offering solutions to the most common questions. In terms of higher education, chatbots can serve many roles and work continuously answering thousands of questions simultaneously. 

Plus, with advances in natural language processing (NLP), chatbots can interpret various languages more efficiently while providing a more naturally-conversational experience to end users.

For example, chatbots can be deployed to answer simple and quick questions about class sizes, campus location, application deadlines, fees, scholarship information, tuition, and more. It’s important to note that while consumers, and students, are becoming more familiar with chatbots, it only makes sense to implement this tool if it makes interaction more relevant and convenient for end users. Keep reading to learn more.

So then, what are chatbots?

Chatbots can be powered either by artificial intelligence or basic scripts entered through a programming language. As the name implies, chatbots are computer programs intended to “chat” with humans. 

Think of them as avatars or virtual representatives for your institution. Initially, chatbots were commonly used on digital messenger tools. Now, they are truly being used everywhere. 

While it’s not a novel idea for robots to interact with humans, what has changed is how chatbots are being used to augment and automate business workflows and processes. In some cases, you’re interacting with a chatbot online, in others you’re literally chatting with a physical device.

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How do chatbots operate?

To break it down, there really are two main types of chatbots: Simple and intelligent.

Simple chatbots work with programming inputs and specified rules. These rules are defined by the developer with key outputs depending on the scenario. To illustrate, a student may ask, “What are the admissions fees for 2021?” and the developer can create a scripted response to this question. 

Although, if the chatbot does not have a response, then their scripts may need to be updated. Simple chatbots are relatively easy to program and deploy, but the scripting updates can be time consuming.

Intelligent chatbots are of a different breed altogether as they are powered by AI and NLP which means they get smarter, or more intelligent, with time and experience. They don’t require any predefined inputs or rules. Instead, they use pretrained models. 

In addition, every incoming question and response are logged within their algorithms and stored for future use. As a result, updates aren’t as time consuming.

How can chatbots help higher education?

With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) collecting, and distributing, big data it has truly become a daunting task for any human to filter the massive amounts of data. Yet, most higher education institutions are also in the business of customer service and it is critical to improve the efficiency of every department from admissions to academic advising, the registrar, financial aid office, and more. 

Students know they have choices, and they will pick the institution that makes them feel the most engaged. But, how can you do that with thousands of students asking questions every day and every hour? Let’s take a closer look at where chatbots can help.

Handle inquiries with ease

Students of today are highly tech savvy. In fact, many of them take coding classes in high school. They understand how applications work. Moreover, they are used to getting the things they want with a simple tap. As such, they have become impatient – we all have. They want answers to their questions, and they want them now. We are living in the age of  24×7 service. 

Stores don’t close anymore because they have online interfaces. People expect instant gratification and immediate replies. With limited resources, how can universities meet these types of demands? Enter chatbots.

You just can’t hire enough people to manage student inquiries, especially during the peak admissions cycle. Plus, you might not have the funds to do so. Chatbots can help to enhance your admissions and registration ecosystem by interacting with students, handling redundant questions, and thereby improving the overall student experience.

Do you work at a call center or a university?

College students need the right types of information to make insightful decisions. As schools expand, it can be difficult for employees to spend all day answering the same questions over and over again. You don’t want your staff to become call center agents. 

Not only would this be bad for employee morale, but when your employees are unhappy, they will not provide the best customer service. Instead, chatbots can take over the mundane queries and improve workflows so your employees can focus on more strategic initiatives. 

In the end, chatbots save time. They can respond to thousands of inquiries, all at once. Students can chat with them any time of day, which is especially helpful for international students. And, this type of instant response system also improves customer satisfaction which may result in better enrollment rates.

Conquer the summer melt

There is a term in the higher ed world called “summer melt,” which describes the time of year when accepted students fail to enroll for various reasons. It is not a good sign if summer melt rates start to increase. The objective is to improve enrollment and retention rates. Perhaps students lose interest because they aren’t engaged. 

One way to conquer summer melt is to implement chatbots who can embody the school spirit and send reminders, surveys, and information via text message or push notification as opposed to snail mail. The chatbot can also follow up on application status, and/or assist with application-related queries such as what to enter into the FAFSA form. To go a bit further, the chatbot can help distribute forms as well.

Chatbots can send and receive thousands of messages, basically managing a workload that would normally take 10 full-time employees to complete – if not more. And, the prospective students get the information they need to complete their enrollment process.

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Improve student life

Chatbots aren’t just used in conjunction with admissions software to aid admissions — universities are deploying them to assist students with their academic studies and campus life in general. 

Chatbots can do more than just facilitate admissions, they can be designed to help improve student life and offer aid where needed. If a student needs to meet with an advisor for a specific reason, they might interact with a chatbot and then find the right advisor and book the right time. Some students might need additional support, and a chatbot can connect them to the right resource right away. 

It is the constant communication, and relevant answers, that can put students at ease and improve their campus life. Students don’t have to wait ages, standing in line for information. Further, when procedures and processes are updated, chatbots can send thousands of messages to ensure every student gets the information they need in an instant. 

Final thought

Invariably, higher ed will always have a need for human-to-human interaction. But, in the digital era, the only way to thrive is to invest in technologies that meet the mainstream consumer demand of instant information and personalized experiences. Chatbots already offer quick information in various ways. Not only can this keep your students more engaged, and offer more personalization, but it can also improve customer service while improving your workflows.



How Chatbots Are Revolutionizing Higher Education

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