How university chatbots benefit higher education

The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of university chatbots across the UK and the rest of the world. But what makes them so valuable to the student experience?

At the height of the pandemic, universities across the UK (and the rest of the world for that matter) were forced to suspend in-person classes to protect students and staff from COVID-19. In response, school administrators turned to technology to maintain communication with students — even build stronger relationships with them.

Take Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, for example. 

When the university cancelled its Admitted Student Days, a series of days where students can visit the campus and socialise, administrators had to resort to new solutions to help students get a feel for the Loyola experience.

Enter Iggy — an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbot designed to engage new students and their families. Iggy digitised the Admitted Student Days experience, providing students with information about the university through SMS, Facebook messenger and Loyola’s website.

The use case for AI chatbots for universitiess

Chatbot technology holds tremendous potential as a customer service solution. According to a 2019 Helpshift survey of over 2,000 consumers across the US, UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands, 30% of respondents consider chatbots “very helpful” and would knowingly engage them. This is double the number of respondents who stated this opinion in 2018 — a sign that chatbots are gaining wider acceptance.In the context of sales and customer service, chatbots help save time for human workers by providing instant and automatic answers to frequently asked questions.

Take your average sales call, for example. All of the information-digging in that call can be automated using conversational AI — a set of technologies that enable human-like messaging and speech between computers and humans.

An AI chatbot can answer FAQs about products and services and even capture customer details that would usually need to be placed in a form — such as their contact details and credit card information — within the chat/conversation.

All of these mechanisms and processes can also be placed in the context of schools and universities, allowing admissions teams and school support staff to interact with current and potential students, parents and graduates on a scale that would require a team of hundreds of agents.

Related reading: University of Plymouth: Transforming student support in 2021 and beyond

More recently, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland came to us at Futr, looking for an AI-powered solution to deal with the massive increase in queries about their annual Clearing — a time when the surge in questions and feedback place the university’s admissions department under tremendous strain.

Already Futr has increased the team’s capacity to handle enquiries, saving the university’s admissions team from manually replying to each message.

“We helped the university respond to over 350 conversations and over 4,000 messages within a 12-hour period on the first day of Clearing. We also reduced average wait times down to only 90 seconds”

Chatbots can instantly signpost students and parents to your school’s key services, answering 80% of questions about topics such as:

  • Clearing
  • Enrolment checklist
  • Courses
  • Alumni services

Here’s a closer look at the benefits of deploying chatbots in schools and universities.

Benefits of using live chat and AI chatbots in universities

1. Credible information is just a chat away

While today’s generation of students is arguably the most tech-savvy in history, don’t make the mistake of assuming that all of them know how to look for credible information about your school online.

Normally, your university’s support teams and admissions officers would have to respond to frequently asked questions such as:

  • What are your undergraduate programmes?
  • How do I start my application?
  • How do I apply for a postgraduate programme?
  • Can you accept my provisional results for Clearing?

The influx of these questions can reach a fever pitch, especially during enrollment and Clearing season.

How university chatbots can help

Turning your digital channels into university resource hubs is one way to solve this problem.

By deploying live chat plugins and chatbots on your site, app, or Facebook Messenger profile, you can quickly answer and resolve these questions from end to end.

It’s a strategy used by schools like Georgia State University, which rolled out a chatbot in 2016 that was programmed to connect students with a knowledge base of more than 2,000 commonly asked questions. 

The chatbot didn’t just provide students with the information they needed, but it also led to a 22% reduction in summer melt — a phenomenon when a student admitted into a university doesn’t show up due to factors such as lack of support and engagement.

Chatbots can also be designed to provide students with links to important information outside of the university, such as locations of libraries, scientific websites and journals, and resources about mental health and COVID-19, among many others.

2. 24/7 assistance without hiring more staff

University chatbots allow you to scale your university’s ability to offer student support services without hiring more live agents. In fact, deploying a chatbot should help you free up time for your human staff to focus on more complex tasks and conversations that need their undivided attention.

How university chatbots can help

Chatbots make it possible for your university to be there for your students day and night. With your AI-powered virtual assistant, students simply need to reach for their smartphones to ask quick questions about their classes or the university’s services,

Here’s an example from Lancaster University and their chatbot Ask L.U. — a digital companion for university students, complete with its own unique personality. Ask L.U. also offers a voice interface that lets students ask questions about grades, tutors, clubs and more using their Amazon Echo device or the Alexa app.

This reduced dependency on your human support staff is especially helpful at a time of limited physical interaction due to the pandemic when your live agents may face logistical challenges from working remotely. 

3. Collecting student feedback instantly

Healthy student engagement is an important part of any university’s academic performance. This is why universities have annual surveys, evaluation forms and other feedback channels, providing a way for students to share their thoughts on their classes, programmes and the overall university experience. 

But filling out forms and surveys can be a slow, tedious process that discourages students from using them. 

This is where chatbots come in. 

How university chatbots can help

Chatbots provide a simpler and faster alternative to gathering feedback from students. Instead of requiring them to fill out forms and surveys manually, chatbots use natural conversation to ask students their thoughts and feedback, skipping straight to the questions relevant to a student’s specific situation. 

Implementing a chatbot also makes it possible to explore your data and understand your students’ and staff’s challenges based on the questions that keep coming up and keyword analysis. 

Create a university experience for the 21st century

In many ways, AI chatbots are the low-hanging fruit of digital transformation in universities. 

Because institutions of higher education already have existing knowledge bases of frequently asked questions, student tours and campus activities, among many others, chatbots are perhaps the simplest way to bridge the gap between students and all that digital information. 

Be sure to the Futr blog for more insights on digital transformation in schools and universities. Get in touch with the Futr team to discuss our live chat and chatbot solutions tailored for universities.

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Futr is a VC backed tech start-up with the mission of delivering superpowers to support teams everywhere.  Futr’s superpowers are transforming the way organisations serve their audiences.

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