Over the past decade, chatbots have become more accessible and less expensive to universities. By incorporating an AI-powered chatbot into your website, applicants, students, and parents can find answers to their questions instantaneously. Institutions also demonstrate that they have the tech-savviness necessary to educate Gen Z and Millennial students.
The upcoming AIRC conference in Miami will have great learning opportunities on tech tools like chatbots as well as the usual range of international student recruitment insights from all corners of the globe. The Intead team is excited to present alongside our colleagues from Fordham University, Northeastern University, and Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science. Please be in touch to schedule a meeting with us at the event.
Our recent presentation at the CIEE Summit offered up perspective on global partnerships and how they support an institution’s larger internationalization effort. Find some of that perspective here: 10 Ways to Develop Strategic Advantage for Enrollment. We are working on providing access to the full recording and slide deck.
Back to the chatbot discussion: with today’s conversational chatbots, you are creating the user experience your important site visitors have come to expect as they traverse the internet every day. It is all about building the relationships that drive enrollment conversion.
Read on for a breakdown of what you’ll want to consider.
Benefits of Chatbots
Why should you consider adding a chatbot to your website? There are many ways that this AI-powered technology can boost your online visibility.
- Immediate response. Academia often gets a bad rap for red tape and slow response times. Research has demonstrated that institutions first to engage a prospective student often become the first choice option for that student. Today’s digitally-driven consumers don’t have time to wait for email responses, they expect to get their questions answered immediately. A chatbot is one of the easiest ways to do this. Human interaction is prioritized for the truly engaged prospective student (those with demonstrated intent based on lead scoring).
- After hours access and dissolving time zones. Chatbots not only provide speedy responses, they also respond at any time of day. You never know where prospective students are applying from. They could be one state over or they could be on the other side of the world! Chatbots can answer their questions regardless of the time difference. This aspect of employing a chatbot is helpful to both prospective international students and international recruiting agents who may use the chatbot as they discuss options with the students they are meeting. Bonus Feature: reduce recruiting agent training time.
- Increased student engagement. Today’s students expect their universities to be tech-savvy. Parents also want to build trust with their child's learning institutions. AI-powered chatbots are able to provide substantive responses based on the content you already have on your website about degree requirements, faculty strengths, internships and career paths, student services, and much more. A powerful (as opposed to basic-level) chatbot on your site denotes professionalism. By ensuring that any answers to their questions are readily available, you also minimize the chance of visitors leaving the site to get their information somewhere else.
- Cost-efficiency. The only other way to provide 24/7 answers through your website would be to have staff available through expensive call center operations.
- Data for continuous improvement. A well designed chatbot offers serious advantages to institutions seeking to tailor their content to emerging student information needs. Reporting on the questions being asked, the cadence of those questions, and so much more becomes instant, reliable feedback to your marketing team. All catalogued, easily analyzed and interpreted. This feature is huge and often undervalued or overlooked.
Choosing A Chatbot Provider
Once you’ve decided that you want to add a chatbot to your website, the next step is to make sure that you’re selecting a provider that meets your university’s unique needs.
When selecting a chatbot, make sure that it works as a viable replacement for talking to a staff member. The chatbot should be versatile in the range of conversations it can have and pull information from a wide spectrum of sources. The chatbot should also be able to fully integrate with your existing website and offer multichannel options so you can engage students at numerous points of contact (social channels, SMS, etc).
There will inevitably be queries that your chatbot isn’t equipped to answer. When these messages come in, make sure your chatbot has the ability to respond appropriately and escalate these questions to a live agent in a way that makes the student/end-user feel respected and confident in a future reply.
There are chatbots available at every price point. Facebook currently offers a free version of a chatbot. Even SurveyMonkey has a chatbot tool. They seem to be everywhere. While free and cheap might be a great way to get started, the features these chatbots offer are limited and not necessarily designed to fully support an academic institution vs more typical retail sales. (The old adage: you get what you pay for.)
For academic institutions, there are a wide variety of more powerful options available. Among these options is iSchoolConnect (an Intead partner). They offer advanced features that are specifically tailored to academic institutions with self-learning AI that uses your existing site content to answer visitor questions with little set-up time and minimal staff supervision of the chatbot as it learns your content on its own. Depending on the provider you choose, it may be up to you to customize the chatbot’s conversation flow to ask the proper questions to gather the data you need.
- Important: consider the chatbot installation process and level of effort required by your internal team. Where the chatbot is hosted will make a big difference to set-up time and reliability.
- Caution: if your website content is out-of-date and inaccurate, your chatbot's answers will be too.
- Analytics: You’ll want to look at the provider's tools for reporting. Once you have a chatbot in place, it’s crucial to monitor and interpret the analytics and reporting to continually learn about your visitors, adjust content to engage and convert students, and optimize overall performance.
For today’s always-online student base, quick and personalized customer service has become the standard. Your goal: meeting your prospective students’ expectations with on-brand, data-driven, 24-hour customer service.