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Creating inclusion through chatbots: how Gecko’s chatbot module enables UCI to be more inclusive

We caught up with UCI to discuss how they're creating a more accessible and inclusive experience for prospects...

Chatbots can do a lot of great things for your school. They mean you can deliver a better experience for prospects by answering inquiries quickly and efficiently. They mean your staff aren’t stuck in the perpetual time suck of having to respond to the same questions over and over again.

They also mean you can create a great impression of your institution and the kind of experience that students can have there, all of which is incredibly important. However, chatbots can also play a part in a much bigger conversation, and that’s the conversation around student equity.

A lot of institutions want to widen their access and be as inclusive as possible. However, they’re often let down by the systems and processes they have in place. How can you really be inclusive if you’re only available during certain hours, which don’t work for students in different time zones or those who work during the day?

UCI recognised that Gecko’s chatbot technology could help them drive forward their diversity and inclusion strategy and serve their community in some really clever ways.

Isabella Collas, Admissions Counselor at UCI, told us more…

creating inclusion through chatbots
Isabella Collas
Gecko
“I'm a huge Gecko advocate because when we're working with such a diverse population of students, they're not able to access key information through our regular office hours. Widening that breadth of access to information is really important for UCI.”
Gecko
Isabella Collas
Admissions Counselor, UCI

A mission to serve diverse communities

UCI attracts a diverse community of students. They engage with prospects and students of multiple nationalities, located in different locations and time zones, as well as first-generation students who are the first in their family to consider going to college. Making themselves accessible to these different demographics is really important.

Isabella explains, “Our mission as a campus at UCI is to serve our diverse communities. We want our communications and our accessibility as a campus to reflect that mission. Rather than just saying we want to support these communities, we wanted to put support systems in place that enable us to deliver. The Gecko chatbot has been a big part in that.”

creating inclusion through chatbots

Meeting demand outside of core office hours

A lot of schools needed the push from the pandemic to start using more advanced technology in their admissions process. However, UCI was already there. They’d recognized they wanted to better serve prospects who wanted to reach them outside of core office hours. Lockdown meant that that need was even greater than before.

They wanted to be able to offer a better service to:

  • Out of state students
  • International students
  • Students who are at work during the day
  • Students who don’t have access to technology during the day
  • Parents who also likely to be at work during the day

“During the pandemic, we were one of the very few offices that were able to say, ‘We have a plan already because we already have the Gecko chatbot.’

“We never stopped using it because of how effective it’s been in accessibility and in meeting the digital literacy of this generation. It’s the best way to reach out to students and get 24/7 access to information.”

Isabella Collas
Gecko
"Our mission is to serve our diverse communities. Rather than just saying we want to support these communities, we wanted to put support systems in place that enable us to deliver. The Gecko chatbot has been a big part in that.”
Gecko
Isabella Collas
Admissions Counselor, UCI

Using gated chat to capture data

The Gecko chatbot at UCI works by capturing information about a prospect before they start a conversation. The bot will ask them to select their inquiry type from a list and choose whether they’re a freshman applicant, prospective freshman, parent or so on. They need to submit this information along with their name and email address in order to start the chat.

What that means afterwards is that everything afterwards is tracked and the school can see exactly what a student is interested in finding out. In other words, it helps them see the expressed interest of the prospect, through their interactions, and tailor content that will connect with them and support and guide them through the application journey.

Isabella adds, “I’m proud of our chatbot at UCI, Peter the Anteater. He does a really great job of answering questions and providing students with key information 24/7.”

5 ways chat creates a customer-centric experience

1) Acts as a first responder to issues

The chatbot effectively flags what doesn’t make sense to the audience on the UCI website, through the inquiries that come in. If everybody is asking Peter the same question it tells the team that this information isn’t on the website in a way that’s understandable or accessible.

Isabella explains, “If we see a lot of students having trouble with something then we know, ‘This probably isn’t accessible.’ The Gecko chatbot is a really great first responder to issues and it’s always been the front-facing way for us to figure out what the challenges are for our students. It’s the best real-time problem-solving tool that we have.”

2) Keeps UCI close to the user experience

The chatbot alerts the team to unclear communication that has been sent out to students. If the bot gets a flurry of inquiries in a short time on a particular subject the team can connect the dots and figure out that, for example, an email has gone out with unclear messaging.

“Sometimes we get a lot of inquiries overnight and we’re like, ‘I wonder what happened?’ Then we might realise that an email has gone out from the financial aid team, for example. We know these trends because of the chatbot, otherwise, we wouldn’t know what students are experiencing. The bot is an unfiltered catchall for what students are struggling with.”

3) Enables them to anticipate needs

The bot tracks the volume of inquiries UCI get about certain topics and alerts the team to what questions students are asking. It’s a really great way to streamline those needs and consider if there are any events or communications they can create to meet that need.

“If we’re thinking about first-generation students, for example, they might not even know to ask for something. But if we see questions on a certain topic being asked by a number of students we can anticipate that need and respond accordingly.”

4) Guides prospects to explore

“We have lots of information on our website already, but having a chatbot guides exploration for students and directs them to the right resources. Again, students don’t necessarily know what to ask, but they might tell us ‘I’m interested in majors’ or ‘I’m interested in x’ in the chat. By presenting them with Gecko skill trees, it promotes that exploration.”

5) Enables support and structure

“The bot gives us an opportunity for us to support students without them having to go and look for information, like finding the interest form on our website. They’re giving us their data and saying, ‘I’m interested in UCI’ and then we can start sharing helpful information with them and notifying them of events or application deadlines that they might not know about otherwise. That allows us to really support students through their journey.”

Isabella Collas
Gecko
"The Gecko chatbot is a really great first responder to issues and it’s always been the front-facing way for us to figure out what the challenges are for our students. It’s the best real-time problem-solving tool that we have.”
Gecko
Isabella Collas
Admissions Counselor, UCI