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Gecko Talks recap: 5 ways chatbots can help community colleges increase student engagement

We share some of Arapahoe Community College's insights from our recent Gecko Talks webinar...

How can chatbots help community colleges increase student engagement?

We recently held our latest Gecko Talks webinar with one of our superstar clients, Director of Admissions at Arapahoe Community College, Kayce O’Brien. ACC has bucked sector-wide declines to see a 3% uptick in enrollment since they implemented their Gecko chatbot, and that’s not all. They also launched their bot in April 2020 and used it to support current and prospective students as they navigated the challenges of the pandemic.

You can watch the webinar on-demand or read on to discover some of the biggest takeaways from the event. There were so many great insights to choose from but, here, we’ve picked 5 highlights that will help community colleges increase student engagement and enrollment.

Kayce O'Brien Arapahoe Community College
Gecko
I was able to document that as the chatbot got smarter and as more people started to use it, our call volume went down.
Gecko
Kayce O'Brien
Director of Admissions, Arapahoe Community College

1) Enables them to support students

One thing that really stuck out was when Kayce shared how Arapahoe Community College supported students through those first moments of the pandemic. “We were there for them, night and day. I could tell you a variety of things that came in through the chatbot. I am scared. I don’t have money for groceries. I’m struggling with childcare as an adult learner.”

ACC managed this incredibly difficult situation first of all, by listening. Then, they took action. They adopted a multi-channel communication strategy that was built around community care, where they personally reached out to every single one of their current students to find out how they could support them – providing them with a wifi hotspot, a laptop, whatever they needed.

When it came to prospective students, they did a 180 on their communication plans, pivoted events to online, and used the chatbot to help prospects access the virtual Open House events. They also made sure they communicated with them at the appropriate time and in the appropriate channel. “We weren’t texting students if we didn’t already have a relationship with them. However, we were there for them if they needed help.”

2) Reduces pressure on staff - and proves ROI

Measuring the impact of any technology that you bring into your school can be tricky. There are so many moving parts – how can you know for sure what’s moving the dial and making an impact? This also comes into play when you have to defend your spend each year. As Kayce herself acknowledges, “I’m a community college, I have to be mindful of budgets.”

Well, one key piece of advice Kayce had was being laser-focused on the data they were collecting. ACC tracked the impact of their chatbot by looking at what was going on with their communication channels, particularly their phone calls, during spring 2020. What they saw was that the number of phone calls the team was receiving decreased as the chatbot usage increased.

Kayce explains, “I was able to document that as the chatbot got smarter and as more people started to use it, our call volume started to go down. Chat conversations increased, call volume went down, and my team took a sigh of relief because they weren’t constantly answering the phones. There are so many reports [in Gecko] that you can pull to show the ROI.”

3) Scale communications

Everyone in higher ed would probably like to offer super personalized communications. In reality, though, it’s not always that simple. There are only so many conversations you can have a day, right? But in the middle of a pandemic, being able to get answers to as many students as possible, as quickly as possible, was hugely important. The chatbot was a scalable solution.

What Arapahoe Community College realized is that they could communicate a message one-on-one in a phone call… or they could scale up that communication to a wider audience by building the question and answer in their bot. With so much uncertainty, students were in real need of answers.

Kayce said, “All these questions were coming up and flooding in and we just didn’t have a way to respond super-quick. We were tracking our phone traffic, we were trying to respond to voice mails, and what we found was that all these questions were coming into the chatbot. We were like, we know the answer, and if I write the question in the chat I can answer this question for 100 people instead of just one person at a time.”

4) Be more responsive

One thing that we all learned during the pandemic is that being nimble is so important. Everyone was living in a time of shifting sands, where everything was changing on a rolling basis. In higher education, in-person events were cancelled overnight, campuses closed down, and policies over vaccines were changing all the time. Managing those changes was – and still is – a lot.

ACC found that having a responsive tool in play, the Gecko chatbot, helped them be reactive and responsive in a time when it was critical to get important information out to as many students as quickly as possible.

The design of the Gecko chatbot also meant they could make crucial changes to the content themselves. ACC didn’t have to wait on someone to implement those changes on their behalf, they could go straight in and make updates so everything was fully up-to-date. They’ve used this service not just during the pandemic, but also during more recent times when they had to close the campus because of bad weather. In both cases, ease of access was key.

As Kayce points out, “During Covid when policies and rules changed, to be able to have those answers instantly updated for our prospective and current students and even faculty and staff was super helpful.”

5) Build an enrollment funnel

When ACC first started the chatbot, it was ungated. What this means is that they didn’t request any information about the person who was asking the question – it was just a straightforward chatbot. However, they quickly realized that if someone was asking a question and they weren’t there to answer it – which they weren’t at 10pm – they needed to find a way to get back in touch. Therefore, they had to collect more user data.

Arapahoe started off by asking the person interacting with the chatbot for their first name, last name, and email address. This has now evolved into identifying whether the person is a prospect, current student, parent/guardian, and so on. This has enabled ACC to best build the pipeline, understand who is using the chatbot most frequently, and then build that funnel pipeline to the CRM for prospects or to their parent/family resources.

Additionally, Arapahoe has added additional contact information requests on different channels of the chatbot, such as asking students for their student ID number on the advising and financial aid page, so that specific questions can be answered in live chat conversations.

Kayce explains, “Now, I have a new funnel pipeline. I can collect prospects and load them into my CRM. I can also collect parent/guardian and family information and then email them and direct them to our parent/family website.”

Want to hear more? Sign up to watch it on-demand here.

Kayce O'Brien Arapahoe Community College
Gecko
Now, I have a new funnel pipeline. I can collect prospects and load them into my CRM, along with parent/guardian data.
Gecko
Kayce O'Brien
Director of Admissions, Arapahoe Community College

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