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Going live with a Gecko chatbot: Amarillo College share their story

Amarillo College

Seven steps to going live with a Gecko chatbot…

Amarillo College recently went live with their Gecko chatbot. So when it comes to talking about their experience, it’s still really fresh in their minds.

Our case study with Amarillo College spotlights their implementation experience and shares how there was much less IT intervention needed in the implementation than they expected. The admissions team was in complete control of the project and didn’t have to work around their IT team’s schedule – meaning they could go live earlier than they thought!

The autonomy they had in the process was huge for Amarillo College. But what else did they learn through building their bot? Here, they’ve given us a sneak peek of their Gecko chatbot implementation…

Maria Juarez Amarillo College
Gecko
“My experience of implementing the Gecko chatbot has been wonderful. We've never felt confused or on our own, we've had full support through the entire process.”
Gecko
Maria S. Juarez
Director of Enrollment Services, Amarillo College

1) Schedule the first session

Introducing a new solution to your school is always going to be a time investment. However, Amarillo College liked the fact that the Gecko implementation could align with their schedule. They blocked out time in their diary for it, but they also took breaks during busy periods so that their team didn’t feel under too much pressure. Maria explains…

“Gecko’s Head of Implementation, Jonny Richardson, told us from the start that it could take as little or as much time as we needed, it was just about scheduling the time. It took about 18 hours in terms of the total meeting time. That covered everything, from learning how to build the questions and answers to managing and training the bot.”

2) Get the right people in the room

When it comes to introducing any new technology solution at an institution, it’s important to get the right mix of stakeholders in the room. For Amarillo College, that meant making sure they included people from all levels of the admissions department in the process.

“We had myself, office managers, trainers and end-users in the room. We had a team of about six people involved in the build because you get different questions at all levels. We want to definitely be aware of the escalations, but the end-users helped us recognize the most common, regular questions that they are asked in the office every day.”

Amarillo College

3) Build skills trees

One of the biggest parts of building a successful chatbot is building a skills tree. A skills tree is a list of pre-defined options that students can choose between in the chat conversation – core topics like undergraduate admissions, order a prospectus, book a campus tour, and financial aid. They enable chatbots to direct students to the information they’re looking for quickly and easily.

“We had to decide what information we wanted to make immediately available to students, and what questions we wanted to build to point students to from those skills trees.”

4) Find the common questions

This is where you have to think of all the frequently asked questions. In the beginning, Maria said that her team were instinctively more focused on the questions that could lead to escalations. As customer service agents, their mind is trained to worry about the what-ifs. But this process is really about finding the common, easy-to-answer questions.

“While we may tend to focus more on the specialized questions, our students often just want to know the simple stuff like, where’s the library? What’s your phone number? What are your office hours? And so it wasn’t until after we’d finished with that exercise and our staff went in there and triggered a lot of questions, that the common questions started to float to the top really quickly. It’s the stuff they’re hearing on the phone all day, every day.”

“One of the great things Gecko’s Head of Implementation, Jonny Richardson, did was tell us to build our questions and then let several people just loose in there to bombard the chatbot with questions.”

Maria Juarez Amarillo College
Gecko
“We've worked hard on shifting our answers on the chatbot to make it more conversational. We want it to feel like talking to a person."
Gecko
Maria S. Juarez,
Director of Enrollment Services, Amarillo College

5) Make it conversational

One thing Amarillo College has spent a lot of time developing was ensuring the answers on the chatbot look and feel human – so that students feel like they’re talking to a person. The information they have on their website tends to be technical and instructional. While, of course, they want to point to that information, switching up the tone of voice was key.

“We’ve worked hard on shifting our answers on the chatbot to make it more conversational, which is a word that Johnny used. We’re used to giving instruction that students need, but they want to get it in a way that feels more like talking to a person. We’re trying to make our chatbot more personable because we want it to feel like a conversation.”

6) Test, test, test!  

Amarillo has done a lot of internal testing to make sure they have answers to all the questions they received. There’s been a lot of internal collaboration and testing to ensure these answers are accurate and up to date. The next step involves gathering student questions and paying attention to the nuanced ways that they would ask a question. 

“The questions may be similar, but the phrasing is going to be very different coming from a student versus coming from an internal person. We know the typical questions that students are going to ask, but if our answers can be connected to the questions in the phrasing that a student would ask I think that makes our chatbot a lot more valuable.”

7) Learn as you go

Launching a bot may feel like the end of the process, but it’s really just the start. Amarillo College is approaching the bot as a tool that they, and other departments at the school, can collectively use to help them improve and refine the information they have on their website.

“We’ve had a couple of alerts from other departments within the institution that say, hey, we just wondered if you could change this answer to this or could you refine your information to point students that way? And I can say, OK, but we need this information to be more readily available on the website so we can point to it. We feel like, even if we have a few missteps at the beginning that’s OK. We’re learning and they’re learning.”

Amarillo College

The experience overall

Amarillo College are really pleased with their implementation experience and are already looking to the future. They’re working with marketing to develop their chatbot avatar and are planning for their next big challenge when the new semester begins in Fall.

They’ve also signed up for numerous other Gecko modules and will be looking to roll those out in the coming months. But, for now, it’s the chatbot that is live.

“My experience of implementing the Gecko chatbot has been wonderful. Everyone that I’ve brought into the room as part of the implementation has talked about how great and personable all of our experiences have been, and how pleasant and knowledgeable everyone at Gecko is. All the people that I’ve worked with at Gecko have been great. We’ve never felt confused or on our own, we’ve had full support through this entire process.”

Maria Juarez Amarillo College
Gecko
“Everyone that I’ve brought into the room as part of the implementation has talked about how great and personable all of our experiences have been.”
Gecko
Maria S. Juarez
Director of Enrollment Services, Amarillo College