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How do chatbots work? We got our Head of Implementation to answer

[Interview: Pt 1]

I caught up with Jonny Richardson, our Head of Implementation, who manages all of our global chatbot implementations and has helped numerous institutions get their chatbot live in one week!

First things first, what are chatbots?

Chatbots are no longer the future. They’re here, right now. Think of them as digital assistants who are alert, and online 24/7/365, and are able to help students with whatever questions they have. We recently did an analysis of our 20 biggest bots in the US and the EU and found that over 60% of all student questions happen outside of office hours. Chatbots are the means by which you can help deliver the service and responsiveness that students expect in 2020.

How do chatbots learn?

In the same way, you or I learn – through experience. Each Chatbot is a blank slate, ready for you and your team to share your wisdom, knowledge, brand, and voice. Once you’ve taught it the basics, bots will learn by engaging with students in the wild. It’ll learn how students phrase questions and how best to answer them. It’ll also quickly flag any areas of knowledge it doesn’t yet know about so you can teach it. You and your team have a wealth of experience; sharing that with your bot will quickly bring it up to speed.

Why does it not understand me?

Whilst a bot not understanding a question is a frustrating experience you can take solace in the fact that:

1) The bot will learn from its mistake.

2) Students knew how to contact you before you launched a chatbot – the bot appearing on your website won’t make them forget how to email you if they need it!

In all seriousness, one of the most exciting challenges is teaching the bot to be confident in identifying keywords and phrases that students use when asking about certain topics. This is hard because we all employ different lexicons based on a multitude of other factors. The bot will encounter times when it’s less certain of certain verbiage. The good news though? Once you’ve taught it once, it won’t ever forget.

How do we teach it?

Quickly and with focus. The majority of our bots go from being created to going live in less than 5 days. At the point of launch, they typically have a 70-80% success rate (students saying thats useful to the bots messages); a number which steadily goes up as the bot gets more experienced.

The better question to ask isn’t “how do we teach it?”, but “what do we teach it?”. What problem do you want to solve with your bot? What questions keep coming in that you’d like not to have to answer, ad Infinitum? Once you know what you want to teach, it’s incredibly easy to add tens or even hundreds of answers to your bot in a single day.

How does that bot know when a student wants to converse with a human?

Your bot, bless it, is a trier. It won’t give up. Until a student asks to speak to a human, it’ll keep answering the questions asked to it and learning as it goes. If a student asks to speak to a human, it’s up to you and the team to decide how you’d like your bot to behave. Should it hand the conversation over to you, sending you a text and email notifying you of a conversation to pick up? Should it provide the student with your team’s email address? It’s your choice.

It’s also up to you how early you’d like your bot to start offering alternate methods of contact. Should it nudge a student in the direction of human-to-human chat if it makes a mistake? How about if the student makes a complaint or deems a response not useful? You have full control over every aspect of your bot.

Does a bot learn from its mistakes?

Of course. It also learns from its successes. We gather a tremendous amount of data from every conversation which allows you to positively reinforce or redirect your bot’s behaviors!

This week Jonny covered:

  1. What a chatbot is and how we can teach it, just like any other member of your team!
  2. And, how you can get up and running in less than a week

Are you interested in learning how to build a chatbot, which could save your team 3 days of work in a month, on average! Well, you can now become a chatbot hero for your admissions team in our ‘Zero to chatbot in 30 minutes’ webinar

Register to watch it here!

We’ll be back next week with Part 2 of our interview!

Interested in adding a chatbot to your team?