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The rise of Higher Education chatbots

Welcome to the first post of a 2 part series where we start by getting to know bot technology and its uses across various industries. In part 2 we will narrow our focus to the specific use of bots in Higher Education.

The idea of chatbots first appeared in the 1960s but we’ve only started to realize their real-world potential relatively recently. With growing developments in natural language processing, AI and the proliferation of text messaging applications such as Slack, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, the rise of bots in communication promises significant and tangible benefits to organizations in a whole raft of sectors and industries.

What is a chatbot?

At its most basic, a bot is an automated program designed to perform a specific task. For example tweeting every new word that appears in the New York Times or getting Obama to say what you type. When you apply this tech to conversational situations, you get a chatbot.

A chatbot is a program designed to simulate human conversations and so far has had interesting implications for organizations with an obvious application being customer/student service and experience. According to the 2018 State of Chatbots Report, the most common use of chatbots among consumers include getting quick answers to urgent questions (37%), resolving a complaint or problem (35%), and getting detailed answers or explanations (35%).

How are organizations using chatbots today?

The BBC has various bot projects on the go but a recent successful bot pilot involved inserting an in-article explainer chatbot to give readers the chance to find out more about a topic in a conversational way.

Healthcare is another industry exploring the potential for bots in transforming its communications and treatment capabilities. Bots like Sensly and Ada allow patients to report their symptoms and receive a referral, help book appointments or obtain self-care advice. Babylon is an example of where bots and humans are working hand in hand to provide a better patient experience. It offers a symptom checker and connects you to real doctors over video conference. Doctors can then prescribe medication after the appointment, which helps to streamline the end-to-end consultation-to-treatment process.

Within Financial Services, chatbots are being used to improve the customer experience, reduce service costs and serve more people, quicker, through more channels. Capital One for example deployed Eno, which allows customers to make account inquiries and view balances and transfers. The Bank of America also has a bot, Erica that can help customers pay bills and check the status of their accounts.

Why should we use chatbots?

The profile of today’s students (those with the spending power) is changing. Millennials and Gen Z share commonalities of being digitally native, time-starved and increasingly demanding. This, combined with the developments in chatbot tech and the preference and prevalence of messaging channels, have made it impossible for organizations to ignore the potentially huge impact it could have on their business.

With consumer expectation of instant forms of communications, chatbots offer 24/7 user engagement. Unlike their human counterparts, chatbots can perform tasks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week meaning consumers no longer have to wait significant amounts of time for a response. This leads to greater satisfaction, improved loyalty and customer lifetime value as well as being a nice competitive differentiator.

That’s not to say human interaction in customer service or student experience will become obsolete.

We believe that the most transformative results will be seen when man and machine work together. Automation in customer service isn’t designed to replace humans but to free them from repetitive, manual jobs, allowing them to focus on higher-impact, more valuable tasks that require a human touch. Chatbots might be available 24/7 but there will still be a need for humans in more complex aspects of customer service or in situations where customers or students prefer or need face-to-face assistance.

Chatbots also let you as an institution get a better understanding of your students. By integrating chatbot technology with existing CRM or marketing platforms, you can collect vast quantities of very detailed information on an individual level. As an organization, you can start to build a very detailed profile of each student, their preferences and past behaviors and use this information to improve and personalize any future communications.

As well as a compounding personalization effect, the very fact there is a resource available to provide information and attention to your query at all times is, in itself, a huge business benefit. Giving personal attention to every student exactly when and where they want it isn’t feasible from either a cost or logistical perspective. Chatbots help solve that problem.

What is the future of chatbots?

Advances in chatbot technology and the tech that feeds into them such as natural language processing, speech to text and AI are happening everyday. Conversations with bots are becoming more human-like, more useful and more convenient. It is the use of more advanced bots in communication that will have the biggest impact on businesses and organizations – for both customers, students and staff. These bots will be grounded in AI, will be multi-channel, and have the ability to learn and develop, improving the experience with every subsequent interaction. They will be integrated with back end systems that will be able to extract and store large amounts of individualized data for analysis. The use of bots will move beyond just being able to provide timely information but into situations where actions can be taken such as lead capture, event registration, referral and so on.

What about the specific use of chatbots in Higher Education? Catch our next post, coming soon, where we discuss exactly that!