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Trusting Your Chatbot

The story of digital transformation in higher education is one of trust and perception.

Most conversations about digital transformation involve things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented/virtual reality, facial recognition, 5G, internet of things (IoT), and quantum computing. In higher education, figuring out which technologies can have maximum impact for students and staff is the ultimate goal.

However, adoption of new technologies in higher education can be a slow process. Sometimes there’s a lack of trust, driven by perception, that acts as a roadblock to success. Plus, there’s usually a fair amount of skepticism that can erode trust which leads to a circular loop of questions like: “Will this technology do what’s been promised?” “Will we actually be more efficient?” Will we lose our jobs?” “Will we have enough time to do this?” “How will this tech actually change things?”

These are important questions as long as they don’t act as anchors against valuable change. And, it’s usually perception that influences whether or not skeptical questions turn into barriers to implementation. So how do you get to a point where you can ‘trust the tech?’

In my role with GeckoEngage, my job is to provide thoughts on how to move past organizational skepticism (on chatbots in particular) and get university leaders to understand how what’s perceived as futuristic or an add-on is actually a right now, always-on, game-changing technology that enhances the student experience.

The similarities of getting people to understand the value of chatbots in higher education remind me of what it was like when I spent a decade emphasizing the value of social media: The tech might change, but the issues around trust and perception are familiar and consistent. 

For example, I recently read a series of tweets about how admissions staffers have high rates of burnout and turnover. One potential ‘future’ solution was suggested:

Except, admissions bots are here...

Chatbots for recruitment and admissions are already in use. We’ve got bots all over the place at schools like University of California Irvine, Santa Monica College, Georgia Southern University and Western Iowa Tech.

The perception that ‘bots are coming,’ and aren’t already here, can cause massive trust issues for administrators who are trying to bring in technologies that can have immediate impact.

Can you trust the tech? Well, the short answer is 'yes.'

Let’s take a look at the University of Southampton, one of Gecko’s favorite clients (their bot’s name is an instant classic!). With more than 25,000 students, and the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee as chair in computer science at the School of Electronics and Computer Science, this is a prestigious institution that is growing rapidly and gets the value of chatbot technology as a way to increase efficiency and data capture.

When the admissions team at Southampton needed a much-deserved break over the December holidays, they trusted their bot, Botty McBotface*, to answer any inquiries that came in.

We are starting to shut down for the Christmas break - the team have cleared the inboxes and the out of offices are on. The chatbot is ready to take the brunt of enquiries for the next couple of weeks while the humans have a well deserved rest. It will be interesting to see how many conversations it has... Place your bets!

Southampton trusts their bot to get the job done.

In fact, it handled more than 300 conversations in a few weeks time and provided a conversational platform for prospective students to engage with the university, even though its staff were on vacation.

That’s the real benefit of digital transformation – a partnership between people and tech that makes meaningful, measurable impact happen.

* The best bot names are often an institution’s mascot…but sometimes you’ve got to just do a poll and let the magic happen: