The VPM Blog

Three Ways to Incorporate Chatbots in Higher Ed

Posted by Don Crow on Nov 14, 2017 12:00:00 AM

If you don't really know what a "chatbot" is, don't worry. Many people don't know them by that name, but chances are great that you've interacted with, or engaged in an online activity with a bot. If you do know what a chatbot is, but haven't considered it functional in Higher Ed just yet, I hate to tell you that you're already behind.

Let's set the stage with a few facts and figures before we dive into what a chatbot is and three ways to incorporate chatbots in higher ed.

  • More than half the world now uses a smartphone;
  • Almost two-thirds of the world’s population now has a mobile phone;
  • More than half of the world’s web traffic now comes from mobile phones;
  • 68% of Millennials prefer digital messenging platforms, AND believe that phone calls are invasive.

So, what this tells us is that we now have the potential to reach half the world's population and that the largest demographic (by generation) would prefer it to be via a messenger platform.

Enter chatbots.

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Photo by Alok Sharma from Pexels

Chatbots certainly aren't new. Technically speaking, they've been around since the early 2000's and Microsoft and AOL (Instant Messenger) were some of the earliest to employ the technology.

But wait....I can hear you asking....what do messenger apps and chatbots, (a) have in common, and (b) have to do with Higher Ed?

First of all, messenger platforms are probably how you have interacted with a chatbot, you just weren't aware. For example, Facebook messenger is a platform you've probably used - and depending upon which business page or service you "chatted" with, it could very well have been software instead of a human being on the other side.

Secondly, literally every school, college or university has social media accounts yet they aren't actively taking advantage of the cost savings and increased engagement a chatbot on a social media platform would allow.

Still not following the importance of incorporating chatbots in higher ed?

1. Improved Student Communication.

  • This should be one of the most obvious use cases - allowing prospective students and parents of prospects to engage with and ask questions about the enrollment process, financial aid and even campus life all from the comfort of Facebook messenger or another web enabled service (on the school's home page for example). By utilizing the old Frequently Asked Questions as prompts, your University admissions could outsource the more routine emails and phone calls to a chatbot - saving time and money to devote to closing the deal with students once they get on campus.
  • Another use case comes courtesy of Georgia Southern University who employed a messenger strategy to help combat "Summer Melt." Without knowing what to expect, the University saw 63% of students regularly use the service after only 4 months! If you consider 200,000 message exchanges, it would have taken a team of 10 and approximately $200,000 to handle the same workload.

2. Alumni affairs. Let's face it, once a student has cap, gown and degree in hand it's even harder than it was while they were on campus to get updated records. Most people shy away from web forms and other obvious collection methods once they've left campus because they don't want to tell your development officers, "no" when the annual fund calls.

Learn the best ways to engage with recent alumni

In full disclosure this, and the following Gameday support idea don't exist, at least not as far as I could find, so #YoureWelcome for the freebie.

Create a What's App or similar messenger platform bot dedicated to each graduation year or alumni cohort. For example, the chatbot, "Class of 2001" exists to attract members and the chatbot keeps them updated with alumni happenings, events, even classmate news (opt-in of course) and simply asks at the individual level for an updated LinkedIn profile link, mailing address, email and more. Again, this is all taking place via the mobile phone your alumni has in hand at a time and place of their choosing.

3. Gameday support. Admittedly, this falls under athletics, but it's still "seen" as a part of the University by fans and followers.

Similar to my ideas in Alumni affairs, this is a freebie, and of course if you're interested in building any of these - you now know where to find not only the idea guy, but the development team as well.

Imagine finding your kids one winter afternoon gathered around their iPad laughing hysterically and frantically asking you to verify your home mailing address. You'd be terrified no doubt, thinking they were ordering dirty Santa gifts on Amazon. But imagine if you find out your kids were just "chatting" with Aubie, the #1 mascot in all of collegiate athletics and Aubie promised them an autographed photo or calendar? Whether you know it or not, you've just, (a) created a lifelong fan and (b) given up your updated mailing address to the Alumni affairs office.

To conclude this chat session, I'd like to encourage you to view chatbots as another facet of your overall digital and social strategy. You can take an immediate step towards leading your peers in this space, meeting your Millennial and Gen Z students and prospects where they're most comfortable, and reduce your cost to serve in the enrollment management space.

Not ready for robots on campus just yet? How about starting the journey by making your Dean (or leadership team) more accessible to your students in a way those students want: social and online. We've recently wrapped up a research project and written a white paper about the findings. It's all about what and how students want to engage with their Dean while on campus. You can download a FREE copy by tapping the download button below and completing a short form. Enjoy!

digital deans white paper

Topics: higher ed, chatbots