The Role of Chatbots in Higher Ed

Many of today’s students have grown up with technology literally at their fingertips. As a result, they are adept at communicating through a personal device any time of day. A prospective student could be browsing your website in the middle of the night and suddenly have questions that, if answered while you have their attention, could determine whether they apply to your institution. But if there is no one awake to answer, you risk losing their interest altogether.

Enter one of the latest trends in communication technology: the chatbot.

When implemented effectively, chatbots create an opportunity for higher ed institutions to improve their communication with both current and prospective students by providing quick and easy access to information. This communication tool can also enhance the student experience while simultaneously gathering valuable data for institutions to better understand students’ pain points and concerns.

Fully leveraging this technology requires an understanding of how chatbots work, as well as the role of chatbots in higher education and the kinds of data chatbots can gather.

What Is a Chatbot?

If you have surfed the web, shopped online, or tried to contact customer support through a company’s webpage, you have likely at least seen a chatbot. A chatbot is the little messaging icon typically found toward the lower right of your screen. With one click on that icon, you can ask a question any time of day or night and get an immediate response.

How Do Chatbots Work?

Animation of two men chatting on their laptops

Companies use chatbots as a messaging service to provide immediate responses to commonly asked questions. One of the latest AI tools to trend in the tech industry, chatbots are programmed software that can engage in conversation with users without a human’s help.

Chatbots rely on machine learning. As they receive more data — i.e., questions asked by users — chatbots “learn,” changing their algorithms to provide more precise answers to future users. If a user asks the chatbot a question that it hasn’t developed the answer to, the chatbot can try to redirect the user toward asking a different question or kick the conversation over to a human responder, who will take over where the chatbot left off.

Chatbots in Higher Education

According to a recent global research study from NICE InContact, almost 60% of Gen Zers and millennials have turned to social messaging for their customer service needs. Additionally, approximately 72% of Gen Zers and 69% of millennials want companies to allow users to interact with customer service using social messaging apps.

These statistics point to a great opportunity for higher ed institutions to improve communication with current and prospective students. In addition to helping colleges and universities meet this demographic’s needs, chatbots enable institutions to:

  • Provide support 24/7
  • Shorten response times
  • Gather and monitor data
  • Improve student satisfaction
  • Automate tasks

Chatbots Improve Student Access to Information

Due to their ability to respond to students’ questions any time of day or night, chatbots naturally improve access to information for current and prospective students. Many higher ed institutions using chatbots have found that students enjoy being able to ask anything from questions about courses they are interested in taking to what restaurants are near campus. Furthermore, chatbots allow students to ask questions that they might feel less comfortable asking another person.

Chatbots Gather Valuable Student Data

Chatbots work to improve access to information for higher ed admissions offices by collecting data gathered through their digital conversations.

Demographic and psychographic data: Chatbots give colleges and universities a better idea of who is applying to and attending their schools. Their conversations allow institutions to gather and analyze data such as the ages, learning goals, and backgrounds of prospective students, as well as gain insight into individual interests and hobbies. Institutions can then leverage this information in its marketing to prospective students.

Funnel analysis information: Data gathered through chatbot conversations with prospective students can help institutions identify points in the admissions process where students may be dropping out of the funnel. It may also allow schools to identify which students dropped out of the enrollment process and why.

Student pain points: Current students engaging with a chatbot provide valuable information for institutions to analyze, ultimately allowing them to identify pain points that decision-makers can use to make campuswide improvements. These improvements can, in turn, increase student satisfaction.

Common student questions: Chatbot conversations allow institutions to examine questions or concerns that commonly surface through the messaging tool. Institutions can use this information to develop and deliver responses to the student population more efficiently.

Chatbots Improve Student Engagement and Experience

Installing a chatbot on your institution’s website opens the door to engagement opportunities that enable you to boost your brand, become more visible to prospective students, and disseminate information any hour of the day. Keeping up with tech trends isn’t always easy, but chatbots are a relatively low-maintenance tool that can pack a powerful communication punch for your institution.

Circa Interactive’s team of digital marketing experts is here to help you meet your enrollment goals. Our education technology team can help you optimize your website and integrate cutting-edge tools such as AI chatbots and attribution tracking to create a personalized experience for current and prospective students.

Please contact us or visit our AI chat tactic page if you have any questions or would like to discuss how we can support you.

Tyler Putz
As the inbound marketing manager at Circa Interactive, Tyler Putz is responsible for developing and executing a comprehensive content strategy that includes cross-departmental insights with a focus on crafting content that guides potential students down the enrollment funnel. A leading digital marketer, Tyler also assists Circa’s content marketing, website performance analysis, and link-building efforts for clients ranging from small liberal arts colleges to nationally acclaimed universities.
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