May 4, 2020
Written By: Damon Vangelis, Founder & CEO
In the new world of social distancing and remote learning, many students are in uncharted territory. They likely had questions and needed guidance while on campus, but now they have a steady stream of inquiries and concerns that need to be addressed without the ability to step into an advisor’s office.
To manage these requests, and check in with students remotely, colleges across the country are leaning into a number of virtual tools, including chatbots.
Here are five ways chatbots are supporting remote management on virtual college campuses:
1. Answering standard, repetitive questions
Over the past 6 weeks, we’ve seen a dramatic uptick in chatbot conversations across the Ocelot network. Many students were scrambling to figure out their new normal. Questions poured in like, “Are we still having commencement?,” “When can I pick up my stuff?,” “Will I get a room and board refund?” etc.
Before chatbots, staff would be fielding calls and answering emails all day. Now, colleges can quickly and effortlessly answer frequently asked questions so they can focus on more pressing matters—like handling the more complex inquiries and figuring out how to successfully adapt college operations.
2. Giving staff easy access to chat with students
Every now and then, students will have more complex questions or requests that need human support. When the chatbot recognizes that it can’t handle a student’s request, it will pass them off to a staff member.
To make things easier, whoever’s handling the inquiry will have access to the chat log — this way the student doesn’t need to repeat themselves once a human takes over.
Instead of asking the student to take notes as they would on a phone call, staff members can also easily share the proper links and resources to directly answer students’ questions.
3. Highlighting holes in website information
Even if your website is up-to-date and informative, there’s always a chance that information might be missing or unclear. Students may do a quick search on your website, and if they cannot find what they need, they often engage the chatbot if they can’t find what they’re looking for.
If your chatbot is getting asked the same questions over and over, like, “How can I apply for the CARES Act Emergency aid?”, your chatbot will bring this to your attention so you can fill in the gaps and add this information to your website and other communications.
4. Identifying students who need help
Sometimes students engage chatbots in ways beyond simple questions. They might strike up a conversation about how they’re feeling depressed or anxious or they could mention a problem at home. If anything like this is brought up, your chatbot can flag this, and staff can take the proper steps from there.
Chatbots can be used in a similar way but more actively. For example, some schools are using their chatbot to text students on a weekly basis to check in on them and Iowa State’s chatbot “Cy” has been a reliable source of campus resources and information during the pandemic. Depending on the student’s response, the chatbot will either respond with a certain resource or alert college advisors to reach out personally. With this solution, they’ve been able to identify food insecurity, difficulty with online classes, and mental health issues.
5. Giving the college more time to figure out the new normal
One of the best benefits of having a chatbot is the time that it frees up for staff. Without having to constantly answer frequently asked questions, perform manual outreach, or have lengthy phone calls with students, staff can be more efficient with their time.
After all, this isn’t just uncharted territory for students, it’s new for college staff as well. With more time, the college staff and faculty can focus on operations for the 2020-21 academic year, and related contingency planning.