The most exciting technological advances are often the ones that enable machines to do what we all assumed only humans could do. We’re not talking about technology that makes it possible to automate manual tasks, but technology that can actually simulate human behavior. That’s one reason why chatbots are so hot right now.
A chatbot is a messaging application that uses artificial intelligence to understand human language and mimic a conversation with humans through a messaging or chat interface. Although a chatbot isn’t capable of carrying on a conversation about a wide range of topics, it is intelligent enough to reply to text commands and questions about a specific topic to achieve a specific goal.
Developers are already working feverishly to make chatbots more human, complete with personalities and the ability to recognize speech patterns and non-verbal cues. The longer and more frequent the conversations are, the more the chatbot learns about the human on the other side of the messaging interface.
Chatbots are already big business as companies look for new ways to interact with customers, build stronger relationships, and produce better outcomes. For example, a chatbot can help a customer solve a common problem, complete a basic task, and walk the customer through a process. The idea is to help the customer achieve the desired result with as little friction as possible. A chatbot can even make the process enjoyable. At the same time, the organization improves operational efficiency and reduces costs.
Customer service is the most obvious and practical use case for chatbots. Chatbots are available 247 and can provide information more quickly and efficiently than an agent. If you go to a retail website to find a specific product, you could ask a chatbot to find it – and order it – instead of searching for it yourself. Chatbots can also be used to help people schedule meetings, manage money, check the weather, and find out about relevant news events.
What do chatbots have to do with higher ed?
A recent Ellucian survey found that 98 percent of higher education students want their schools to use their personal data to improve their college experience. This includes tracking graduation requirements, streamlining course selection and registration, scheduling sessions with advisers, obtaining student healthcare, and helping them get involved in campus activities.
Personalized chatbots can use the wealth of student data gathered by colleges and universities to achieve these and other goals. From the time students are accepted to an institution, they can be welcomed by a chatbot, invited to attend an orientation, and guided through the process of applying for financial aid. Based on data from application materials, interviews and surveys, the chatbot could even help incoming students choose courses. All of these chatbot functions can occur before a student arrives on campus to start their first semester.
Chatbots have the potential to improve student success, retention and graduation rates by helping students find what they need and make better decisions – academically, financially and socially. Just like businesses are using chatbots to improve the customer experience, higher education institutions should consider exploring the development and use cases for chatbots to optimize the student experience.