Recently, many companies have implemented chatbots to provide instant answers to consumers’ most commonly asked questions. Unlike their human customer service counterparts, chatbots are always available to deliver an accurate and consistent—if somewhat prescribed—response. And customers love it—in a recent survey, 69 percent of consumers responded that they preferred chatbots for quick communication with brands.
Applications for chatbots extend far beyond the private sector; many government agencies have started to explore chatbots as a way to improve citizen services. For agencies, chatbots not only have the potential to improve citizen satisfaction, but they take care of answering routine questions and allow customer service representatives to focus their time on responding to more challenging queries.
Recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) saw the benefits of chatbot technology in easing one of their biggest pain points: assistance for disaster survivors. Using CARLA, a cognitive conversation assistant, IBM built a chatbot that guides disaster survivors through the often confusing process of applying for assistance, whether that’s finding a hotel or shelter, answering questions about home insurance, or checking out of temporary housing. The chatbot is even trained to respond to questions that it doesn’t know how to answer or that FEMA is unable to answer. The chatbot’s ability to make API calls to external websites ensures that it always has the most up-to-date information; for example, the chatbot can recommend hotels with availability.
In transactional use cases like this—where a chatbot is providing responses to frequently asked questions—chatbots seem like a clear win for agencies, and this has generated a significant amount of buzz around this technology.
However, chatbots are not the solution to every pain point, and many are particularly skeptical of chatbots’ potential for education. Educators strive to ensure that the student experience is more than just a transaction—students aren’t paying for a diploma, they’re investing in their personal and professional growth. Educators are tasked with exploring how technology can support and enhance the student experience while recognizing that not every emerging technology will be a good fit.
If a chatbot will bring value to your institution, it’s important to recognize that chatbots aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. As with employees, a chatbot’s personality needs to reflect the values and culture of your institution. Through conscious training, you are able to build a chatbot that has a personality—in terms of tone, formality, engagement, and more—that will resonate with your community.
During my session at edUi, we will explore the various capabilities of chatbots and evaluate if these capabilities could add value to your student experience. While many agencies and private companies focus on how chatbots improve the user experience, I’ll ask you to consider the potential for improving efficiency, freeing up your resources to interact on a deeper level with your students. For example, if a chatbot is able to respond to prospective students’ most common questions about housing, food services, and class scheduling, your admissions representatives can devote their time to working one-on-one with students, perhaps providing personalized information on financial aid or detailed answers about programs within the university.
Balancing emerging technologies with sustaining the deeply personal connections that are central to education can be challenging. As a result, selecting and implementing a technology solution requires thoughtfulness, exploration, and collaboration—but it is also a fun and exciting journey that I look forward to embarking on with you.
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About the Author
Vera Rhoads brings strong expertise in cognitive behavioral research to enhance user experience. She has been working on improving usability and optimizing web solutions for large-scale Fortune 500 companies, international finance organizations and non-profits (Fannie Mae, AARP, IMF) for 20 years.
Vera will present the session Chatbots, AR, VR, Drones…Emerging ways of delivering information at edUi 2018.
Early bird tickets (through July 20) are just $550 including your choice of half-day workshop.