Amid higher education’s increasingly competitive environment, institutions are looking for ways to develop deeper relationships with prospective, current, and former students. One of the best ways to do this is to have an open conversation. You can learn about your students, answer their questions, and hopefully delight them -- all of which adds up to earning trust and establishing a connection to your institution.
However, it’s hard to do that all the time, and it’s only getting more difficult now. Caller ID means that people generally ignore unknown calls. Few institutions are able to drastically increase their resources, so whether your university call center is reaching out to prospective students, currently enrolled students, or alumni, directors of call centers will talk about the importance of efficiency in their outreach.
Photo Credit: Erik Jepsen and University Publications
Call centers can take advantage of advances in technology in order to instantly increase their efficiency. A chatbot armed with knowledge base software can provide a huge boost to a team’s ability to handle the large volume of communications that take place each day. Knowledge base software allows text-message-based chatbots to automatically reply to messages it receives. Using artificial intelligence, the bot analyzes the incoming message to find a match in the knowledge base, and then the bot replies back with the appropriate response. If the bot doesn’t recognize a message or understand how to respond, a human agent gets alerted to take over the conversation.
For a call center, the implications are pretty profound. No, students won’t be chatting with a Siri-sounding robot on the other end, and no, chatbots won't be taking over university call centers, but with an installed knowledge base, chatbots can play a crucial role in taking a lot of the menial and repetitive tasks off the plate of call center staff. And to further increase efficiency, a chabot can text a contact to schedule in a time to talk with a student caller to increase their connect rate.
Outside higher education, the Dutch airline KLM provides a great example of how this works. KLM uses a Facebook Messenger bot that mixes in human answers with the bot’s automated responses. Working together, the human agents and the bot can engage in hundreds of conversations at once. The bot greatly reduces the total volume of inquiries by successfully handling the most common, repetitive issues, freeing up the human agents to focus on the more complicated questions and interactions.
This scenario also applies to educational institutions that send thousands of messages per week. With an ever-growing knowledge base, a call center’s chatbot can text or email contacts and answer many of the common questions that come in. In AdmitHub’s work with our current partners, 9 out of 10 incoming messages are handled by the bot, and that ratio is increasing as additional messages continue to strengthen the reach of the knowledge base.
Artificially intelligent chatbots aren’t meant to take the jobs of student workers or call center reps. In call centers, the bot’s function is to allow agents to focus on giving their own warm, personalized touch when talking to prospective students or alumni. A bot can be witty and helpful, but it never attended classes or lived in a dorm and can’t speak about the actual campus experience for students. Using a knowledge-base-powered chatbot as a virtual assistant, agents or student workers no longer have to look at their cheat sheets because they’ll be having deeper, organic conversations with their contacts.
When I started my first job selling season tickets for a professional sports team, we would hit the phones hard. And we’d create call center games and contests around calling activity. But because all of these shallow, FAQ-type questions get handled by the knowledge base, call centers don’t have to focus strictly on the number of dials, but rather on the number of quality conversations during a shift.
With the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) coming into effect on Dec. 1, directors of student engagement centers should ask themselves, “Is my staff spending their time in the most effective way possible right now?” If your staff is replying to FAQs, rarely connecting with contacts on the phone, and/or spending a lot of their time updating contact information, the answer to that question is most likely no.
Looking at the big picture, you have to leverage your call center assets. Sometimes people don’t want to talk to a caller; they just want to get some specific information quickly and easily. A bot with a knowledge base can handle those questions. The most important quality of student callers is their unique perspective and ability to connect deeply with prospective students or alumni. The people who want to talk to a student will quickly bubble to the surface, and the student callers will spend their time having those meaningful conversations with people that want to connect. Just as texting has emerged quickly in the call center space, knowledge bases and artificially intelligent chatbots are providing incredible opportunities to better serve callers and staff.