How Johns Hopkins University Uses Chatbots to Automate Customer Service

Understanding where and how your potential (and current) students find information is key to reaching them.

Facebook and other social media sites have made it easier than ever for students and prospective students to connect with universities. Not everyone can travel to a campus where they’d like to study or speak one-on-one with a representative on the phone. Not everyone wants to do those things, either.

Most students today are more comfortable with communicating via the web, particularly from their mobile devices. Social networks are their main stomping grounds, so it feels natural to visit a university Facebook page and type out a question rather than searching through a website where they may not even find the answer they need.

Despite the ease of use and ability to draw in more people, it can be tough for universities to keep up with the volume of messages that come in to social sites.

That’s why chatbots can be so useful, both on social media sites and university websites. Here are some highlights from our conversation with Gus Sentementes, Audience Engagement Manager at Johns Hopkins University.

Let’s take a closer look at three reasons to consider implementing a chatbot: Automation, Assistance, and Analytics.

Chatbots for automation

As mentioned already, the volume of messages received on Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites can be staggering. Often, there’s only one or two people involved in monitoring those pages and responding to the inquiries that come through.

Over time, that volume can impact the response rate, and it can irritate the people who were looking for a quick answer. A lot of the incoming questions can be answered fairly simply or they’re routine enough that it doesn’t require a live human being to respond.

Chatbots streamline the process.

Instead of a human reading and answering each message, visitors can interact with an automated interface that directs them to relevant links or answers the most common questions.

Many chatbots available now integrate directly with Facebook. They are becoming so common that some site visitors likely expect that’s what they’re going to encounter.

If the student has an issue that the chatbot can’t handle, it can pass off to an actual person to respond. But, that initial automation whittles down the number of messages to something much more manageable.

Chatbots for assistance

Automating some of the process doesn’t mean sacrificing the quality of assistance.

It can actually help you provide better assistance, more quickly.

University websites tend to be packed with information for every possible interest a visitor could have. The problem is that your visitors don’t need every possible piece of information. They need one or two pieces, based on their most immediate pressing questions.

No matter how well-planned and laid out the framework is, clicking through various links to find one piece of information can be time-consuming and frustrating. Having a staff of people on hand to help with those issues is rarely feasible.

Even a very basic chatbot that acts like a guided phone-tree can create a better experience than hunting and pecking through a giant website.

Chatbots for analytics

The sections above explain how chatbots are good for automating messages and assisting visitors on the front end, but there’s also a backstage angle.

Email address collection newsletter databases are useful for the ability to send direct messages and for the ability to collect data on the message recipients. Chatbots can work in a similar fashion.

Chatbots can quickly show who is interested in visiting the university or applying to specific programs. It can gather the most frequently asked questions, and the results can help direct future marketing initiatives or updates to the main university website.

It can show how popular online courses are or how many foreign students are interested in attending.

Exactly how much or little of this is available with your chosen chatbot—whether built specifically for you by a developer or by implementing one of many on the market—depends on the individual needs of your university. There’s a lot of room for experimentation with chatbots.

Chatbots for higher education

Social networks and university websites are important locations for connecting with potential and current students. It’s where students obtain information and plan their next steps with the university.

It can be tough to keep up with the volume of messages. A chatbot can help automate the process to provide better assistance and collect analytics to continue providing a great customer service experience.

This article is based on a podcast interview with Gus Sentementes, Audience Engagement Manager at Johns Hopkins University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.