Voices from Accenture Public Service


Chatbots are providing a new way for students to get the information they need, when they need it, freeing up administrators and support staff.

Chatbots are already transforming industries such as travel, hospitality, and financial services – and now universities are realizing the benefits as well. One of the best things about chatbots is that they’re available 24/7/365. If a student has a question about their grades at 3 a.m., the chatbot will be there to provide an instant answer. Since chatbots don’t need to sleep or take breaks like humans, students are assured of a consistent answer to whatever question they have – whenever they need it.

The  Accenture Chatbots report lists four key criteria needed for the technology to excel and the need in education ticks all the boxes:

  • Focused Scope – In our experience, several key topics drive most student queries and requests. e.g. registration and records, financial assistance, and student finance “How can I see my grades?” “When can I register for classes?” “What is my bill for this semester?”
  • High Volume of Requests – Generally, the average student asks questions at least once a month or more to administrative staff. Answering hundreds of thousands of repetitive questions each year consumes hours of valuable time from already over-burdened staff.
  • Multiple steps or input parameters – Although the initial phase of a chatbot may focus on the simpler “FAQ-style” questions, education chatbots in more developed phases have the potential to provide even greater value in complex situations by helping students to rearrange their schedule, request a transcript, or understand their invoice.
  • Customers are not likely to be stressed already –The majority of questions we see from students are general administrative questions, rather than complaints directed toward the university.

Chatbots play a key role in reducing service cost and wait times, but we’ve learned that they can’t completely replace human agents. Immediately after the chatbot launches, a collaborative team of functional experts is needed to supervise conversations in real-time and “train” the bot to understand when it is misinterpreting questions. If daily analysis and training are done, the chatbot will learn quickly and be able to handle most questions on its own within a few months.

The chatbot goes beyond a simplified question and answer tool. While students can receive text responses, the chatbot’s “personality” can be tailored to students, reflecting a persona with preferences and specific character traits. Additional features, such as voice, images, and gamification, can also improve interactions.

But, no matter how many additional features or questions and answers you include in the chatbot, some students will have personalized questions that will require human interaction. Chatbots, paired with an escalation model with human agents who address complex questions and requests, can help create a more effective service model, improving the student experience.

Chatbot technology is growing across industries as the demand for quick, inexpensive, and consistent service expands. Higher education is no exception. If universities want to meet students’ expectations of a digital experience, chatbots should be a key focus area.

Have you implemented a Chatbot (or are planning to) at your institution? How has it been received by students and staff, interested to hear about your experiences.

Also keep your eyes out for our latest video that brings to life how a Chatbot could innovation your students experience, due to be released soon on our EDU content hub!

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