How universities can help new students to fit it
Chatbots can be key to help universities to welcome new students. In this article we dive deep into how they do it.
The first days of your freshman year at a university are always a traumatic and crazy experience, and sometimes these feelings can extend to the whole first year.
Everything is new, the city, the building, sometimes even the country and the language. You don’t know where anything is or how it works. You need to adapt quickly and end up running around campus trying to find the right room, lecture, or professor, only to then discover that you are in the wrong place.
Universities try to help, they post signs, give students maps, recruit volunteers and try to make things easy to find, but it is often as useful as a raindrop in the ocean. The challenge is that it is impossible for any company or institution to hire enough staff and have enough resources to deal with a significant, but relatively short-lived, surge in demand for their services.
Scalability is the key
Solving the problem requires a scalable system, and the best scalable systems are the ones that don’t rely on human beings. Don’t get us wrong, human beings are awesome, but we aren’t great at multitasking and dealing with repetitive things. In addition, the more skilled human beings tend to prefer stable jobs and shy away from surge-related short-lived ones.
Therefore, the solution to this problem needs to be some form of computer-based automation that goes beyond the traditional help pages on the university’s site. It needs to be easy to use, always available, and ideally not require the student to download any unfamiliar app or tool.
We are talking, of course, about providing conversation-based support via chatbots on messaging platforms like WhatsApp, WeChat, or Facebook Messenger. These apps are tools that the vast majority of students will be already familiar with and where chatbots can be used to answer all sorts of questions and only pass-on the conversation to a human-helper when necessary.
Broadening the scope
In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of providing automated support via messaging apps is that a well-designed chatbot can go above and beyond what a human being could do, answering a broader range of questions and talking to thousands of users at once.
Imagine, for example, a chatbot that could not only provide directions around campus but also answer some of the ever-pressing questions that students in their first year away from home will inevitably have. A chatbot that is programmed to use both its own database as well as seek information online could even answer things like “what is the nearest pizza place that can deliver to the university at 3 am” or give tips on how to use the washing machines in the student residence.
In places like Europe where student-exchanges and year-abroad programs are common, chatbots could also be programmed to provide simple translations, explain cultural norms, or help students navigate the new country and feel more at home.
Some of these examples may seem silly, but they can really make a difference to new arrivals and help them feel that the university really cares for them. The possibilities are endless and for such a system to be successful it is important to conduct a careful analysis of the university, its country, and its desired brand image.
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