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Bridging Gaps Exposed by COVID-19 and the Looming Enrollment Crisis

Mar 23, 2020 7:44:35 PM / by Jason Fife

How an AI Chatbot from Ivy.ai Aids Operational Continuity in Times of Crisis


When the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, reached pandemic status, every campus in higher education was faced with a very real dilemma: What do we do now? How do we engage in social distancing to mitigate viral spread and continue to support our students and operational goals? How do we handle the repercussions of a campus closure remotely?

 

More than 200 campuses have already closed, and as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rises, that number will also increase. To further complicate matters, the looming enrollment cliff will make it more difficult to recruit and retain students in the years to come, reducing revenue that is essential to supporting the student population. The whole of Higher Education must think short- and long-term about how to connect with students in a way that scales operational efficiency and elevates the student experience from start to finish.

 

Technology is front-and-center for educators. Services which create virtual experiences appealing to Generation Z and non-traditional students alike are essential to providing richer engagement at scale. Institutions have already begun to lean into alternative approaches such as virtual tours, remote learning software, and virtual meeting software. COVID-19 and the enrollment cliff have demonstrated that it’s time to take the next steps in shifting toward a more responsive model.

 

Recruitment

Today’s prospects don’t want to wait for information. Incoming students have questions about the cost of tuition, how to get financial aid, and how to register for classes, for example. They also don’t want to wait for a brochure, for an appointment, or on hold for a representative. The problem with putting all of the answers to their questions on a website is that the website becomes overwhelming and difficult to navigate.

 

One solution is to implement an Artificially Intelligent chatbot. By indexing all of the information on your website, AI chatbots are capable of interpreting the questions they receive and producing the right information on demand. AI Chatbots are also available after hours and when your office is closed for holidays. Another benefit is that they can be used to collect information on leads. Forms can be configured and embedded into chats to gather names, email addresses, and other information such as areas of interest. Institutions can leverage this information to create more sophisticated prospect outreach programs.

 

A prevalent recruitment challenge for colleges and universities is Summer Melt. Essentially, first-generation and low-income freshmen which don’t have strong support systems around them have a tendency to yield attendance as much as 40% lower than intended. SMS Text campaigns are effective vehicles for getting more students from intent to enrollment.

 

Of course, SMS Text campaigns can be used to achieve a number of goals. For example, if your AI chatbot is using forms to gather prospect phone numbers, you can design Outbound SMS Text campaigns that nudge prospects to apply for admission. Inbound SMS Text campaigns can be used to provide an additional channel for converting prospects into students. Ultimately, tools like these provide additional touch-points with students that can make the difference.

 

Engagement and Responding to Crises

Today it’s COVID-19, but virtually anything can disrupt a business operation. Colleges and Universities are not immune to this reality. Natural disasters and other large-scale catastrophes can disrupt or even halt an institution’s operations. But, that doesn’t have to be the case.

 

Because AI Chatbots are always available, students can continue to access important information regardless of your operational status. Consider universities that sent students home to reduce the spread of COVID-19 - many students are eligible for housing refunds and have questions about how to request one, for example. AI Chatbots are exceptional tools for servicing frequently asked questions at scale, and in turn they provide representatives with more time to commit to navigating change and addressing complex issues.

 

Sometimes when there is a crisis or significant operational shift, it’s important to ensure that students receive certain information. Ivy.ai’s chatbots include features to help inform users with Notifications, Bot Introductions, and Bot Knowledge. In short, these features can be configured to deliver any important message to any person that interacts with the bot.

 

As campuses shift to a remote work model, another significant consideration is how to deliver the same level of support to students without face-to-face interaction. Live Chat software connects students in real-time with agents that can provide personalized information on demand. With Live Chat from Ivy.ai, agents are supported by the chatbot’s brain, offering recommended responses based on the inquiries received. Agents can also field concurrent conversations, making it easier to scale peak use periods.

 

One benefit of Ivy.ai’s platform is that the entire administrative portal is accessible via a free mobile app. Live Chat agents, for example, can connect with students regardless of their location. If circumstances give rise to the need to close an office, students don’t have to miss their appointments with advisors and counselors if they’re able to engage remotely.

 

These business disruptions have implications in the short-term, but also create challenges in the future. Universities should be proactive about re-engaging with students who navigated through unfamiliar processes. SMS campaigns go a long way to restore normalcy. For the example of students that requested refunds on housing deposits, an SMS campaign could be instrumental in persuading students to return to on-campus housing in the future.

 

Retention

Another challenge faced by Colleges and Universities is keeping students once they’ve enrolled. In some ways that comes down to student experience, and in others it’s more about student success. Higher Education institutions will need to make significant changes to reinforce both as they look ahead to the future and as they prepare contingency plans.

 

Ivy.ai’s AI Chatbots include Guided Flows, which are essentially choreographed communications that connect the dots for students. They help to walk users through complex, multistep processes, and can also help to collect information from your users. In order to be competitive, universities will need to find ways to better prepare students for success, while simultaneously making the process easier to navigate.

 

Consider any student challenge that might detract from student retention. Guided Flows can be inserted into both Outbound and Inbound SMS Text campaigns, and can be built to support any number of possible scenarios. Perhaps you’re reaching out to students who haven’t paid tuition, or you’re establishing a short-code for students to text when they fall behind on payments. A Guided Flow can ask questions and store responses to get a better understanding of each student’s situation, and can even be set to redirect them to your bot or a Live Chat Agent.

 

Guided Flows are instruments that help colleges and universities drill-down to and tackle specific issues at scale. Being proactive and reaching students before these issues escalate into obstacles helps to extend each student’s longevity, and ultimately creates an enhanced student experience.

The Bottom Line

Ivy.ai is more than a Chatbot. Our Higher Education partners receive tools and resources to create more informed students through processes that scale. If you’d like to learn more about how Ivy.ai can benefit your institution, visit our website to schedule a demo.

Jason Fife

Written by Jason Fife

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