L.A. admissions use AI to transform dormant leads

Freeing Up Humans in Higher Ed

Conversica’s technology utilizes an artificial intelligence “persona” to interact with hundreds (or thousands) of prospective student leads from interest to intent to attend – and without human intervention.

The AI persona named “Stephanie” (by the school), initiates email conversations with incoming student recruiting leads. Stephanie also reads replies, extracts information, and interprets the student’s intention and sentiment based on word classification specific to email marketing.

Carl Landers, Conversica’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, calls Stephanie a “virtual admissions assistant” and says she’s especially good at separating the wheat from the chafe and weeding out the tire kickers. “People respond to her because she’s very human and lifelike in nature,” says Landers, who sees potential applications of AI in various settings in higher education, where using physical or telepresence robots can be costly and/or difficult to implement.

“We’re using AI to solve problems,” says Landers. “Our objective is to free up humans from repetitive tasks that can be automated and give them more opportunity to be creative, have human conversations, and connect with people in a real way.”

Chaib says one of Stephanie’s biggest advantages is the consistent enthusiasm that comes across during her virtual conversations with prospects. “She presents questions that ensure that the prospect has been serviced and that he or she has received all of the desired information,” says Chaib. If those aren’t reached, the program connects the student with a live representative for further support. “This technology serves as a liaison between the prospect and the admissions rep,” says Chaib. “It’s a perfect pairing.”

A Tiered Engagement Approach

These days, when a new student registers on LA Film School’s or LA Recording School’s website, he or she receives an email with the appropriate school’s name in the subject line. The email includes a few simple questions (i.e., Have you received the requested information? Is this your correct phone number?), and then reaches out in a few more days to confirm more information. The system makes about 6-8 attempts to engage the student in this manner.

“Once the prospective student engages, the system assigns an admissions rep and again confirms the phone number,” says Chaib. “Stephanie then follows up about 24 hours later to see if the student needs anything else and to make sure he or she received the requested outreach.” If the student hasn’t been contacted, Chaib is alerted immediately via email.

This tiered approach to customer engagement – similar to strategies that are being used successfully in the corporate world – has helped increase the schools’ engagement on older leads to 19 – 22 percent.

Conversions (turning a prospect into an enrolled student) have also increased, growing from 2-3 percent on average to a current 4-6 percent. In total, Chaib estimates that the tool has helped the schools convert an additional 250 prospects (on top of those students they already signed up in the traditional manner) into students over the last two years.

Excited About the Future

According to Chaib, the schools took a sly approach to introducing the new technology to its admissions reps, knowing that not all of them would readily embrace the new tool. Instead of telling them that they would be using a new application, they let the reps assume that Stephanie was a real person. “We had people asking to take her out to lunch to thank for all of her great work,” Chaib says, laughing, “in helping them reach their students more effectively.”

Chaib, who eventually brought his team together and told everyone on it that Stephanie was actually a virtual, AI persona, says taking that simple, sneaky approach helped ensure successful adoption of the technology. “People don’t feel like they owe anything to a tool,” says Chaib, “but when they think they’re being held accountable by another human, they reacted differently.”

Going forward, Chaib would like to see Conversica evolve into a “full student lifecycle tool” that stays with pupils from the first contact all the way through to graduation. A student who misses a few too many classes during a semester, for example, could receive the intervention necessary to avoid dropping out.

Conversely, the tool could be used to recognize student success and even engage them post-graduation, when they become alumni. “I really see this as a full lifecycle product that can do a lot for us,” says Chaib. “I’m excited to see what the future holds.”

Bridget McCrea is an editorial freelancer with eCampus News.