Most of us have encountered chatbots on websites we visit in order to shop, pay a bill, manage our bank accounts, schedule an appointment, figure out why the WiFi isn’t working, or in other online interactions. They pop up on the side of the screen, introduce themselves, and ask how they can help. Other times, once you select “Contact Us,” one of the options presented is a “chat” option.
A chatbot is a messaging application that uses artificial intelligence. It is programmed to understand language, process data, and mimic a conversation through a messaging or chat interface. Chatbots are limited in their scope and application but are intelligent enough to reply to text commands and questions about specific topics. Chatbots are becoming a common feature on college and university websites, and their presence and the assistance they can provide can contribute to student success and retention.
“AI-powered chatbots allow universities to serve students 24/7 with continuous support, while keeping students and staff productive,” said David Karandish, CEO of Capacity. “Rather than emailing the professor or setting up an appointment with the teaching assistant, students can get their questions answered in seconds. Chatbots can also automate repetitive existing processes that consume a faculty member’s time. If a student needs to find a tutor for a certain course or ask how many credits they need, they can simply ask the chatbot.”
Chatbots are not one-size-fits-all, but instead are highly customizable and can be tailored to each institution’s needs, Karandish says. As an example, “within a university, each department can add and manage their own FAQs so information is always up-to-date. AI-powered chatbots continuously learn and grow, and get more accurate with time.”
Maryville University in St. Louis, MO, first “hired” a chatbot in 2019. The university’s online program has been growing at an impressive rate. To keep up with demand and ensure a topnotch experience for its students, Maryville’s leadership decided to introduce “digital employees”–chatbots–into workstreams. The university’s first digital employee was Max.