As demand for instant and centralized student support continues to grow in higher education, many colleges ask us how they should implement and then continually manage their university-wide chatbot. Do student success and enrollment-focused chatbots need a group of ten people to manage it, or is it a part-time job? Do our contributors need IT skills, writing skills, or both?

We were asking ourselves similar questions three years ago when we launched our first conversational AI solution, a chatbot for Georgia State University targeted towards summer melt and reducing barriers to enrollment. GSU’s chatbot Pounce made a meaningful impact in that first deployment as cited in the results from the RCT.  

As we’ve worked with colleges to map out their student-oriented communication, these teams have adapted how they provide a holistic conversational experience for students. Institutions that have involved both a strategic group and a dedicated chatbot manager have been set up for an aligned and effective deployment of conversational AI.

The strategic leadership team guides the direction of the chatbot deployment, allowing it to effectively impact relevant areas that contribute to student success. Oftentimes, student affairs and enrollment management leadership share details and specific goals that we help map the communication towards. IT leaders are involved to ensure we’re generating actionable data and can leverage existing data to make messages more personalized. Specific departments like the office of the Registrar, Financial Aid or Career Services are often closely involved to use conversational AI to assist during peak times and help with completion of tasks.

This group of strategic leaders is kind of like the Council of Elrond in the Lord of the Rings. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the analogy once I originally thought about it!)

You can debate who gets to play who in the Council, but each strategic member brings their own unique areas of expertise to guide and support Frodo (who in this analogy is the chatbot manager). And yes, there can also be a Samwise Gamgee in this scenario.

The strategic leadership team won’t be sending and planning the messages, but they guide the chatbot manager and give them the direction, data, or insight to do their job more effectively.

At the University of Wyoming, Katie isn’t known as “Frodo”, but as “Cowboy Joe’s Handler”. Not the live Cowboy Joe you see at the UW football games, but UW’s texting “robo pony” that they use to communicate with all their incoming students!

Katie is the Assistant Director of Admissions at Wyoming, and crafts the communication sent from their Mascot Bot, Cowboy Joe, through AdmitHub. They started using AdmitHub in March of 2018, and saw impressive results reducing their summer melt by 32%. Katie took on the role as the Mascot Bot Manager from day one and continues to plan out strategic communication, coordinate with other stakeholders on campus, and analyze conversations.

I had a conversation with Katie to learn more about her successful approaches in managing their chatbot. She broke down her important responsibilities and attributes that would make a great Mascot chatbot manager.

Being the Voice of Your Mascot Bot

College students don’t shy away from mobile messaging and also want quick responses, so text message chatbots are tailored to resonate with Generation Z. However, students also want to text the way they like to text. For colleges, that means using the terms and acronyms that students use, and sometimes not being as formal and lengthy as email communication (which is most likely still the official form of communication for the institution).

The chatbot manager cultivates the voice and personality of the Mascot Bot that is helping students on their path to and through your school.

Katie likes to envision putting on an Ironman suit communicating to students and make the messaging hip and fun. She describes their chatbot Cowboy Joe as spunky and occasionally sassy,  and that students are more likely to open up to their Mascot Bot to ask the questions on their mind that might be intimidating to ask one of their counselors. Katie describes a twinism with CJ (Cowboy Joe for short) and enjoys playing the role.

Coordinating and Reporting to stakeholders and the strategic group

While the chatbot manager helps create the voice of their Mascot Bot, they are frequently coordinating with and sharing insights with other stakeholders on campus.

It’s part of Katie’s role as the Mascot Bot Manager to share student insights with her colleagues and share how other parts of the institution can leverage Cowboy Joe.

Katie gave the example of showing the most frequently asked questions to Wyoming’s Marketing and Communications team. For years, the Marketing team would use a variety of methods like focus groups and surveys to guess what students cared about before creating marketing collateral. This direct insight from students and the connection between the chatbot manager has allowed the marketing team to be more aligned with their marketing collateral and better informed when making marketing decisions.

Katie also involved other departments like Financial Aid or Orientation because Cowboy Joe answers many of their frequently asked questions, especially during peak times.

Katie continues to be the voice of the chatbot and communication funnels through her as she coordinates with other stakeholders on campus to make a centralized 24/7 communication channel for their students.

Honing in on the Why with their Mascot Bot

As the chatbot manager helps their Mascot Bot grow the number of guided conversations and answers to the many different questions students have, it’s important for the chatbot manager to continually hone in on the Why.

Katie and great communicators often ask themselves before sending out a message, “Is this message going to be helpful, get them excited or involved, or help them avoid a barrier that has tripped up students in the past?” Katie mentioned she doesn’t want every message that goes out to students to be something that needs to go on their to-do list, so their Mascot Bot is there to celebrate the victories and pat them on the back as well.

As conversational AI continues to grow in the areas it supports, new roles develop and evolve. Early lessons we’ve learned are:

  • if you are thinking of a centralized approach for student communication and student success, involve stakeholders from all across campus, and
  • have a passionate and empathetic chatbot manager to grow and learn with the bot.

If you implement these suggestions on your campus when deploying conversational AI, the scale and efficiencies can be tremendous.