Just like the twittersphere was buzzing with people bragging about buying bitcoin in 2013, there are going to be colleges in 2019 boasting about how they implemented AI in 2017.

A few dozen colleges are already seeing increases in staff efficiencies and enrollment from being able to carry out 24/7 personalized conversations over multiple channels. However, the biggest returns have yet to come due to the “AI flywheel effect,” which is described in detail a little later in this post.

In today’s state of communicating with students, there is no denying that students prefer an on-demand, real-time experience.

Neal Raisman’s research, Customer Service Factors and the Power of Attrition, shows the top reasons why students leave Higher Education are because of 1) poor service and treatment or 2) they feel the college doesn’t care about them.

Reasons Student Disengage

There are several different approaches institutions can take to meet these on-demand desires of mobile messaging from students: 

1) The Manual Way

You may have read that text messaging has positive impacts and students have a more favorable impression of a college that texts them. So what does a college do? They can break out their personal phones or buy a texting platform that allows staff members to login and send text messages to students.

Responses are typed and sent manually, and staff members are bound to get repetitive questions. Some of these FAQs are on your website or even sent in the email you just distributed. During peak times when people are traveling, it’s very overwhelming for staff, and students may be getting different answers from various people.

There’s no question that these text messages are helpful to students, but the positive effects and amount of personalized messaging is a direct correlation to the amount of effort required of your team to text students.

However, in the age of Gen-Z, what if students prefer chatting over FB Messenger instead of texting? This chart shows that’s certainly possible:

Methods of Student Communication

Suddenly, your team has to log into your Facebook’s Page Manager in addition to your texting platform, which translates into either adding more responsibility to your existing team, or hiring another person to communicate on an additional channel. You’ll have to train these new staff members on how to give accurate and helpful responses, log into additional platforms, and maintain a high level of responsiveness.

So now you’re presented with a dilemma: do you increase your resources to scale your personalized conversations, or scale back your communication?

Alternatively, you may look into option two:

2) Conversational AI

There are a few dozen colleges that developed an AI virtual assistant to communicate on text message, Facebook Messenger, and many other messaging apps. And believe it or not, the process is very similar to training a new employee.

We have a partner success team that works closely with your college so that your virtual assistant can answer 700 to 800 FAQs initially to build a firm foundation. We also collaborate with your team to see what medium you want to utilize to message students, whether it’s via text message, messaging apps, or your website.

Your virtual assistant won’t know everything on day one, akin to a new employee. When the virtual assistant gets a question it hasn’t yet seen, you simply enter it into the knowledge base and respond back to the student with the answer. The next time that question is asked, the virtual assistant will answer it immediately.

Sure, our virtual assistants already know thousands of questions applicable to all students across the United States, but yours needs to get situated at your institution, and learn organically from the questions students are asking.

The unique attributes of these virtual assistants are that it never forgets and can scale infinity using AI. A person might get frustrated and tired answering the same repetitive questions over and over, but virtual assistants will deliver the answer with the same enthusiasm you taught it and respond to the student within seconds, day or night.

Even before it knows all the ins and outs of your institution, your virtual assistant will have an incredible impact on your staff, and that value will increase with every day you use it.

The AI Flywheel Effect and the Effect on Colleges

One of the most well-known examples of AI technology is through self-driving cars. Before I saw my first autonomous car in action in the Seaport area of Boston, those cars were driven by humans to experience those roads thousands of times with different weather. It gathered lots of data and continued to develop its algorithm based on its past experiences.

We do something very similar for colleges with our virtual assistants. We understand the thousands of questions students ask throughout their educational tenure. However, each college has its own unique roads, and the technology must experience those over time. With each pass, it gains more knowledge, answers questions better, and serves more students.

This is the core of the AI flywheel effect that gives early adopters of AI and advantage over those who wait a year or two.

It’s not one major algorithm push that revolutionized your personalized communication at scale, it was all the small knowledge base adds and learning from communicating with more students over time.

Getting started in AI

The reasons why colleges begin using AI are varied, but an overarching one usually boils down to ROI.  There are so many opportunities where our college partners have seen a positive ROI using conversational artificial intelligence.

Examples include higher enrollment from an increase in yield or retention (resulting in more tuition revenue), increased staff efficiency, the opportunity cost of having counselors leverage more of their intellectual thinking, and the ability to operate in a lean and efficient manner.

With obvious consumer shifts in engagement moving towards instant fulfillment and the challenge of colleges meeting these expectations with tens of thousands of students, there will be both winners and losers in the next few years. Colleges that have already implemented AI have the advantage of having two-way personalized conversations at scale and utilizing a growing conversational knowledge base.

AI can revolutionize the way a college communicates in only a year’s time, but you don’t buy AI-powered tech, you hire it. And there are many different ways colleges can start with AI to see these positive effects that will eventually grow to larger and wider opportunities.