Building a conversational strategy

Conversations naturally have the greatest influence on human behavior because we’re wired to learn from them. That’s why we’ve baked one overriding principle into our recipe for student-centric communication: make it conversational.

When you adopt a conversational approach to student success, both sides win. Students win because conversations cut to the core of their interests and concerns, and institutions win because conversations enable them to support students more intentionally.

The challenge most colleges and universities face is executing a conversational strategy at scale. Artificial intelligence has turned this challenge into an opportunity by enabling colleges to listen and respond to thousands of students at once, delivering more meaningful experiences through proactive and ongoing communication. It has become an invaluable means of keeping the conversation going.

If you’re relying on one-way outreach or scattered touch points it’s difficult to know what students need help with. Conversations build relevance because their give-and-take nature brings both sides together. By listening or having the ability to see the conversation play out, we can improve our understanding and provide a path for students to get answers. Building a conversational success strategy is the most powerful approach to helping students avoid micro barriers on the road to Higher Education.

Forming connections

Educators have a tendency to communicate with students a lot when they start and a lot when they’re ready to graduate, but what we really need to get better at is engaging them through their experiences in between. Starting a conversation is as important an ingredient as any because it builds awareness of campus resources and often paves a path they didn’t know they had.

A good conversation opens people up to being relaxed and willing to speak freely. We embody this by reaching today’s students on a platform that doesn’t seem intrusive and is far easier for them to engage with than picking up the phone or sifting through a website. Where colleges often get themselves into trouble is through their tendencies to rely on systems they think are good, where in reality what matters is build a system where students will actually listen. As Elizabeth Adams, the AVP of Undergraduate Studies at CSU-Northridge puts it, “Email is the official communication platform of CSUN…but so what? It’s not the case for students, and that’s what matters.”

Don’t underestimate the impact of seemingly frivolous messages within these conversational threads. Good conversation will, in many instances, make you laugh and allow you to put down your guard, which is why we like to include GIFs, emojis, and humor to keep it fun and engaging. Reaching students to establish a sense of belonging on campus and a feeling of good will from the university is just as important as anything else. Filling out the FAFSA or registering for classes for the first time can be stressful. Guiding student conversations in a personalized way and intervening when someone goes off track (but also when things are going right) is a key way to make students feel valued.

feel good dancing gif

Enabling Action

It might sound strange coming from a company that’s known for its sophisticated AI, but artificial intelligence isn’t the ultimate thing that changes student behavior. What does change their behavior are the guided conversations and campaigns we design to help students through everything from the FAFSA to filing a parking permit or finding the admissions office. What’s important to keep in mind when driving action within a conversation is making it easier for students to get the help they need. The most common praise we hear from student testimonials is that their Mascot Bot felt like a tool designed for them to help themselves.

Students take quite a few transactional steps on their journey to and through college, but as educators we need to engage them beyond these checkpoints – that’s what a conversational success strategy allows you to do. It’s tempting to focus all of our attention on the things students must do to succeed, but celebrating the moments where they’ve done that good work is just as, if not more important because students are far more likely to respond and pay attention the next time you reach out.

Scaling your conversational strategy with artificial intelligence allows staff to fundamentally change how they operate. They can be better conversationalists themselves when an AI-powered communications filter helps them join the conversation at the most important times.

Gathering data

Conversational messaging also makes it easier to collect data because it invites more authentic, real-time student feedback and insights. When you rely more exclusively on face-to-face advising conversations you run the risk of not recording what students are asking. This is problematic when it comes to growing your support capabilities, but with a system that easily captures full conversations you’re getting real data on important ways to change how you can serve students.

This is crucial because we can’t know what students want to know until we invite them into a seamless back-and-forth. The things that are important to them are often not what you would guess, and you’ll never learn to address them if you don’t build a listening platform instead of one that simply broadcasts information. You can try and anticipate the questions students will ask all day but in most instances you’ll be wrong. Students won’t always phrase important concerns the way we assume they should – they’re more likely to text ‘I have no money’ than they are to say ‘I need the FAFSA’, and by making engagement more conversational, colleges can more effectively escalate and address these challenges. It’s through these kinds of exchanges that we’re most apt to surface students who need help, because we can hear them say things like “I’m dropping out” or “my parent died and I’m not sure if I can afford college.”

Scaling outcomes

Scaling personalized conversations scales outcomes. Virtual assistants pave a smoother path for students by making it easier for each of them to navigate the potholes along the way. A comprehensive conversational strategy keeps students engaged and staff up to speed to better meet students where they are and get them to where they’re going. Developing a conversational approach will dramatically amplify an institution’s impact on student success and facilitate more fulfilling experiences for a more connected community.