Joining the Conversation

 In our last post, we set the table for effective student support by emphasizing the impact of student-centric channels. We introduced five strategies for successful communication and addressed a paradigm shift in how students are seeking out and engaging with information.

This time, we’ll roll up our sleeves to discuss how colleges can better join the conversation with students. We’ll address the importance of listening over talking, and explain why many students are more comfortable asking questions to a bot than they are to human. We’ll explain why A/B testing is a great way to taste-test the communication strategies you’re cooking with, and close by introducing our next recipe involving nudges.

Talk is cheap, compared to listening

When it comes to student engagement, colleges do a lot of “talking”.  Institutions track their outreach through a list of touch points to ensure they’ve reached out to every student in some manner. When unable to engage students face-to-face, they’ve naturally resorted to a mixed bag of mailing out brochures, emailing or texting reminders, and calling/leaving voicemails – anything and everything to make their voice heard. The problem is, in this day and age, these efforts are white noise to most students.

Students are disengaging with information that may very well be relevant, simply because it’s being delivered through a channel that is not. They won’t pick up a phone call from a number they don’t recognize. They won’t check their mail or email because it’s usually all junk.

The way to make information more relevant  isn’t by talking, it’s by listening.

Conversations drive outcomes

Supporting students is about building relationships. Conversations build relationships because they promote reciprocity. And as we just mentioned, to be effectively conversational, the key activity isn’t talking, it’s listening and responding appropriately. So any time colleges generically blast messages that do not meet particular needs, and any time they don’t give students the chance to keep the conversation going at their own pace, they miss an opportunity to fully engage their audience.

Conversational platforms build relationships and drive outcomes because they allow you to be more specific, relevant, and timely the longer the conversation goes on. The more conversations you have, the greater impact you’ll make.

Opening up to a bot

Knowing they’re being listened to and supported immediately is empowering for students – it validates their core interests, concerns, and educational goals. What turns out to be less important is whether or not colleges are actively listening as humans or, yes, as a chatbot. Many students say they actually prefer talking to a bot because it minimizes perceived judgement and eliminates the label of a ‘stupid’ questionThis drives them not only to ask more questions, but to ask real ones, ones that give schools a deeper understanding of their priorities and needs.

Consider how quickly Alexa won humans over.  A year after Amazon introduced echo, half a million people had told Alexa “I Love You”.  People grew attached to Alexa when they realized how helpful she could be in not just one area, but many. She became more than a DJ who knew the weather – she was a dietician and cookbook, an appointment setter, a traffic reporter, a Yelp expert, or even the voice of their smart home. People knew they could count on Alexa for judgement-free answers the second they needed them, which is why so many of them were comfortable telling her those three words.

Mascot Bots are getting a lot of love from students too. In testimonials, students credit their virtual counselors for supporting them in ways people weren’t or couldn’t. Here’s what a few of them said:

“Cowboy Joe helped me feel like I had someone right next to me this summer, helping me prepare for this first year.”

–  a student from University of Wyoming

“If it hadn’t been for Pounce, I don’t know if I would have been starting this semester.”

a student from Georgia State University

“Because of Sunny I am enrolled in classes today. She helped me set an appointment with my advisor and kept reminding me to send in transcripts. I thought I had run out of time to go to school this semester but Sunny helped me think it was possible.”

– a student at Arizona State University

Navigating the college process can be daunting for students, and it’s a lonely journey when students aren’t sure how to get help. Mascot Bots are breaking down these barriers to ensure that each student, understand any circumstance, has a helping hand.

Measuring Impact 

How do schools know when their communication strategies are making a difference? Our very first partner, Georgia State University, used A/B testing to measure the impact of their Mascot Bot ‘Pounce’.

In an A/B test, there is only one differentiating factor between a control and treatment group. In this instance, professors Lindsay Page and Hunter Galbach compared onboarding results between group of students who were given access to Pounce with a group of students who only had standard resources at their disposal. As the test revealed, the treatment group who communicated with our bot had significantly higher completion rates for key enrollment steps. Compared to the control group they saw a 7% increase in loan counseling, a 4% increase in transcript submissions, a 22% reduction in summer melt, and a 3.3%-point increase in enrollment.

Taste-testing what you’re cooking is a key way to ensure you’re using the right ingredients. Whether it’s through A/B testing or other means, it’s essential to develop a clear understanding of your strategy’s impact in order to set the bar high, ensure best practices, and continue moving forward. Colleges that aren’t doing this are cooking in the dark – that’s a fire hazard!

Targeted nudges

Keep the lights on and and stay tuned for our next installment on targeted nudges. Student nudges can come in many shapes and sizes – they could be reminders about finishing the FAFSA, or even updates on campus events – but they should all serve the purpose of guiding students towards important, helpful actions, not scaring them away or steering them off course.

Studies have shown that conversational AI, when coupled with targeted human support, quadruples the impact of these behavioral nudges. Sign up here to receive our email newsletter with more higher ed communications content, webinars and more.