It’s been said that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, and in the world of technology there’s a lot to be nostalgic about! Times change so fast. Just over twenty years ago client-server was all the rage, and then the internet arrived and suddenly browser-based systems became the new way to do everything. Then in the mid-2000’s Apple coined the phrase, “there’s an app for that”, which then begat a mad rush to build phone-based apps for everything under the sun.
And now, in 2018, all of those things have been usurped by a new UI that will change the technology landscape yet again: chatbots. And, for generation Z or millennials, this is the way they expect to be able to interact with everything. Text and voice are their UI of choice.
Research has shown that students much prefer a conversational UI over all other channels of communication. They don’t use email, they don’t want to call the help desk, and more so than ever, they don’t want to use your mobile app. Of all the activities on a mobile phone, nothing has had the growth of messaging, which recently saw almost 400% in yearly growth.
The message (no pun intended!) is clear: students just want to chat.
Already, surveys show that only 8% of millennials have not heard of chatbots. They have quickly become pervasive in their messaging apps, and social networks like Facebook. If students aren’t already demanding chatbots to help with their academic careers, they will be very soon. The key is to get ahead of the curve and not put yourself in catch-up mode like many institutions found themselves during the mobile app boom.
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Choosing the Right Kind of Chatbot
So, a chatbot seems like an obvious fit for students, but which chatbot is right for your university? Chatbots and voice assistants are everywhere, but let’s focus on the chatbot types that can help a student with their academic life. You will find the two most popular types are:
- FAQ chatbot
- Enterprise Assistant chatbot
So, what is the difference between the two? Our best analogy would be to step back in time to the mid 90’s and recall the advent of MapQuest. Anyone who was in the consulting business back then remembers the trials and tribulations of making a car journey in a strange city, armed only with a printed copy of your MapQuest directions. Holding a piece of paper in one hand, while driving with the other was no fun at all — especially at night. And all you had to do was miss one turn and you were lost.
MapQuest circa 1998: You’d get lost too!
Then the 2000’s came along and now we had Google maps on our phones and what a huge difference that made. Now we had a device that would guide us every step of the way to where we needed to go, and could adjust on the fly no matter which turn we took. It even had a voice to ensure we kept our eyes on the road. Technology improved the quality, and safety, of our lives.
In this scenario, the FAQ chatbot is the printed copy of MapQuest directions. And the Enterprise Assistant chatbot is Google maps on your phone.
One is very clearly a lot better than the other. So, let us describe in detail why this is.
The FAQ Chatbot
The FAQ chatbot has a single focus: provide a chatbot that can answer the most popular questions your help desk receives. This chatbot is meant to reduce help desk calls. To set it up, you basically load in a series of questions and answers. For example:
How can I order a transcript?
Official transcripts can be ordered on our registrars site which you can visit at
Essentially the FAQ chatbot is just a search engine that understands natural language. This is not a huge leap in innovation for most universities who have had a search page that is already serving this purpose. Some FAQ chatbots can crawl your public website (just as a search engine does — see a trend here?) and if your question matches one of the bot’s search results, it would answer as Siri does:
I found some web pages which you may find helpful…
- Transcripts | Student Services
- Grades and transcripts | Student Services
- View/print an unofficial transcript
- Transcript | School of Veterinary Medicine
- Transcript Request | School of Dentistry
If your web pages were redundant or confusing, well, listing out search results isn’t really that helpful, even if it is in a chat bubble (as shown above).
While these FAQ chatbots do use artificial intelligence, it is a rather shallow use. As ultimately the student still needs to go to the actual web page to get the answers they are looking for, and then figure out what to do next.
FAQ chatbots are the digital equivalent of pointing someone in a general direction and wishing them good luck.
The Enterprise Assistant Chatbot
While Enterprise Assistant chatbots can do everything an FAQ chatbot can do, they can also do a whole lot more. Such as:
- Integrating to your enterprise applications (on-premise & Cloud)
- Performing transactions
- Guiding the user through complex processes
- Running reports and analytics
- Approving/denying workflow
- Integrate with your knowledge-base
- And many more things…
The key differentiator being that it can guide the student through to the final outcome of what it is they need to do. Just like Google maps does. It doesn’t stop helping until you get to your final destination, and ensures no wrong turns.
Let’s go back to our FAQ chatbot example and imagine how it would work with an Enterprise Assistant chatbot:
That’s a totally different experience! Let’s take a deeper look at some of the key feature differences between the two options.
FAQ Chatbot: Usually the FAQ chatbot uses a proprietary content system for loading in questions and answers. This means that if you were ever to switch bots, your content may be locked inside a proprietary system. It also means that all your content would have to be manually loaded into the new chatbot. And it now means you have to maintain your content in two places: web site and chatbot.
Enterprise Assistant Chatbot: Enterprise Assistant chatbots can tap into an existing content repository via APIs. You likely already have a knowledge base inside Salesforce, ServiceNow, Drupal, Oracle Content and Experience Cloud, PeopleSoft Interaction Hub, or another platform. An Enterprise Assistant chatbot can read that content dynamically. So it is always up to date, and there is one source of truth. Which means you will never have conflicting information between your web site and the chatbot.
FAQBot: The FAQ chatbot cannot perform transactions. It is a content/search only chatbot.
Enterprise Assistant Chatbot: This is where the Enterprise Assistant chatbot shines. It can help the student actually get something done rather than pointing them to a web page. This doesn’t just save time, it also ensures accuracy in everything that is done, while continuing to work in a way that your students prefer. Text and voice.
FAQBot: The FAQ chatbot cannot dynamically run reports or query data in other systems.
Enterprise Assistant Chatbot: Enterprise Assistant chatbots can run reports from your PeopleSoft, Oracle Cloud and other cloud applications. They can even email you a full report! Reports for rosters, grades, advising and more.
FeatureFAQ ChatbotEnterprise Assistant ChatbotIntegrate with your existing content/knowledge baseSearch web sites & FAQsIntegrate with your on-premise and Cloud systemsPerform transactionsApprove workflowRun reports/queries
Chatbots will be a priority for many higher education institutions in 2018. As you begin your journey into chatbots, we hope this blog helps you understand your options better. Even with that clarity, it is always best to know what you are getting into. You have one chance to make a good first impression with students. If you roll out a chatbot poorly, you may never recover from that poor first impression. This is why we recommend our clients start with our Chatbot Pilot Program which will give you first-hand experience using an Enterprise Assistant chatbot. Contact us below to learn more about rolling out your enterprise chatbot pilot in just 12 weeks.