‘Can I help you with anything?’ – ChatBots and The Power of Automated Response


You’ve seen them already no doubt. The pop up on the bottom of the screen when you enter a website, asking “Can I help you with anything?”. But it’s not another human being at the other end of the line. It’s a sophisticated artificial intelligence and it’s becoming the norm for customer service interactions.

What is it?

A ChatBot is a form of artificial intelligence designed to streamline the customer enquiry process. Pre-programmed with a set range of responses to standard questions, it will send an immediate response to an enquiry. As is a standard feature of machine learning, the chatbot will learn user habits and improve its answering skills, effectively getting smarter with every interaction. The chatbot is now a feature that can be found on a range of platforms. The classic is an add-on built into websites, but they can also be added to social media messaging like Facebook, at the end of emails or built into SMS.

The range of features will vary dependent on the provider and platform it is designed to be integrated into. They can be programmed to ‘learn’ your website as part of their implementation process and will refresh this knowledge every day. This cuts down on set up time in the beginning as it already has access to the answers its needs. Others have features that allow them to integrate rich data such as YouTube videos or sign up forms, and some have features that allow them to send ‘tickets’ to a real person when they get stumped with a question.

Why should you start using it?

In our fast-paced modern era, response times matter to potential students. They want their enquiry to take priority and they want the answers now. Whilst most sites will have an FAQ page these days, a surprisingly high number of people still won’t use it before firing off a question via a contact form. An inbox filled with the same kind of enquiries day-in-day-out is not ideal. The answer is the chatbot.

With its preprogrammed answers to standard questions, the chatbot can immediately answer a wide variety of concerns from potential students. Rather than having your team answer the same questions over and over again – what date the application deadline is or what parking is like for the open day you have at the weekend – they can spend their time on interactions that need a more nuanced touch. This is especially powerful during peak times such as clearing or in the run-up to application deadlines when the volume of enquiries may become overwhelming.

Another reason chatbots are excellent is that they aren’t tied to office hours or time zones. At some point, your customer service team will need to leave the office and go back home to their other lives. During this time, any emails or enquiries go unanswered and potential students get impatient. A chatbot wipes out this delay by responding immediately whilst your team are away from their desks. For institutions who are interested in international students, this takes the strain of managing disparate time zones as the chatbot can answer 24/7/365.

Chatbots can be applied to every stage in the student recruitment process and indeed beyond. There is no reason why they can’t become an integral part of your queries process for all university life. IT support, timetables, exam queries, and careers advice – to name just a few – could all become part of an automated chatbot system. Every area has standard questions that don’t need a human being to answer repeatedly. This frees up valuable team members for more complicated tasks, ultimately benefiting your institution hugely in the long run.

It’s worth noting there are some cons to chatbots, like with any new technology. These are not a magic wand that you can wave over your customer service systems for an immediate fix. Chatbots are limited in the number of responses they can give. They also cost time and money to implement in the beginning, and according to Retail Dive, 70% of consumers still prefer human interaction. But this preference could shift as they become more commonplace.

Chatbots are already becoming the norm across a huge range of industries, so its time higher and further education joined in.