Our chatbot helped deliver updates and point students to additional resources, and the SMS text feature provided a great tool for keeping students informed in real-time.
Leonard McGownd, Assistant Registrar of Communications,
Ozarks Technical Community College
The fourth pillar of scale and adaptability is Recovery, which focuses on the importance of elasticity of information as you seek to maintain the confidence of the community you support. AI communication platforms give administrators the flexibility to manage large quantities of information in a single place, while end users gain access to it via multiple channels. Such flexibility during a time of crisis goes a long way as institutions seek to recover and maintain the satisfaction of their users. At Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC), Lenord McGownd has leveraged AI technology since 2018. McGownd serves as OTC’s Assistant Registrar of Communications. Read on to learn how OTC masters the fourth pillar of scale and adaptability.
Using AI to Expand Support
Faculty and staff at OTC take pride in their strong tradition of providing excellent customer service to students and even their parents. “We know that students need to find answers to their questions, and that they enjoy using technology and mobile devices” said McGownd. “When our Chancellor learned how we could use AI and shared it with us, we knew that it would be a natural extension of our commitment to customer service.”
McGownd went on to explain that their AI chatbot enables them to provide expanded service to significantly more students, 24/7/365 . “Many of our students are also employed full-time, and AI helps us address their needs on their timeline,” he said. “In the first year after launching, our chatbot answered over 17,000 questions after hours and during holidays while our offices were closed.”
Another priority at OTC is streamlined service. According to McGownd, one of the most frequently addressed subjects at OTC is academics, and they needed a solution to help students get answers to academic questions while interacting with other offices, for example. “We didn’t want them to have roadblocks, or barriers – we want students to be able to ask about a wide range of topics and always get the information they need,” he said.
To accommodate this need, OTC brought AI to seven different areas: Academics, Advising, Career Services, College Services, Financial Aid, Admissions & Registrar, Student Account Services, and General Questions. When a student interacts with a chatbot in one area, they’re able to get answers to questions related to the other subject areas.
When asked about how AI supports recovery at OTC, McGownd underscored the importance of understanding trends. “When students ask questions, it populates a built-in heat map in the chatbot’s admin system.” The heat map allows McGownd and others to see the frequency with which their chatbot addresses certain topics. “It’s great for gaining insight into what was on their minds in the last 24 hours, previous 7 days, or over a custom time-frame we specify,” he said.
McGownd says they were able to use that information to ease concerns in a very responsive way. “We could determine whether we needed to deliver an update to our students or add knowledge to the AI, so we paid close attention to all seven subject areas.” If their chatbot didn’t know the answer to a trending question, McGownd said it was easy to add that knowledge without requiring any support.
One thing McGownd noted was that the team at OTC went a long way to support keeping information current. In some cases, updates were required for an office over which he had no control. “We were fortunate to have a great group of people at OTC, so I could work with my colleagues to act on trends very quickly,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges that required recovery. Specifically, McGownd says that some students were concerned about transitioning to online learning. “They started in January with one mindset, and by March that all changed,” he said, “so we had to help them adapt to a new environment as well as we possibly could.”
McGownd says they used the data from their chatbot to plan their outreach. “We could take that information and decide if we needed to add a banner notification, or send a text message.” It also gave them the opportunity to see if they needed to add content or information to their websites.
The banner notification he referenced is something that sits inside their AI chatbot. Anytime anyone would interact with the chatbot, they would see the notification at the top of the dialogue box. “We use banner notifications to provide quick updates, and would sometimes point students to a resource page, for example.”
The AI solution used at OTC includes SMS texting with a feature called Guided Flows. “We used Guided Flows and texting to offer detailed information about things like the CARES act,” said McGownd. “We even altered our grading practice for the Spring of 2020, and students were given some control over how their final grade would be determined.”
McGownd says it was helpful being able to deliver that information via text, a channel he says is preferred by students. If a student was not impacted by the update they did not need to take action. However, for anyone who would be affected, they were able to communicate with the chatbot over text, and even connect to a live chat agent if necessary. “Our chatbot helped deliver updates and point students to additional resources, and the SMS text feature provided a great tool for keeping students informed in real-time.”
When asked about the future of AI at OTC, McGownd outlined his vision for an expanded role. “You need to think of it as a multistage process. We started with just the chatbot, then we added live chat, and then texting. Now, we’re comfortable with our success and we’re ready to get the student portal behind the AI.”
McGownd says that connecting the AI to their student portal will enable it to deliver personalized answers. “We want to get to the point that the chatbot provides a personalized experience, offering specific information about a bill, for example.”
According to McGownd, they also plan to use their AI platform to nudge students more often. “We can use nudging for things such as ensuring a student’s financial aid requirements are met so that they get the money they need. It’s a great way to keep students engaged.”
- Be prepared for seasonal differences
- Plan ahead for change
- Keep content current as it develops
- Address new information with expediency
- Watch for developing trends and patterns