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UNC Uses Chatbot to Reach Future and Current Students

Student using phone on campus

February 9, 2021

“Klawz” provides an avenue for students to get their questions answered quickly — and get reminders about important dates and topics right on their phones.

As anyone with an email address knows, it’s tough to keep up with emails. Every retailer, educational institution, restaurant and smartphone app send emails that quickly fill up inboxes. Because of this digital noise, the Admissions and marketing staffs at the University of Northern Colorado have long recognized the need for another way to communicate important deadlines and information to students, in addition to email (and phone calls, letters and postcards).

In 2018, UNC addressed this need by partnering with higher education chatbot vendor AdmitHub to develop UNC’s own chatbot, “Klawz” (named after UNC’s mascot), to answer incoming student questions and send reminders and information about UNC. Now in the third year of the partnership, UNC has added an option for first-year students to interact with the chatbot, reaching even more students with this easy-to-access form of student support.

The chatbot works by tapping into a knowledge base, originally developed by the AdmitHub team in concert with UNC’s marketing team and web resources. The team thought strategically about what questions admitted Bears would have as they completed their college search.

“We wanted to answer their questions before they asked them,” says Evan Rattenborg, UNC digital content specialist and project lead. As more students asked questions, the team added more answers to Klawz on the back end, thereby growing the knowledge base.

Since launching the chatbot in December of 2018, UNC has reached 26,324 admitted and current students with the chatbot. Klawz has fielded nearly 16,000 messages, not including those sent as responses to outgoing campaigns. Students ask about admission protocols, financial aid, housing, academics, student activities and more. 

“Students are building a relationship with the chatbot by combining questions that fall outside the standard college admissions process questions with more serious questions,” says Nathasha Rodriguez, UNC’s partner success manager at AdmitHub. “This is an opportunity to build a relationship with the university.”

An example of the Klawz Chatbot in action, answering questions about the FAFSA

Above: An interaction with the bot

The bot now answers more than 80% of questions on its own and continues to “learn” as students ask new questions. When Klawz is stumped, the bot escalates to the appropriate human staff member.

“We find that students are engaging with the bot when our offices are not open, so it allows us to supplement our human resources to better serve students,” says Kim Medina, UNC’s assistant vice president for Enrollment Management.

Assuming that each question would take about a minute of staff time to answer, more than 628 hours of staff time have been saved by the bot since launching on Dec. 13, 2018.

In addition to saving time, the bot provides valuable insight. Medina and her team receive analytics to show the kinds of questions students are asking, helping drive future communications.

It’s particularly helpful in reaching UNC’s strategic planning goals, which center on a “students first” philosophy.

“Supporting students through the admission, financial aid and registration process is a key component of their progress toward graduation,” Medina says. “Anything we can do to pave the way to the classroom, we should be doing.”

In addition to paving the way to the classroom, the bot is now being used to help improve the first-year student experience.

“We believe that having the bot available to answer questions for students as they navigate their first year at UNC will help them discover, find and utilize resources available to them,” Rattenborg says.

Medina agrees.

“We saw from other institutions that the chatbot supported student enrollment — especially during the summer months when students don’t have access to their college (transfer) or high school (first year) advising or counseling centers,” Medina says. “It meets students where they want to be — on their phone in a texting modality.”

Approximately once per week, students receive a text from UNC via the chatbot about financial aid, housing, activities on campus, and even fun facts and links to relevant videos — all based on what students need to know that week.

One campaign in early February invited admitted and confirmed students to make a virtual appointment with their admission counselor to discuss their college decision, an option they may have previously missed in their email inbox or on the website.

“As a result of the chatbot, we saw a dramatic increase in the number of one-to-one phone and video appointments scheduled with students,” says Whitney Bonner, UNC’s associate director of Recruitment and Outreach. “On a typical day, we see around three to five students signing up for a phone or virtual appointment. The chatbot message caused this to double if not triple — increasing the appointments per day to 11 to 14.”

—Written by Rebecca OBrien

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