Higher Ed Chatbot Usage: Perception vs. Reality

Data Waves

Whenever you are in a conversation about chatbots and digital assistants in higher ed, without fail the topic of Financial Aid comes up. Like a good deep-dish pizza conjures up thoughts of Chicago, Financial Aid and chatbots are often linked. The prevailing wisdom is that Financial Aid questions are the most highly demanded questions amongst students. What if I told you the prevailing wisdom was wrong?

It makes perfect sense why we assume Financial Aid questions are ripe for bots when you consider a) the questions are seasonal with volume peaks that are hard to manage, b) Financial Aid is a complicated topic that invokes questions and c) the answers to these questions are common across all schools and easily automated. 

These explanations just didn’t feel right to us, so we were curious to test this thesis. What does the actual data say in regards to the demand for Financial Aid answers? We dove into our data to find the real story. We think you will be surprised by how far perception is from reality.

Financial Aid

Ida can categorize questions into topics. For the purpose of answering our question about the popularity of Financial Aid questions, we analyzed the occurrences of any financial question be it aid, account balances, fees, and so on. We narrowed in on a particular client who serves a wide range of questions across all the common topics a student may need help on. It wouldn’t be accurate to look at a client who only deployed their bot to Financial Aid pages or Admissions pages. We call that selection bias 😉.

We want to understand the totality of the student experience when the bot can help them with all their questions. Additionally, this user base has been exposed to the bot for at least two academic years, so the adoption curve isn’t introducing its own bias.

Immediately we noticed an expected pattern to the demand curve (picture below). The curve’s peaks hit right when you would expect it: when the money comes! Outside of those two times a year, students hardly ask that much about financials and financial aid. 

Financial Questions as a Percentage of Total

Perhaps the more surprising finding is that even during the peaks, the percent of total volume is quite low—around 2%! But wait, isn’t the whole reason to implement a bot because students had so many Financial Aid questions? Maybe not that many students get financial aid, so we took a look at that. Some 98% of undergrads get some form of aid, so it is relevant to virtually all users of the chat.

Now we know students are asking other questions at least 49 times more often. Let’s dig in and see what they are actually doing during a recent full academic year…

Popular Trends

Using Ida’s AI Categorization and Analytics, we can paint some broad strokes around what these same users are interested in. Over the same twelve-month period, we can see the distribution as pictured below.

Percent of Question by Topic

Let’s start with the winner and still champion: Academics! Academics are questions about things such as programs, policies, GPAs and getting your degree—things not specific to a particular course. These are questions you would ask at the Registrar’s or Advisor’s Office. Maybe we forgot the whole reason students are in school is to get a degree (at least in this 4-year institution!) No wonder it is by far the most popular topic.

Moving down the list, we have Student Life and Residence Life breaking the 10% barrier. These are matters that affect a student’s day-to-day life, so it’s easy to see why they are popular. This popularity lasts all year and not just seasonally like Financial Aid.

My Information and Health and Wellbeing are next up. Health and Wellbeing is obvious, having just come out of a pandemic and dealing with ever-changing policies. Do I need a booster? How long is quarantine now? Has Monkeypox been detected on campus?

My Information is information about my personal records such as name, address, emails, phones and so on. 

The big irony here is that Financial questions are just about as popular as studying abroad (International and Travel) and they both come in at the bottom of the list.

In Conclusion

At IntraSee and Gideon Taylor, we prefer a data-driven approach. So, while Financial Aid sounds like logical focus, the data tells us we need to be broad. We need to be a one-stop shop for all sorts of questions across different topics if we want to maximize our service to the student. This post also highlights the importance of being agile. When you launch a bot, pay close attention to how it is used and get ready to adjust quickly. Instead of predicting where the bot should go next, let the bot tell you where the next need is. If you want to talk more on this topic or see a demo, you can contact us below.

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