We can’t wait for Alliance 2023 in St. Louis, MO! After all, St. Louis is the gateway to the west and we are aiming to bring the content to be your gateway to digital transformation 😄. We have some amazing sessions and customer case studies. All of the Gideon Taylor sessions and their schedule can be found below:
The next release of Ida, our digital assistant, is now available. Clients can talk to their account teams about a deployment schedule that works for you.
22.04 in Summary
Ida 22.04 releases many housecleaning items and general fixes. The focus of new features started with improved support for a new ODA Web Channel complete with chat transcript storage, voice channel support, autosuggest, improved read more functionality and much more.
Next we have many new reports available and new/improved intents and PeopleSoft Campus data sources for Exams, Deadlines, Course Catalog and Registration Appointments.
Finally, we are adding an advanced Find/Replace tool for fixing answers in one swift click and the ability to schedule bot down time to bring the entire bot down and present the user a message about its status and when it will be available again.
Automated scheduled downtime for entire bot for support of maintenance windows
Configurable list of allowed languages for translation
New Class Deadlines Intent
New configuration options for Help Escalation
New Course Catalog Search intent
New dedicated config pages for adapters
New Find/Replace Answer Text Tool
New frequent Users report
New Ida bundled Live Chat integration
New Rater Progress Report(s)
New Registration Appointments Intent
New Suggestions reports
New Question Confidence Regression Report
Salesforce adapter ticket logging enhancements
Better automated duplicate feedback handling in High Training/Value modes
Fixed an issue where FBL was showing the wrong sub-org’s answer text
Fixed issue with long topic labels in KPI tile
Improved Dashboard Conversation Log
Improved disambiguation help support
Improved error messages for unexpected remote answers for Salesforce
Improved FAQ Read More styling
Revised Exam Schedule Intent
Streamlined client user IUC console access permissions
User counts in reports now more closely reflect distinct guest users
Web channels: Replaced lightboxes with Slide Out support
Web channels: removed debug web console messages
Web channels: dynamic down message support
Contact us below to learn more and setup your own personal demo
Gartner recently released their Hype Cycle for 2022. The Hype Cycle is a theory around the 5 phases of emerging technologies. Chatbots fell into Phase 3, the Trough of Disillusionment, this year. While that title sounds scary, it is a pivotal moment for an emerging technology where the best will be separated from the rest. In this post, we will review the chatbot market, where it was, where we are now and what is coming next.
Where we were
Around 5 years ago Natural Language Processing (NLP) took a big leap. We had a breakthrough in artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning techniques where our ability to have machines understand human language took a jump. Suddenly, chatbots, as they were dubbed, were all the rage. This irrational exuberance, perhaps fueled by Alexa, created a flood of demand. Rest assured; supply always finds a way to meet demand. At this point, everyone and their sister built a chatbot.
Many of these bots were rushed. Some used fake AI and their NLP accuracy was abysmal to match. The experience felt more like AOL Keywords than it did a machine who truly understood the human. Bots were released covering many singular use cases from FAQs, to recruiting, to CRM systems and even enterprise applications like HCM. The investment ranges were so wide you could find a bot for $10k a year or build one on IBM Watson for $1M.
This rush just served to flood the market with confusion. Customers began looking at price as the most distinguishing factor. Suddenly, we were all apples and, boy, were there a lot of apples. How did we like them apples? Well, not so much…
Where are we now
With the market flooded with poor quality and confusing messages, customers have become disillusioned. Was this all hype? Will it ever work? This feels just like IVR (Interactive Voice Response)!
To add to the confusion, sales teams were proclaiming AI magic. It just learns! It is automatic! If your success is less than automatic, you are going to be disappointed. You may even write the technology off (though we would caution you to look again).
That AI breakthrough we spoke about earlier? Well, that happened when we learned (pun intended) to mimic how the human brain works. The human brain divides everything into buckets like apples, oranges, bananas and so on. When we see a new fruit never before seen, we just know it is a fruit. But this only works with lots of learning. To learn, we read, we attend class, we discuss, we experience. Bots learn by consuming data and instructions from data scientists.
So, while the cheap bots fell way short of our expectations, the enterprise bots seemed complicated to implement and manage. Organizations threw people without AI experience into AI projects.
Reality then punched us in the face. And so the disillusionment phase has arrived. Let’s dive into where today’s chatbot projects have failed. If we can learn from this phase, we can be better for it. We can focus with more depth on what makes a magical conversational experience.
Why chatbot projects fail
Many chatbot projects failed because many customers were caught at one of two extremes – both driven by the desire to minimize cost. On one side, the poor-quality bot which required little effort yet never delivered on the salesperson’s, “It’s magic!” promise. On the other extreme, customers put in significant effort to try and build their own bot only to realize building and running AI at scale is not the same skillset they historically have possessed.
False No-Effort Narratives
“No-Effort” implementations mean you are getting a generic product; Too many customers have been sold this and failed. Your users see right through a generic bot which really is no better than classic IVR.
While there is such a thing as AI which learns on its own, it is a major liability for your organization. Facebook and Microsoft have failed spectacularly in this regard.
Some customers attempt pilots to prove out the technology, but pilots rarely work. As an organization you have to be all-in on making automation work. Further, these are solutions that evolve over time and a short pilot is no time at all.
Crawlers and Links
Real AI personalized to your users and organization is hard. Some projects attempt to shortcut this hard work by having the bot “crawl” in existing web site for content. Remember that salesperson? It’s automatic!
Crawlers are how search engine’s work and if your name isn’t Google, those searches have been shown to not perform well nor do they have any personalization.
Our focus groups have shown that users have no faith in search not named Google. Disguising search as chat will ensure a lack of adoption.
Our data shows users will ask every question that comes to mind, including questions completely unrelated to the page they’re on.
If your bot cannot handle at least 250 intents, you stand little chance of success.
Comfort of Live Chat
Live-chatting features sound like a good idea. I can always talk to a human! Keep in mind, you need to staff/train/manage that human.
Live Chat is not the killer feature organizations should be requiring. AI accuracy is. Live chat just covers up the failure to do job #1.
Even more, vendors know Live Chat is a parachute, albeit one that eats ROI significantly. Knowing they have a parachute, they rest easy and don’t solve the hard problems.
Let’s Jump into a use case related to this topic. Candidate.ly recently published some survey data on recruiting bots. This is just a peak into a particular vertical and what the customers thought of their chatbots.
You will notice some 71% thought their bots were average or below. If the parent thinks their child is average, then you are probably dealing with a D student. It is no wonder why organizations are disillusioned, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
According to the report, “Two in five people (42%) avoid chatbots when making a complex inquiry and 15% lack confidence in using technology to contact organisations”. And according to the Institute, if technologies like chatbots were “well designed and implemented”, most customers would be happy to use them.
This one report highlights what we all have experienced. We want chatbots to help us, but many of them are just falling short. Our expectations have shifted downward. However, this is the moment you can surprise and delight your users if we really focus on designing the experience.
What comes next: Enlightenment
We started with irrational exuberance and now find ourselves in the Age of Disillusionment. Disillusionment just means that customers are no longer buying into the hype without a critical eye. They are now in prove-it mode. The success of the early adopters who chose wisely will begin to show. Those who chose poorly will cautiously wade back in, but will be much better informed. Bad solutions and methodologies will fade away and the market will gain clarity. We will be on a steady incline that is more predictable and sustainable.
We welcome this phase where the market will gain clarity and users will have their needs met. It is often lost that chatbots are really automation projects. You are replacing a function normally performed by a human. That means your best chance of success is to focus on outperforming the human. You have to be more accurate, more consistent, more available and more accessible including speaking your language.
When you pick a bot, remember that cheap is expensive when it comes to automation. If your bot does not offer any advantage when compared to speaking to a human, then user behavior won’t change. If behavior doesn’t change, you won’t be able to reduce spend and then you are simply paying for both the bot and the human.
Good results take effort. Good results require personalization and NLP accuracy. The bot is mimicking a human and just like humans, they need to learn and grow. You are feeding them and should treat the bot like an evolution and not like a one-time project.
If you are ready to ramp up the bots, here are the top strategies we recommend you follow on your project:
Pick a platform/product that you can influence and that will learn about your organization. Be sure it is based on Machine Learning AI.
Commit to a three-year initial Agile cycle. Implement, monitor, learn and evolve in increments no longer than 3 months. Learn from your users!
Prioritize breadth and personalization. This is the key to user adoption.
Create a funnel to maximize ROI. Drive users to the automated path first and let the bot pursue escalation paths such as live chat when needed. Do this after the initial learning period of six months.
Make the bot omnipresent. The bot should meet users where they are, not just on one website. That chat icon should be everywhere.
If you have any questions or want to see a demo of Ida, our own bot, please reach out below. As an industry, we are approaching the beginning of enlightenment; we believe our clients are already there. We hope that if you have experienced a failed chatbot project, you will try again with fresh eyes. If you need any help or just want to talk things through, just drop us an email! 😊
Are you a leader or administrator currently working in higher education? Have you been following the rapid growth of digital assistants (i.e. #chatbots) in university settings and have questions about whether now is the right time to incorporate chatbots in your system?
Then this new webinar is especially for you!
Please plan to join us on Wednesday, October 19th, at 1PM EDT as we share how Seneca College in Toronto has partnered with Oracle and IntraSee in developing Sam, their powerful new digital assistant, which in just the past 12 months has quickly and accurately handled more than 100,000 user-support needs. Reserve your spot below.
NOTE: This webinar has concluded. You can request a video recording below
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.