During the COVID-19 pandemic, the old saying, knowledge is power, needs to be adjusted for colleges and universities—information is comfort. 


What does that mean?

In times of uncertainty, students have so many questions. While the COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly a crisis, it is different from other short-lived crisis scenarios such as fires, floods, or storms. In short-lived crises, the experts and crisis communications professionals go to work, distributing needed information and conditions return to normal as quickly as possible. The COVID-19 crisis (and the one after that) will likely grind on for months – in fact, some feel the pandemic is now a permanent problem.  Universities must adopt scalable methods to instruct, inform and comfort students for the foreseeable future.

Protect the University Brand

Your students will have long memories about how they’re treated during this crisis. When they reach the other side of the pandemic, your brand, your reputation, and the very culture of your university will hinge on how you communicate during this trying time. Fact is, providing consistent, calm, and factual information provides comfort.  Consistent, calm, and empathetic communication will set expectations, and establish a regular cadence — and provide needed comfort during an uncomfortable time.

Distribute Predictable Information at Scale

While tomorrow is unpredictable, many of the questions asked by students will be predictable. Human representatives resolving the same issues repeatedly on the phone, via email, or on social media is untenable, expensive, and frustrating for the students forced into long waits to obtain answers to their questions.

“Of course, AI-powered chatbots should never replace a college or university’s support team,” commented Divyatej Raghu, VP of Education for ThoughtFocus. “However, advanced chatbots such as digital associates, are extremely capable of answering common crisis-related questions, which can easily account for up to 45 percent of the total inquiry volume. Additionally, Digital Associates are available to supply information 24/7.”   

No matter how you look at it, chatbots save a lot of time. The hours invested by staff answering these repetitive questions are significant. This is where a Digital Associate will shine – saving hundreds of hours answering repetitive student queries so that staff can invest their time adding value to the student experience.

Help International Students 

For prospective international students, near instant responses to inquiries at any time of the day or night enhances the user experience. This is also especially helpful for information starved students living in different time zones and communicating through other digital channels (Wechat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc.).

Collect Data for Sentiment Analysis

Finally, a critical and often overlooked benefit of Digital Associates is DATA. As adoption of AI-powered chatbots increases, huge amounts of useful information about student behavior, their information needs and emotions, is collected – which makes Digital Associates a valuable tool for market research and sentiment analysis becomes available.

Make Crisis Resources More Accessible

It’s not always possible to centralize crisis communication resources in one place, and colleges and universities maintain particularly complex webs of information. Students and their families will have COVID-19 pandemic-related questions about virtually every aspect of student life, from student housing to financial aid, to commencement, to career placement programs, and much more. 

Historically, email has been the preferred method to share information. However, the problem with emails is that they are easily lost and forgotten, especially given the volume of messages people receive during times of crisis. Additionally, emails are not able to interact and address an individual’s specific information needs. Digital Associates help colleges and universities keep information accessible so that students and their families can stay-up-to-date and find information to refer to if needed. 

Rapid and Judicious Escalation to a Human

In addition to answering common questions, digital associates  can direct users to key crisis communication resources that would otherwise be challenging to compile. For instance, during the coronavirus pandemic, universities might want to direct students to other resources such as the university health center, or job boards.

Additional escalation rules can quickly connect a student with a tier one support staff if the chatbot is unable to retrieve answers.

Some information is especially urgent, and chatbots can send push notifications when critical information needs to be delivered, or a significant change has taken place. It is always wise to be very selective when sending push notifications, limiting them to what is truly urgent.

To learn more about using AI-powered chatbots for crisis communication, request a copy of our latest white paper. Learn how to…

  • Automate Routine Conversations: Automate a large percentage of first tier help desk support to free up your staff for important one-one-one human conversations with students.
  • Reduce the Impact on Front Line Staff During a Crisis: When you automate important Q&A and other interaction with students, front line counselors gain valuable time to spend one on one with students that- high impact situations can be escalated to staff seamlessly. 
  • Listen and Learn for Better Data: Instead of blasting information via email, AI Chatbots listen and learn to ensure communication is engaging and valuable.  
  • Improve Engagement: Crisis communication is now unified across all channels – text, web, voice, and more.

Request a copy of the new white paper. Or, request a demo and learn how to use our prebuilt COVID knowledge model that can be quickly customized to your campus needs to help answer the many COVID questions from students, faculty, parents, and staff. It offers students 24/7 access to COVID-19 related information with rapid escalation to human support staff.