The Virtual Chatbot to Answer University Related Questions, "Ask Stomper"

“Ask Stomper” is predominantly used by prospective students and families who are seeking information about attending the University or have questions regarding financial aid and housing. The chatbot offers users assistance in Spanish, Simplified Chinese and Vietnamese, which benefits some prospective students by providing information in their native language.

The chat has the highest traffic in the months of July and August, which is when incoming students are preparing to move to campus and transition into a new phase of life; their questions regarding move in, financial aid and other new student questions can to be answered by the chatbot.

Current students also benefit from the chatbot, and will soon even more, thanks to an upcoming advanced version expected in the next couple of months. The AI will be more advanced, which will allow for questions about timely matters, such as upcoming events, to be answered. The chatbot currently is comprised of pre-populated, frequently asked questions for which answers could be manually put in by departments; the new version will have a higher level of interpretation and be able to pull more detailed information from the website. IT Solutions Architect Chris Lienemann is excited about the advancements. “I think it will help our students quite a bit,” he says.

One challenge with the chatbot is that some people may assume there’s a person on the other end, rather than automated answers. There is a function that allows users to get through to a live chat or send an email to a specific department. Some departments, like the Campus Hub and Residential Life, have a live person connected during business hours more frequently; for other departments, “Ask Stomper” provides easy access by sending an email. “As AI continues to improve, that distinction may become less important,” says Lienemann.

Offering assistance 24/7 is a critical component of “Ask Stomper.” Research shows that 41% of all questions are asked outside of normal business hours for the University; the chatbot allows users to get answers immediately, enabling staff to focus on other projects, which increases efficiency. Lienemann confirms that the chatbot allows staff to “spend more time on difficult questions, on people who are physically in person, [and] they can work on other projects.” Residential Life, Campus Hub and Registrar’s office had a live chat option prior to “Ask Stomper”; since the transition, the number of live interactions has gone down significantly.

Within the last year over 79,000 questions have been asked through the “Ask Stomper” chatbot, highlighting the usefulness of this tool. It is anticipated that a more full, comprehensive service is coming in the future.


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