Conversations with Chatbots

The journey of building a best-in-class administration involves enhancing the service levels of units across the University. For departments that field a high volume of daily queries and requests, leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) technology in the form of chatbots or conversational agents enable them to save on manpower and improve the services provided to staff and students.

A computer programme that simulates conversation with human users, chatbots are designed to understand natural language and its context, enabling them to accurately predict answers with stored data. Chatbots can also provide a sentiments analysis through the emotions and communication style identified in users’ text.

Teo Kim Guan, Principal Systems Engineer at NUS IT noted that the use of chatbots is on the rise, with 30% of customer service experiences expected to be managed through conversational agents by 2022. “The active exploration of AI technology for service requests at the University started in 2018, with NUS IT as the first department to onboard chatbots for simple and repetitive requests,” Kim Guan shared.

During the COVID-19 “circuit breaker” period which saw students and staff studying and working from home full-time, chatbots enabled NUS IT to maintain their service levels effectively and manage the surge in enquiries and support requests. Chatbots also have the added advantage of mitigating cybersecurity threats that may be prevalent during challenging times.

Under NUS IT’s shared infrastructure, the process of onboarding chatbots for departments take between two to three weeks from design and planning, to set-up and training. For service-centric units such as Registrar’s Office, Student Services Centre; and the Faculty of Science, the use of chatbots was adopted in 2019 following a series of training sessions to introduce conversational agents to the University community. Accessible anytime and anywhere on multiple devices, chatbots have enabled these early-adopter departments to reduce manpower without compromising user experience for students and staff. Currently, IT Shared Services, Office of Housing Services and NUS Business School are in the process of onboarding chatbots to support their helpdesks and manage service enquiries.

While the initial phases of chatbot development included conversation, sentiments analysis and analytics, the subsequent phases involved an integration with mobile chat platforms such as Skype, Facebook Messenger and Telegram. With this enhancement, NUS students and staff can enjoy a holistic and integrative service experience.


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