In Australia, at 8 a.m. on ‘Results Day,’ thousands and thousands of South Australian year 12 students receive their ATAR (Australia Tertiary Admissions Rank)—the all-important standardized score used to gain admission to universities across Australia. The frustrating challenge: many are eligible to add as many as nine school and subject-specific bonus points to their ATAR, which can improve their chances of gaining admission to tertiary institutions like the University of Adelaide. To find out about those bonuses, or adjusted ATAR, they must talk to university staff.
Thousands of students. All receiving their ATAR at the same time. All desperate to know about their bonus points. That very moment. They’re all phoning the university wanting a 5- or 10-minute call to answer a few questions and learn about their adjusted score. This past year, 2,100 of those students skipped what in the past could be an hours-long phone queue to talk to university staff. Instead, they used Facebook Messenger to converse with a chatbot, answering questions about their bonus eligibility and learning their adjusted ATAR score–in about three minutes.
“It’s always been really difficult for us to support the adjusted ATAR calls,” says Catherine Cherry, director of prospect management at University of Adelaide. “There are only so many people we can bring in on that busy day, and only so many phone calls that the staff can take at any given time.” Without the chatbot option, even when the prospective student is able to reach university staff, the staff can’t afford to stay on the phone to answer all that student’s questions, which can create a potentially bad first experience with the university. “The staff who are working that day really feel compelled to hurry the student off the phone because we can see the queue of 15, 20 people waiting, and we can see that they’ve been waiting for a long time,” Cherry says.
Enter the chatbot: Three minutes on Facebook Messenger and students had their adjusted ATAR. Read about the technology behind this chatbot application in my story in Forbes, “University of Adelaide Builds A Chatbot To Solve One Very Hard Problem.”