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The Impact of AI in User Experience: The Future of Navigating Websites

As artificial intelligence continues to advance rapidly, tools like ChatGPT, Gemini, Perplexity, and Claude are setting the stage for a revolutionary shift in how users interact with websites and access content online. These AI-driven platforms are not just augmenting user experience; they are reshaping user expectations and redefining engagement across various industries, including higher education, customer service, and e-commerce.

A Whole New School of Thought in Higher Ed

Consider the journey of a prospective first-year college student. The traditional approach of sifting through countless university websites for academic program information, application requirements, tuition, and campus life can be daunting. AI search tools like Perplexity simplify this process dramatically. By leveraging natural language processing, these tools understand and respond to user queries in a conversational manner, allowing prospective students and their families to ask complex questions and receive specific, contextual answers. This not only speeds up the research process but also makes it more user-friendly, personalized, and accessible.

A screenshot of Perplexity.ai with an answer from the question "What's the experience like for a first year student at Harvard University?"

Pictured: A screenshot of Perplexity.ai with an answer from the question “What’s the experience like for a first year student at Harvard University?”

In a recent podcast, “Entering Our AI Assistant Era–Is Your Campus Ready For It?” featuring Ardis Kadiu, CEO and Founder of Element451 and co-host of the Generation AI podcast on Enrollify, he highlighted a significant shift in user behavior reported in a recent study by Algolia, one of the leading AI-powered search engine platforms.

“People are now adding longer queries into their website searches assuming it’s going to work just like in ChatGPT.”

He also added that…

“As soon as someone goes to your website, they are not going to the site search bar or navigation, they are going straight to the chatbot bubble right away to ask questions.”

This change is indicative of the broader expectations users now have for AI interactions on college websites.

Implement an AI-powered Chatbot

Chatbots are nothing new; they have been around for many years. Historically, AI chatbots has not been widely accepted because of their limited abilities to respond to complex questions. With the introduction of the ChatGPT’s API 3.5 Turbo and 4, these chatbots have made significant improvements.

Several AI tools have emerged to cater to these evolving needs within the higher education sector:

BoltBot – a leading AI chatbot designed for higher education by Element451. They recently launched Bolt AI Assistants, a family of assistant bots designed to meet the different needs of college students.

IVY – ​​An all-in-one platform to build and launch conversational chatbots. Pre-trained with millions of student utterances and pre-populated with answers extracted from the university’s website.

Mainstay – This AI-powered chatbot specializes in higher education communications, using conversational AI to engage students across various communication channels. Mainstay focuses on reducing summer melt, improving college access, and boosting student success by providing timely reminders, nudges, and answers to student queries.

GeckoEngage – GeckoEngage offers a versatile, channel-agnostic chatbot that operates smoothly across Facebook Messenger, text messages, or live chat. The chatbot uses intelligent question banks that you populate with predicted questions and answers. The more content you add, the better it gets at providing accurate responses, ensuring seamless communication with prospective students no matter the platform.

The following Enrollify post offers a great comparison and review of some of these AI chatbot tools.

What to consider when implementing an AI Chatbot

User expectations are also evolving rapidly with AI integration. Today, most web consumers not only expect quick and efficient service tailored to their needs but also prefer interacting with a chatbot—whether human or AI-powered—before making a phone call. AI chatbots embedded in websites can provide immediate responses to customer inquiries, from simple FAQs to more complex queries about products and services. This real-time interaction enhances customer satisfaction and can significantly reduce the workload on human customer service teams.

Before making the decision to integrate an AI chatbot into your website, there are a few considerations to take into account:

  1. Personalization: AI chatbots must go beyond generic responses to offer personalized interactions. By using data-driven insights, bots can tailor conversations based on past user interactions, preferences, and behavior, making each customer feel understood and valued.
  2. Seamless Escalation: While AI can handle many customer inquiries, it’s crucial to have a smooth escalation path for human agents for complex issues. This hybrid model ensures that customers are not left frustrated by a bot’s limitations and can quickly reach a human when needed.
  3. Continuous Learning: An AI chatbot is only as good as its training data. Regular updates and training with new information and customer interaction logs are essential. This adaptive learning helps the AI improve its accuracy and efficiency over time.
  4. Response Accuracy: Most AI chatbots rely on some of the existing large language models (LLMs), such as GPT 3.5-4, Claude, and Meta’s Llama 3. When working with such models, it is possible for them to hallucinate and provide inaccurate information. It is important to assess the accuracy of whatever AI assistant is being used.
  5. Privacy and Security: As AI chatbots process a significant amount of personal data, ensuring the security and privacy of user data is paramount. Institutions must adhere to data protection regulations and implement robust security measures to build and maintain trust.
  6. Cultural and Contextual Sensitivity: Chatbots should be equipped to understand and respond appropriately to cultural nuances and contextual clues within conversations. This sensitivity can prevent misunderstandings and enhance user engagement.
  7. Analytical Capabilities: Integrating AI chatbots with analytics tools can provide institutions with insights into customer needs, behaviors, and satisfaction levels. These analytics can drive strategic decisions and help refine customer interactions.

Revolutionizing Student Program Discovery Experience with AI

In the higher-ed sector, AI is transforming how students search for academic programs. Imagine entering a university’s website where an AI chatbot greets you. You provide a few prompts about your own interests, strengths, and preferences of post-graduate outcomes, and the AI “attentively” responds with a generated list of academic programs and related stories that may speak to you. This not only personalizes the college search process, but also increases the likelihood of customer satisfaction and repeated engagement with the site.

Implement an AI-powered Site Search

Following the same user experience as Perplexity, students are going to ask questions in natural languages (i.e. in colloquial speech, as you would type a query into Google) and expect the search engine to display results based on their intent. If your current site search engine does not support such a search, the experience is going to fall flat.

We have been thinking about this for quite some time, given that we implemented an ai-powered search (Algolia) back in 2022 to improve the content discovery experience for Wisdom Publications. Their AI ‘Recommend’ machine learning model understands the context and intent of search queries and provides relevant results, making it easier for members to discover the content they desire from the wide range of content that Wisdom offers.

Algolia is the engine we leveraged in this case; it is a popular AI-powered search and discovery platform that provides highly relevant and fast search results. It offers features like typo-tolerance, query suggestions, and personalization.

Elastic Search is an example of an alternative to implementing an AI-powered site search. An open-source search and analytics engine that uses machine learning to deliver intelligent search, it offers features like natural language processing and customizable relevance tuning.

Yext, lastly, is a digital presence management platform that helps businesses deliver consistent, accurate, and engaging experiences across the digital world. It provides AI-powered search solutions, enabling brands to manage their online listings, websites, social media, and reputation from a central platform. Yext’s technology automates workflows, provides actionable insights, and allows businesses to turn their digital presence into a competitive advantage

A screenshot of Yext in use on a higher-ed website, with search results from the query "What can I study at Bucknell?"

Pictured: A screenshot of Yext in use on a higher-ed website, with search results from the query “What can I study at Bucknell?”

Conclusion: Adapting Your Website to AI-Driven Market Expectations

As AI becomes increasingly integrated into website interfaces, higher education institutions, and other organizations must adapt to keep up with technological advancements and evolving user behaviors. The first step is to integrate AI chatbots that can handle a wide range of user interactions, from inquiring about college admissions to learning about what it’s like to live on campus. Additionally, investing in AI tools that can analyze website user data to enhance interactions and predict needs will be crucial.

By embracing these new AI tools, institutions can not only meet but exceed the modern user’s expectations, setting a new standard in user experience and opening up a plethora of opportunities for growth and engagement in the digital age. While the human touch remains crucial and irreplaceable, AI tools can streamline communications and help users discover information that is readily available, enhancing efficiency and accessibility.

In the end, the shift toward AI-enhanced web experience is not just a trend but a fundamental evolution in how we interact with digital content. Organizations that recognize and adapt to this shift will be well-positioned to thrive in this new era.

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