The people behind Behavioral Intelligence: Collaborating with colleges to supercharge student engagement

Sam DeFlitch

December 6, 2021

At Mainstay, we’re pretty proud of the behaviorally intelligent solutions we offer to colleges and businesses — but our technology wouldn’t be nearly as effective without a bit of human genius behind it. We may be a little biased, but we’re confident that our team is the best at what they do: Using chatbots to have meaningful conversations that guide people toward a more fulfilling life. 

In this series, we’re shining the spotlight on our teams to give you a peek into the daily work, cool factor (yup, we kick it with Gen Z every day), and expertise that Mainstay’s people bring to the table.

Fostering meaningful relationships with students is the best way to ensure their long-term success — but that’s easier said than done. For colleges and universities to build strong relationships with students, they have to build trust. One sure-fire way to do that is by providing students with the accurate, empathetic, and relevant responses they need for any situation. These conversations can be hard to scale — but when you combine innovative technology with a spark of human inspiration, you can take your interactions with students to the next level. That’s where Mainstay’s Managed Services team enters the picture.

This team is a group of conversational experts — meaning they’ve got the perfect words for any kind of interaction with students. They’re fluent in Gen Z, and they draw on their knowledge of what drives students to take action to build and manage behaviorally intelligent chatbots for Mainstay’s partner institutions. This involves collaborating with colleges to build a custom knowledge base that will enable their bot  to provide the best response for students in any situation. 

You can think of a knowledge base as the chatbot’s brain: It’s constantly taking in information from student interactions and learning better ways to have more meaningful conversations with them. Our Managed Services team ensures that partners’ bots are equipped with a robust knowledge base, so they’re able to respond with accuracy (IQ), empathy (EQ), and contextual relevance (CQ) — the three building blocks of Behavioral Intelligence

IQ is critical to ensure your students have access to the information they need — but it’s not just what you say to students that makes a difference: it’s how you say it that matters. The best response needs to be empathetic (EQ) and it has to take context into consideration (CQ). EQ and CQ are inherently human traits, so it takes a spark of human intelligence, inspiration, and experience to infuse messages with these characteristics. That’s why each of Mainstay’s behaviorally intelligent chatbots are designed with supportive personalities — and this is where Mainstay’s Director of Managed Services, Ilana Habib, enters the picture. 

Student engagement insights from more than a million weekly conversations

“My team is in a very lucky place where we get to see student reactions and conversations on a daily basis,” Ilana says. “We approach our work with a holistic viewpoint that is very centered on student impact and student benefit.” Drawing from their own personal experiences and professional backgrounds, Ilana and her team ensure each partners’ chatbot provides accurate, empathetic, and contextually relevant information — so colleges and universities can meet students’ needs at the most critical moments in their educational journey.

Mainstay’s Managed Services team work with colleges and universities, nonprofits, and state organizations to reach more than one million learners each week. These interactions provide students with relevant guidance and questions, and also timely nudges that spark conversations. From actively listening to these conversations, the Managed Services team gleans insights that they use to make every bot smarter and more helpful. Ilana and her team also use the aggregate data from these interactions to inform the IQ, EQ, and CQ that goes into the text messaging campaigns and scripts they develop to meet each institution’s student engagement goals

This commitment to supporting students is personal to Ilana, who comes from a Cuban immigrant background, and whose parents were first generation college students. “That’s a big part of what drives me to do the work that I do,” Ilana says, reflecting on her own experience navigating the college landscape. 

Using IQ, EQ, and CQ to engage students with the right message at the right time

Crafting conversations that provide students with timely, accurate answers to their questions and empathetic, relevant nudges toward positive actions takes a high level of expertise, which Ilana and her Managed Services team provide. 

Ilana leans on her own extensive experience when she collaborates with institutions to develop campaigns and scripts for their chatbots. During her undergraduate studies at MIT, she worked in the Media Lab and Education Arcade to translate traditional, print-based curriculum into compelling digital content. From there, she earned her master’s degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education, working at the intersection of higher ed, technology, and educational equity. Now, as Mainstay’s Director of Managed Services, she continues to engage with — and learn from — students. 

“I keep a pulse on what partners are noticing, and I also find spaces to hear from students themselves,” says Ilana. She still finds as many ways as possible to continue working with students. For example, she serves as an admissions interviewer for MIT, and also an advisor for her undergraduate sorority. “Finding opportunities to engage with students is critical — even in online forums like Tik Tok and Reddit,” she says.

Staying involved with students gives Ilana a unique perspective that she uses to equip the behaviorally intelligent chatbots she manages for Mainstay’s partners with the best information. For example, she might notice that students are feeling burnt out during the FAFSA application season. So, in addition to providing accurate answers to students’ questions about filling out the FAFSA, Ilana might also send an empathetic and contextually relevant check-in text that recognizes the stress students are feeling about the process of applying for financial aid. This best response to student questions about completing the FAFSA provides accurate information, while recognizing the anxiety students are feeling and responding with empathy.

Increasing student engagement with behaviorally intelligent chatbots — that also have great personalities

Every school is unique, so our Managed Services team is deeply invested in developing personalized solutions to meet each institution’s specific student engagement goals. To achieve this, the team identifies each school’s needs, comes to understand the makeup of the student body, develops a schedule for sending campaigns, and creates plans to address challenges unique to the institution. As part of this collaboration with our higher education partners, Ilana and her team infuse chatbots with unique personalities that make them engaging for students — with careful consideration of the right tone for each student body. These personalities humanize the bots, which enables them to build relationships with students over time. It’s those relationships that make behaviorally intelligent chatbots so effective at encouraging students to take action that will result in positive outcomes. 

“While a bot’s personality depends on the institution’s student engagement goals, it’s important that students always understand that the bot is trying to help them,” Ilana says. “Many of our bots can be very earnest in tone when they need to be, and we customize additional aspects of their personality based on the population of students each institution serves.” 

For example, adult learners might prefer communication that is direct and less pun-heavy, while teenage learners tend to appreciate a bit of humor in their conversations with bots. “We actually use a lot of dad jokes with younger students. They love it when we double down on the cheese factor,” Ilana says. “But with adult learners, we’re aware that they might have busier lives, and their motivations for going to school may be different, so we tend to use a more straightforward tone with their bots.” 

To develop the best tone for each partner institution’s chatbot, Ilana determines the most important takeaway from each interaction with the bot. For adult learners, who interact with technology in different ways than younger learners, this might be direct, useful information. And while high school students require college access information, they’re more likely to take action when they’re able to form a friendship with their bot.

“Due to remote learning, students have become reliant on the bots. Students have been feeling incredibly alone,” Ilana says. “The bot is a life raft. It’s able to chat with them at any time. We actually see a ton of incoming messages from 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM — and these aren’t students asking about FAFSA. It’s students needing a point of connection, and the bot is relentlessly supportive and needs nothing back.” 

Ultimately, Ilana notes, her goal is to support and care for students throughout entire college admissions and retention process. As she works with our partners to optimize each institution’s chatbot, she keeps in mind that students have vibrant lives and concerns. Recognizing and addressing these concerns is the key to building good relationships and encouraging students to take meaningful actions toward success. 

Take your student engagement to the next level with Mainstay’s conversational experts

Mainstay’s Managed Services team are conversational experts who specialize in ensuring students receive the right messages at the right time, delivered in the best way. When you partner with Mainstay and our Managed Services team, you’ll get the expert support you need to make your bot smarter, accompanied by an empathy-first approach that moves the metrics that matter – at the most critical moments in your students’ journeys.

Request a demo today to learn more about how Ilana and her team will supercharge your student engagement to drive meaningful results for your school. 

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Mainstay’s behaviorally intelligent chatbots make it easy to engage with employees on the channels they prefer to use:

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Get a guided tour of Mainstay’s Engagement Platform

Mainstay’s Engagement Platform uses Behavioral Intelligence to help schools and businesses build meaningful relationships, optimize insights, and drive action.

Sign up for your personalized demo to find out how Mainstay makes it easy to spark conversations with your students or employees and guide them toward positive results.

Channels

Instant support — anytime, anywhere

Mainstay’s behaviorally intelligent chatbots make it easy to engage with students and employees on the channels they prefer to use:

SMS text messaging

Live chat

Web chat

Social media

Let's talk