Why building relationships is key to boosting student engagement

Sam DeFlitch

November 16, 2021

Meaningful student engagement is about so much more than just answering students’ questions. In fact, relationship building is central to creating open and trusting lines of communication with your students. That’s because relationships need trust to grow. Once trust is established, it allows you to have a greater influence on the actions your students take.

Strengthening relationships with students to influence positive behavior 

At Mainstay, we partner with higher education institutions and state and national college access organizations across the country to support student engagement and drive positive student outcomes. The secret to our success is our Behavioral Intelligence approach, which empowers our partners to build meaningful relationships with students  based on accurate, empathetic, and contextually relevant conversations. 

Some of our partners want to take relationship building to the next level, though — because they know fostering meaningful relationships is the best way to ensure long-term, positive results for their students. That’s where our managed services team comes in. These conversational experts specialize in partnering with institutions to identify their needs, and managing student relationships on their behalf. 

In our webinar, “Student engagement lessons from supporting 1M+ students,” Ilana Habib, Mainstay’s director of managed services, notes “Relationship building is one of the really key points that we can think about in terms of student communication. Anytime we’re engaging in relationship building, it’s supercharging the work we’re doing everywhere else. If a stranger on the street tells you to fill out your FAFSA, you’re way less likely to do it than if your best friend does.” 

This approach is playing out nationwide: In the 2020-2021 college application cycle, Mainstay’s managed services team reached 40% of the incoming class of 2025 through our partnerships with organizations like The Common App, the Knowledge if Power Program (KIPP), the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), and colleges and universities. Let’s take a closer look at THECB’s chatbot, ADVi.

ADVi: A behaviorally intelligent chatbot with all the answers — and a great personality 

In 2019, we began a partnership with THECB with the goal of increasing the number of Texas high school students enrolling in colleges and universities. To achieve this goal, we developed ADVi — short for “advisor” — a behaviorally intelligent chatbot that uses text messaging to provide students with empathetic, accurate, and engaging, and relevant information about key college access milestones, common questions, and actionable steps. Our managed services team partnered with THECB to write the text messages, and then managed the conversations the bot had with students — and the results have been impressive. 

ADVi communicated with over 220,000 students during the 2020-2021 application cycle, and students didn’t just love ADVi for its advice. Nearly a quarter of students surveyed said ADVi’s personality was the most satisfying component of their interactions with the bot — meaning students appreciated both the reminders managed services provided, and the relationships they formed with the bot.

Insights into student engagement from one million weekly conversations

Through our partnerships with colleges and universities, nonprofits, and state organizations, our managed services team reaches more than one million learners each week — which provides a ton of context, insights, and valuable, real-time information that the team can apply to your bot’s conversations with students. In our webinar, “Student engagement lessons from supporting 1M+ students,” Ilana Habib discusses many of the lessons learned from these conversations in depth. Here’s a snapshot of some key takeaways:

  • 96% of users felt the chatbot met or exceeded their expectations
  • 77% reported taking action because of one of our texts
  • 50% asked or answered at least one question
  • 87% would recommend the chatbot to a friend

Take your student engagement rates to the next level with Mainstay 

A key part of understanding this student experience — and improving enrollment and retention rates — is using the right engagement strategy for your school. Let’s face it: Traditional methods of communication, such as email, are becoming less effective. On average, less than 20% of recipients will open your email. Institutions that partner with Mainstay, however, regularly achieve 40% engagement rates. Teaming up with managed services regularly pushes those overall engagement rates to 60% – 70% — which is nearly unheard of for any other channel. To achieve these student engagement rates, our managed services team employs a research-backed approach powered by Behavioral Intelligence, to transform our partners’ chatbots into a trusted friend for their students. 

Find out what we’ve learned from more than a million weekly conversations with students

Your team is busy, and you probably don’t have hours to spend handling every single student inquiry. That’s where managed services comes in. When you partner with Mainstay and our managed services team, our conversational experts will work with you to identify your objectives and write effective messages for your students based on specific factors that affect enrollment, retention, and more. We’ll handle the daily management of your chatbot so you can get back to doing what you do best: Supporting your students. 

Watch our webinar, “Student engagement lessons from supporting 1M+ students,” to find out what we’ve learned from our conversations with students. You’ll see for yourself how Mainstay’s managed services team applies this knowledge to improving student engagement rates for our partners — and how you can instantly improve your own student engagement efforts. 

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