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Conversational (AI-Powered 2-way) SMS Texting: What Makes it Tick, and Why it is Exciting

Learn how and why conversational SMS is disrupting texting communications.

Over the past four decades, we have seen a dramatic evolution in our society from paper-based to digital-based communications. And in the last fifteen years – accelerated by the adoption of mobile phones – we have seen a clear evolution from email to SMS texting as the preferred digital communication channel.

The data supports the change: open rates for emails are less than 10%; while open rates for text messages are over 90%. If you want to engage with someone, you text them.

Within text messaging, there are three primary SMS technologies: one-way SMS, two-way SMS, and AI-Powered two-way SMS which is also known as “Conversational SMS.”

Conversational SMS is an exciting technology, and it is very quickly going to disrupt the other two forms. When you see it in action, you are left wondering: why did I not think of this? Or at least see this coming?

This blog covers the foundations of Conversational SMS and the reasons why it is disrupting Texting communications for the better:

Natural Language Understanding (NLU) Technology

Conversational SMS relies on the same NLU technology that powers AI Chatbots. Through guided machine learning, the AI learns to understand user intent, and is able to respond with an answer, similar to how a human would. The beauty is that the conversation takes place on a mobile device, for instant back and forths.

Access to a Large Data Set of Interactions (“Big Data” Model)

In order for the AI to get smarter, it needs access to a large data set of interactions. Within higher education, that is hard to do within a single college or university. However, a platform that is architected to support a “multi-tenant” structure that feeds all the interactions into a single brain, can overcome this challenge.

A Comprehensive and Growing Knowledge Base of Content

Conversational AI needs a comprehensive knowledge base of content in order to serve up answers and exchanges within a text conversation. On the back-end, administrators watch the interactions for patterns and trends to identify gaps in content. These observations enable the staff training the AI to help the machines better “connect the dots” to fill those gaps.

The Advantages of Conversational (AI-Powered Two-Way) SMS over traditional One-Way and Two-Way SMS

Facilitating Actual Conversations

Conversational SMS can facilitate actual conversations with students rather than simply sending them a one-way alert or a two-way text which allows for only a confirmatory type of response (such as a “yes or no”). Conversational SMS technology supports actual conversations in a few ways:

  • If you want to send a text message to a small cohort of students who are behind on supplying paperwork, and want to be able to respond to and/or follow-up with each one, you can send an “Agent-backed” campaign to provide individualized support directly from your staff.
  • If you want to send a text message to a large group making a big announcement, you can send an “AI-backed” campaign. If a recipient of this campaign has questions, they can engage with the AI, which relies on a consistent and thorough knowledge base of content for its responses.
  • If you want to send messages to groups of students but want the message to first determine whether students are in “Group A” or “Group B” – for example, you want to know if a student is planning to register for the next semester – you can send a Yes/No campaign that first asks whether a student is planning to enroll, and then the subsequent texts are tied to the answer to the Yes/No question. Students are more likely to fire off a quick Y or N to a question, rather than immediately complete an application. You can refine your target lists this way and focus your time most efficiently.
Consistent Information Across Platforms

Conversational SMS pulls information from the same knowledge base that can also fuel the chatbot on your website. This single-source of truth means there is no double-work being done to manage information, contact lists and campaign templates across multiple platforms. It also ensures users are provided with a streamlined, uniform experience across different communication channels.

Looping in Live Staff When Needed

When the AI “gets stumped”, the conversation can be handed off to a live staff agent (if one is available) for a phone call, text exchange, email exchange or a video conference (enabled by a built-in integration with software such as Zoom).

The Wrap

2-way AI-powered “Conversational” SMS is emerging as “best of breed” among texting technologies. It provides students with the most modern communication experience. It provides staff with a tremendous tool for extending their reach and connecting with students in a way that is efficient, leverages workflows and aggregates information from all interactions in the student’s record. It makes every institution that uses it a 24/7 accessible institution. That is a powerful evolution, and it is what students expect from their college or university.

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