Hlengiwe Khwela, UKZN

UKZN has developed the Msizi Chatbot to enhance the student and visitor experience for 2021 online registrations.

Launched at the beginning of February, the Chatbot is a computer programme designed to mimic human conversation and provide predetermined answers by interpreting words given to it in the chat interface.

Named Msizi – isiZulu for “helper”- the Bot was developed to assist those accessing the UKZN website. It is found in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, appearing as a blue icon.

The Chatbot is customised to respond to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) which have been categorised as follows: Undergraduate Student, Postgraduate Student, Applications and Information, Student Finance, Student Funding (Scholarships, Bursaries and NSFAS), Student Residence, ICS Student Computing, International Students and the Disability Support Unit.

Created by the Information and Communication Services (ICS) division at UKZN, Msizi Chatbot also has the added “chat with us” feature which enables students or visitors to have a live chat with a staff member.

Commenting on the development of the Chatbot, Mr Handsome Nyathikazi of ICS Support said: ‘The team worked long hours creating categories, capturing FAQs, linking staff members to the chat feature and training the Bot.’

‘Working in a virtual environment due to COVID-19 posed some challenges but we had fun creating the Chatbot and we appreciate the team’s effort,’ said Nyathikazi.

Thanking ICS Management for their exceptional support throughout the project, Nyathikazi explained how the Msizi Chatbot was different to other chatbot services because of a three-pronged interactive approach which includes:

•    Interacting with a pool of information made up of well-constructed FAQs

•    Interacting with the friendly Msizi Chatbot •    Interacting with well-informed staff members through the live chat.