Driving Customer and Employee Happiness


December 9th, 2020

Our VP of Customer Success, Rachael Rekart, had a great conversation with the President of Maryville University, Dr Mark Lombardi, about how today’s executives can drive student and employee happiness using cutting-edge technology and Digital People.

Maryville University is the second-fastest growing university in the nation and has been named an Apple Distinguished School for their leadership and excellence in providing students with a high-tech, mobile learning environment. As you can tell from their conversation, innovation, empathy, and agility are paramount to Maryville, and has contributed to its astounding success. To date, Maryville has two digital coaches, Mya and Emma, that help onboard new students, increase engagement, and impact acquisition and retention. Rachael and Dr. Lombardi talked about building brand affinity through career and life coaching for students and clients, and the value Digital People can bring to any enterprise.

Here are our five key takeaways for how Digital People are driving student success that applies to any business, particularly those focused in Transformation, People, Culture, and Learning and Development.

1) Become a trailblazer, no matter your industry

Maryville is leading cutting-edge innovation rooted in a student-centric experience in higher education, a sector that’s known for being more risk-averse. Dr. Lombardi recognizes that in order to thrive, businesses need to innovate alongside sectors like technology that are constantly building what’s next. “The innovation and the direction in today’s digital-first universe is going to come from companies like Soul Machines. Technology is where the big thinkers, innovators and the risk-takers are, and that’s the space Maryville is in and wants to be in,” says Dr. Lombardi. “Artificial Intelligence, the data analytics behind it, Machine Learning and Deep Learning  all are parts of the future of technology. These will revolutionize education and business”.

“AI, Data, Machine and Deep Learning are the future of technology. If businesses are not in that space before the end of this decade, they will perish; plain and simple.” – Dr. Mark Lombardi

Maryville is transforming higher education at a pace that’s more common in entrepreneurship than academia by being nimble and continually responding to change. “In education, you teach a class and you give them a grade at the end. As a faculty member, you evaluate the course. As a student, you evaluate it. And then the next time you teach it, maybe you change a few things, right? That’s a horribly antiquated notion of education and service. Evaluation should be immediate. Judgment about whether something’s working or not should be right away and immediate and be able to pivot and shift.”

As a fast-growing AI company, we wholeheartedly agree.

2) Provide 24/7 support at scale

Dr. Lombardi realizes that every student has varying situations and circumstances, and being able to support them no matter what is part of the Maryville ethos. In business, the key is to build and nurture a strong culture of retaining relationships and continued connection with employees and customers. Maryville has this down pat and makes it a point to support every single student “no matter where they are, what they’re doing, no matter how old they are, in a way that doesn’t make them a hostage to their own situation”.

Maryville is the second fastest growing university in the nation. In order to successfully manage growth at this rate, and at the level that they want to provide for every student 24/7, Digital People were absolutely essential to their growth strategy. With Mya and Emma as life coaches, students know that no matter what, help is always available — that there will always be someone to answer your questions even if the answer is ‘I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m going to have someone contact you within the next 4-6 hours’. This allowed students to have complete trust and confidence in Maryville and its leadership.

The response from students interacting with Mya and Emma have been highly positive so far.


“I was listened to. I was heard! My issues were taken care of. My problem was solved. I got the information I needed” is all any executive wants to hear. – Dr. Mark Lombardi

3) Support diversity and inclusion

The case for fostering fairer and more inclusive cultures is certain – that regardless of background and personal circumstances, everyone deserves a supportive and respectful environment. Maryville University makes this abundantly clear in everything they do, including their Digital People. “We wanted to have life coaches that reflect the diversity of the campus experience because we know from human psychology that people need to see themselves in their teachers, in their leaders, in their partners, and in their colleagues. They need to be able to make those connections”. For Maryville, Mya and Emma are only the beginning. They are planning to bring in three more Digital People that represent the entirety of their student body.

Digital People not only offer care any time, anywhere – they also come without biases and judgement, which makes them a safe haven for students to seek advice and support. Studies have shown that humans ‘are able to build a humanlike sense of rapport’ with virtual humans, like Soul Machines’ Digital People in a way that’s necessary to be comfortable in sharing sensitive information. With Digital People, the fear of human judgment does not exist.

4) Deliver personalized experiences through data

By leveraging the data outputs of thousands of conversations through Digital People, Maryville is able to deliver personalized experiences to each student by understanding not only who they are, but how they learn, how they process information, where they struggle, where they thrive, and so on. This amount of conversation data allows Maryville to tailor and map their journey to maximize each student’s individual potential.

“The most important thing here is that every student, regardless of race, ethnicity, location or socioeconomic status anywhere, can realize their full potential” – Dr. Mark Lombardi

Through Digital People and your NLP provider of choice, our customers gain access to expression and conversation data that can help you adapt to what your customers are saying and how they’re feeling at any time.

5) Embrace AI and Digital People

Maryville University will continue to reap the benefits of being an early adopter in Conversational AI technology, and encourages other businesses to do the same.

What Soul Machines is doing in this space is, I believe, the future of business, period, regardless of who your customers are. The sooner you get engaged with it, the sooner you’re going to adapt to the future of engagement. Mya and Emma can do amazing things today, but a year, two years, three, four years from now, they will be light years ahead. Being engaged with Digital People now is probably one of the most important business decisions you can make — and it’s the smart one. – Dr. Mark Lombardi

We unequivocally agree. The landscape of customer and employee experiences are changing, and more and more brands are realizing the benefits of our revolutionary AI technology to stay ahead of their competition and grow their business into the future.

Interested in hearing more about our conversation with Dr. Mark Lombardi?

About Dr. Lombardi

Since his 2007 inauguration, Dr. Lombardi has provided visionary leadership for Maryville University. Nationally, he is recognized as a thought leader in the higher education revolution and is frequently called upon to address Maryville University’s significant advances in educational access, technology, partnerships and developing an individualized path for students to learning and success.  He is also co-author of the recently released book Pivot: A Vision for the New University(2019). For more information, please visit https://www.maryville.edu/