- The need for streamlined financial aid processes has never been greater than it is in the wake of the global health pandemic and the resulting Great Resignation and economic uncertainty.
- An all-in-one communications platform that includes contact center solutions can help your financial aid department streamline its processes.
- Taking proactive steps to modernize your communications is beneficial to both students and universities.
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In the wake of the global pandemic and its resultant economic uncertainties, streamlining access to financial aid has become a major priority. According to a recent Discover Student Loan survey, 63 percent of parents are worried about having enough money to help pay for their child’s education, and 55 percent are worried their child is not receiving enough in financial aid.
The students are feeling the pressure as well, with 38 percent of parents reporting that paying for college is their child’s top anxiety about attending college, followed closely by 30 percent reporting that applying for scholarships and aid is their child’s top anxiety.
Higher education institutions can alleviate some of this stress by providing more student support in the financial aid department. However, more support does not necessarily mean that additional staff must be hired. Rather, colleges and universities can provide increased support by adopting modern, cloud-based contact center solutions to power their financial aid departments.
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How contact center solutions streamline financial aid
As a typical semester begins, the Financial Aid Department can easily become overwhelmed by high call volumes from students looking for guidance in completing requirements for financial aid. For colleges that are handling in-person appointments as well, financial aid staff may feel that they are constantly trying to shoehorn in returning urgent calls to students between appointments. It is not unusual for students to wait hours or even days for a return call.
That’s bad news for both students and administrators. Because many students and parents must choose which college to attend based on the availability of financial aid, the inability of a college to provide prompt support to students translates into fewer admissions.
A cloud-based contact center solution can streamline support for students by:
- Enabling a campus to provide answers to frequently asked questions through interactive voice response (IVR) scripting.
- Providing intelligent call routing to ensure students get to the right person to handle their issue on the first call.
- Providing video conferencing capability to help students and staffers connect easily.
- Providing self-service options to students for issues that do not actually require a financial aid staff member.
- Providing detailed analytics that help administrators with workforce staffing and optimization
These are just some of the ways a well-designed contact center solution can help streamline student support in the Financial Aid Department. What can campuses do to make this happen?
7 steps to streamlined communications for financial aid
Take these steps to begin improving student support in your Financial Aid department:
1. Adopt mobile tech.
Smartphones are ubiquitous, especially on college campuses. According to a Verizon study, 92 percent of college students use their smartphone during idle times at school or work, and 82 percent use it for school-related tasks. Over three quarters of college students reach for their phone first thing in the morning, and 72 percent use their smartphone right before falling asleep.
Considering the ever-present nature of smartphones in the daily lives of most college students, it makes sense for campuses to put financial aid information on mobile platforms to make filing for aid easier for students and staff members. As an added benefit, connecting platforms allows students or staff to pull information from FAFSA into university-specific applications automatically.
Students who have easier access to financial aid documents will have an easier time filling out applications. Streamlining the application process for tech-savvy students translates into more time for your staff to work with students who may need more personalized help. It’s a win-win for students and administrators.
2. Use multiple communication channels.
Communication was once limited to in-person appointments, mail, telephone, and fax. Additional communication channels are available today, such as email, social, chat, SMS, mobile apps, and more.
To make it easy for students to access financial aid forms and information, look for a communications solution that allows secure contact via all these channels. That way, students can exercise their preferences, and no single channel will get congested.
For example, RingCentral’s comprehensive communications platform puts SMS, email, voice, chat, and contact center solutions all in one centralized place, making streamlined communications a cinch for students and staff.
3. Create comprehensive FAQ pages.
Students often come to the financial aid office with a set of common questions. With an all-in-one communications platform in place, students can quickly see if their question has an answer online rather than waiting on hold indefinitely or in line for an in-person meeting.
Because FAQ pages are so accessible, you can make them extremely in-depth. Consider writing reports for even obscure questions that very few students may have. An hour spent on this today can save many hours over the course of several years.
FAQ pages can be accessed in many ways. A user will often find them looking for answers on your website. But they may also receive a link from a friend or be directed to an FAQ page by an AI chatbot.
4. Pay attention to security.
By law, schools must safeguard student information. Financial aid information is very sensitive. It includes personally identifiable information, like:
- Social security number
- Income (for both student and parent)
With so much information moving around in cyberspace, there is an increased risk of a data breach. Be sure to only use reputable technology. Train your staff in proper security protocols, and help them to recognize possible cases of attempted social engineering.
Keeping your communication channels clear and free from congestion will make them easier to manage and help you spot phishing before it’s too late.
RingCentral provides state-of-the-art end-to-end encryption for secure communications. With seven layers of security and a HITRUST CSF Certification, RingCentral provides peace of mind for administrators and students alike.
5. Train staff on new technology.
Introducing any new technology properly includes training staff to integrate it into current workflows. A cloud-based communications platform and contact center solution allows your staff to handle student interactions via multiple communications channels. Work out policies for who will handle each channel and ensure each financial aid staffer understands how the system works.
The right choice of communications provider can make training simple. For example, after implementing RingCentral, Eric Wang, Woodbury University’s Vice President of IT and CIO, observed: “The RingCentral user interface is so well designed and intuitive. It was really easy for our staff to get up and running right away…even though we were all new to the system, pretty much everyone was able to learn the system within minutes.”
6. Use AI chatbots.
Chatbots are particularly useful in domain-specific activities, like scheduling appointments and answering questions. AI chatbots can replace some of the routine queries your staff handles. While some students may feel comfortable reading an FAQ or signing up for an appointment on their own, others may prefer using a chatbot.
Chatbots free up staff time for more complex issues, ensuring that you are using your staff in the best way possible to support students who really need hands-on help.
7. Automate repetitive work.
Filling out forms, copying data, and sending mass emails are all mechanical activities. The less time people spend doing them, the better. Consider using automated communication tools. These can send and track mass emails, texts, and voicemails. They can also collect and store responses to be handled at a more advantageous time.
Let RingCentral supercharge your financial aid communications
The financial aid process can provoke fear and intimidation. This may deter first-generation students, or students from underrepresented backgrounds. By streamlining your financial aid process, you can make it easier for everyone to go to college.
Make sure to reach students where they are. People communicate through many channels, so having a way of organizing your communications can help you support both your students and financial aid staff members.
RingCentral provides an all-in-one communications solution that includes telephony, video conferencing, messaging, and contact center capabilities. Designed for education, RingCentral is the go-to solution for digitally-forward campuses around the globe. Learn more by requesting a demo today.
Originally published Apr 05, 2022