Advise Students Where They Are, Not Where You Are, with E-vising, Chatbots and Other Futuristic Tools, 9:45 - 10:45 a.m.

By Megan Walter, NASFAA Policy & Federal Relations Staff

How do you meet the expectations of students who want personalized attention, value 24/7/365 flexibility, but would rather communicate in person? 

James Blackburn from Georgia State University, Heather Wheeler of Western Governors University, and Brian Weingart of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission explored this issue and the futuristic tools that can improve student experience at any institution. 

In a world with students from varying backgrounds and with many different expectations and communication preferences, financial aid administrators need to be able to adapt to the needs of each student to best serve them. As technology advances, students and families expect answers and resolutions “now” from their institutions. This change in customer service trends means that institutions need to be able to balance their staff availability, the technology capabilities of their institution, along with the needs of the students and their families to provide the best possible service.

Blackburn said that while the set-up or creation of technologically advanced systems is becoming easier, he’s found that the largest issue is having staff that have the capability to actually use the technology to identify the students that need assistance. Weingart added that it's crucial to make sure that the technology is user-friendly enough that the students you are targeting are able to use the platform. He advises institutions to “start small,” so institutions don’t waste time and resources creating a system that staff or students won’t be able to, or want to, use. 

Weingart talked about his own experiences in his financial aid office as they attempt to become a more technologically advanced office. He said that his office has set up an email ticketing system to spread out emails evenly among his staff, they use screen-sharing to be able to work with students who aren't able to come into the office, as well as the creation of a “chatbot,” which Weingart admitted has its limitations as the bot is not always able to interpret the spelling or shorthand of the students using it.

Blackburn also uses a chatbot at his institution, and has found that after the implementation of the chatbot they’ve lowered their “summer melt” number by 2%, as well as reduced the number of students who withdrew because of nonpayment from 25% to 12%. 

Wheeler shared data from her institutions’ use of SMS Notifications with their student population that showed that over 60,000 students enabled the notifications on their phone, allowing their office to push messages regarding their aid at anytime. Wheeler said that “Anytime a student doesn't need to call us because our self service tools are working, I consider that a win for us.”


Publication Date: 6/25/2019

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