Personalization: your secret weapon for improving student payment outcomes

January 17, 2024

For students, paying tuition for the first time can be a real emotional rollercoaster. A recent study of the student financial experience conducted by Meadow  showed that the ups and downs are not just about ability to pay; students find the whole experience stressful and are craving an intuitive billing experience that makes it really clear what they need to pay, when they pay it. 

To get students to pay their bills (let alone on time) defaulting to basic emailing and reminders isn’t enough. For today’s students, it's all about the right message at the right time, through the right channels. In a world of buzzes, beeps, pings, and the potential for endless distraction in the palm of virtually every student’s hand, colleges and universities must constantly be on the lookout for new ways to cut through the noise and get students to take action.

We compiled a set of recommendations for student financial services leaders based on our experience helping 50+ partners improve their communication about billing. A cornerstone of every effective program to drive student payment outcomes is to make it personal. Let’s take a look at what that means.

Personalization is more important now than ever. 

According to a study by McKinsey, 71% of people expect personalized interactions from companies and institutions they engage with and 76% get frustrated when those expectations aren’t met. You may not see your communications around billing as marketing, but once you realize the same rules apply, you’ll unlock a new understanding around how to get students to take action. Here are some ways your institution can level-up your approach to personalization:

  • Use students’ preferred names. What’s more likely to get your attention, a message addressing you as “Dear Staff”, or addressing you with your preferred name? Emails leveraging personalization, even as simple as using a recipient’s first name can have, in some cases, a 41% increase in click through rate according to Market Tailor.
Paying a tuition bill is personal - the email should be too.
  • Keep it relevant by segmenting your audience. Many schools take a one-size-fits-all approach to communications, meaning they send one single message to all students and reference different, often irrelevant, situations and caveats regarding payment. This can lead to confusion and lack of clarity on next steps. Segment your audience and ensure that each message contains only the information relevant to the students receiving that message. For example,  do your Military Tuition Assistance students have different payment obligations and timelines? Send them communications that contain only information that is relevant to them and leave out anything they don’t need to know or do.

  • Keep it short and simple. Segmentation should help with this one, but generally speaking, the shorter, more concise, more easy-to-ready, the better. Information overload is real in the age of social media and brevity is an expectation. Tools like Grammarly offer readability scores that tell you what comprehension levels are needed to understand your messaging. You should shoot for as wide of an audience as possible, for example, targeting a middle school comprehension level).

Explore all recommendations in “What to Say When You Need Them to Pay”

Whether your institution has 20,000 or 1,500 students, one fundamental truth remains: improving the quality of communication and reaching students through their preferred channels at the right time will yield positive outcomes. When the journey of paying tuition becomes a seamless and less stressful experience for everyone involved, you position yourself as a true partner to students, drive better payment outcomes, and reduce the workload on your staff.

In just five minutes of your time, get insights that can completely change the way you look at student communication about billing. Download it here

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