Virtual Student Services Center offers 24/7 access for questions about student billing, financial aid

Students walk across the Compass on the way to class.
Students walk across the Compass on the way to class.

Questions don’t always pop into your head conveniently between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. — especially for busy VCU students. Now, a new Virtual Student Services Center offers round-the-clock access for students and parents seeking information about financial aid, billing and related issues.

Questions can be asked over the phone at (844) 348-5073 or via web chat at https://virtualssc.vcu.edu.

This allows students to access someone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“This allows students to access someone 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Sybil Halloran, Ph.D., interim vice provost of the Division of Strategic Enrollment Management. “It moves us forward in a number of ways.”

“When the question pops into their head, we’re there,” said Michael Flanigan, Ed.D., director of planning and operational technology. “This allows us to meet the students and parents on their terms, not ours. All of the student-success research that’s out there says, ‘when your customer calls, answer’ because that will help you down the line.”

For instance, a student who contacted the VSSC was able to confirm his financial aid refund and the exact amount — at 11:58 p.m.

“You win, and they win,” Flanigan said. When students can get their questions answered, they can focus on school, work or other things, he added.

Since its launch on July 27, the system has fielded more than 28,000 contacts. That includes 15,000 phone calls with consultants. About 25 percent of inquiries are answered by the automated voice response system after students verify their identity, Flanigan said.

“If the caller needs additional information, then a student services consultant will talk with them and try to help them through whatever question they’re asking,” he said.

Students also can use a web chat feature, if they prefer. There is also a digital repository where students can access a bank of frequently asked questions.

Inquiries are fielded by a team of consultants with Blackboard, the company that also runs the university’s learning management system.

For the most-challenging questions and issues, consultants can flag the question for special attention from VCU staff. It will typically be answered within 24-48 business hours, Flanigan said. Calls and chats are saved and can be retrieved so VCU staff can assist students.

“VCU staff can deal with the complicated issues, and that’s the better use of their time and expertise,” Halloran said.

The Virtual Student Services Center allows phone, email and chat access to VCU financial information 24/7.
The Virtual Student Services Center allows phone, email and chat access to VCU financial information 24/7.

While beneficial to all students, the center may be especially helpful in eliminating barriers and confusion for first-generation students, who constitute about one-third of VCU’s incoming freshmen classes.

“Being able to meet them on their terms, rather than make them meet us on our terms, goes a long way to helping support their journey through the university,” Flanigan said.

The virtual center, he said, is the next big move forward in providing more efficient services to students.

In 2010, the university merged several offices into the Student Services Center, housed in Harris Hall. Before that, Student Accounting, Records and Registration and the Financial Aid Office were located blocks apart.

“The intent of [the Student Services Center] was to relieve students of having to figure out who to talk to about which problem — just come, we’ll help you solve whatever the problem is. The next logical step is to relieve them of that obligation in the virtual world as well,” Flanigan said.

The hope is to use the data from calls, chats and emails to improve services going forward.

“Can we use that data to be proactive and help students before they even have to call?” Halloran suggested. What they learn from the VSSC data, he said, might benefit programs for new students, parents or other areas of the university.

Flanigan and Halloran intend for the system to be seamless for students.

“We’re building a set of data that, if we analyze it correctly, we can use to promote good student service. We think there is room to be able to do better if we have the right tools in place, and this is a big piece of those tools to have in place,” Flanigan said.

 

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