Technology is about adoption. And that requires education.

Accepting online payments can be a good thing—schools can improve workflow without compromising security or customer service.

Students are changing the way higher education institutions accept payments on campuses. As payment technology continues to grow, so is the trend to replace cash with plastic in everyday transactions. Cash is on the decline and, with more schools adopting payment technology’s improved strides like virtual wallets, it will only continue.

University Business and CASHNet recently partnered to conduct a survey to explore schools’ usage of various payment methods and technologies. An overwhelming amount of respondents polled (administrators) cited cash and checks as the least common way for users to pay their college tuition. As high as that number is—68 percent—there was still a segment of administrators that expressed a payer’s hesitancy to go completely cashless. But the number is small. Administrators say these payers are simply more comfortable making payments in-person using traditional currency.

Survey Results: In-Person Payments
Survey Results: Not-In-Person Payments

A shift in trends.

Over the past few years there’s no denying there has been a shift of less in-person payment volume. Of the respondents polled, a whopping 71 percent said they have seen a decrease in fewer students heading over to the Bursar’s Office to make their payments. What does that say? Probably that students and payers simply enjoy the convenience of making a payment online, presenting them with the ability to do it any time they want.

Survey Results: 71% report in-person payment volumn in the Bursar's Office has decreased.

This does pose some concerns to university staff. According to those polled, 54 percent feel with the sole presence of online payments their offices will not be able to deliver the same high-level of customer service standards they have been able to produce in the past. There may be an alternative available to fit some schools’ needs: Instead of utilizing internal resources to handle all the functions on its own, costing time and money in training, schools could contract a third-party processor. A processor could help lessen the burden of end of-day reconciliation using patented software to ensure a payment is secure before it is passed on to the school.

This allows administrators to have more time to dedicate their expertise to other office functions or to any complicated issues that may arise. However, there are a few trendsetting campuses’ that have successfully implemented cashless programs and are not looking back. We’ll get to those details later.

The obstacles.

Before administrators can make any of these changes to the way payments are accepted, they still feel there are challenges they need to overcome. For instance, they may feel schools need to accommodate those students who can only pay by cash or check, and those parents who wish to only pay via check and cash. The poll revealed 62 percent of administrators say some parents are uncomfortable with making payments online. Many are just not familiar with the technology, have a limited understanding, and don’t want to compromise their security—all contributing to a school’s hesitancy factor to go completely cashless.

Survey Results: What challenges do you face when making a change to the way you accept payments?

So, how can we alleviate the fear of something new so administrators can provide payers with the most choice and the best options, while maintaining excellent customer service? Allowing other payment options like making them online through third-party payers is a start and is only a win-win for schools. There is less friction in the Bursar’s office, since there is absolutely no wait time. Payers like it because they literally do not have to stand in line and will have more control when the amount is debited from their account. And there’s no mistaking ease of use. As a result, institutions can only benefit: Payments will most likely increase and be made on time, only adding to a school’s bottom line success.

With the addition of a third-party assuming the processing, some schools can also significantly reduce their PCI scope. Third-party payers have the depth of resources and a skilled staff to handle it. Since 71 percent of those polled said they were somewhat concerned about PCI, the presence of a “PCI-certified” provider would only boost confidence and alleviates any discomfort.

Survey Results: Fraud Concerns

Technology is about adoption.

And that requires education. Making an online payment is no more than using a credit card for a transaction. To help this segment become more familiar with online payments, schools can take advantage of the perfect opportunity to educate through traditional how-to collateral (brochures, buck slips) that further explains how easy it is to set up a secure account. Schools can also ease fears in letting payers know their offices will still be on hand to answer any questions, via phone or email, adding that personal touch many still want to offer.

Overall, embracing the technology can only enhance the services a school has to offer their students and payers. The combination of providing more choice of payment methods relieves the burden on students and payers, contributing to improved access, retention, and completion rates.

Ohio State, a cashless campus that goes above and beyond.

Ohio State has been a cashless campus since 2009. According to Tony Newland, director of financial services, Ohio State has only benefited from its cashless environment. “For one, we have had a more efficient use of staff and managers,” he said. “We’ve eliminated the need for internal cash controls and a cashiering system—we no longer count cash boxes!”

That means Ohio State’s admins don’t spend any hours to count, bundle, and deposit cash on fee payment deadlines. The result has been nothing but positive, said Tony. “The physical environment of our office is much more relaxed. We no longer have a teller barrier set-up, which I think hindered our ability to provide excellent customer service.” With a more open environment, Tony now feels there is less risk and exposure for students.”It makes it feel less US and more WE,” he said.

Customer service also improved. “We went out of our way to show a student/parent how to make an online payment instead of just giving them instructions,” explained Tony. “We have three kiosks in our lobby and our customer service staff will come out from behind their desk and sit down with a student or parent to walk them through how to make an online payment.  Teach them to fish.  You’ll do a service to them and yourself.”

Six Ways to Enhance Customer Service in a Cashless Office

1. Smile.

An inviting smile puts students at ease and makes them feel comfortable enough to ask questions—and helps to alleviate the pain of paying tuition!

2. Listen.

Show sensitivity to the student’s and parent’s needs by answering questions clearly and patiently—especially to new freshmen and international students and families.

3. Anticipate questions/provide answers.

Give students a full explanation of all options available to them. For example, a student struggling to pay tuition may not know about payment plans. You can also educate through collateral like including brochures and buckslips in mailing materials or in the orientation packages.

4. Accept many payment types.

You can offer more payment options like credit, debit, ACH, 529, wire. And when you contract with a third-party payer, simplifying end-of-day reconciliation.

5. Provide kiosks.

Assign staff to help walk users through it, if needed. The more options offered, the more convenient for the customer—and you!

6. Help the medicine go down.

Add a bowl of candy, gum, or mints to help “sweeten” the deal. Let your customers walk away with a good taste in their mouths all the way around!

To view the full survey results, click here.