Understanding the demographic of your payers is crucial in order to understand what payment options and methods they expect and prefer. A payer may be the student, but is more likely to be a parent or guardian who is making a payment on behalf of the student. Universities and colleges are also likely to take payments from many other payers; including alumni and donors, staff, commercial customers and the general public. Institutions should aim to provide a payer experience that is easy and intuitive, and best fits the needs of their students and other payers.
Our research shows time and time again how important effective communications are in providing payers with a good payment experience. From being clear and transparent about payment options, both in direct communications and via your website, to responding quickly and sympathetically when payers require additional advice and/or support.
Clear and timely communications also effectively directs payers to the university’s preferred payment channels. For instance, many universities try to discourage students from making payment directly to their bank account because it is less secure for the student, increases risks around potential money laundering, and is also more operationally burdensome for the university.
International students report that exchange rates become significantly less favourable the closer you get to a university’s payment deadline. Therefore many would like the choice to be able to pay early, both to take advantage of a good exchange rate, but also to be able to pay whilst still at home and supported by their parents/guardians.
Our research suggests that those who had a bad experience paying tuition/accommodation fees are significantly more likely to have waited until the payment deadline than those that got payment sorted earlier.
Payers like to be offered some choice when making tuition and accommodation payments, but can be frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of transparency and clarity as to which payment methods are most appropriate for their particular needs. For example, offering Direct Debits as an instalment option might be clear and achievable for UK students, but could cause confusion and difficulty for international students who are, on the whole, unfamiliar with Direct Debits and require a UK bank account to set them up (which 1st year students will almost certainly not have before the payment deadline).
Tuition and accommodation fees can be large payments, especially for international students. Confirmation that the payment has been successfully received by the university is both expected and important to payers. Some payment methods, such as paying directly to the university's bank account, rather than through the university's online payment portal, means that payers will not get payment confirmation. This can be both worrying for the payer and result in large volumes of student enquiries by email and phone, which can be difficult for universities to respond to in a timely fashion.
By having a good understanding of your payer demographic and the factors which affect their payment experience, universities can make effective decisions about what payment processes and methods best fit the needs of their students and payers.
Why is Payer Experience Important?Payer experience has the potential to impact how your institution is viewed as a whole. A good experience may mean that a payer simply doesn’t think of the process again, but a bad experience, where the payer struggles to find how to pay, or to get their payment accepted may mean that they end up feeling more negatively towards your institution. A difficult or negative experience may also mean that the next time they come to make a payment, the payer chooses to use a different (perhaps less preferable from your institution’s point of view) payment method, leading to increased effort and risk on the part of both the payer and the institution.
How Can We Help to Address Payer Experience?
We currently conduct annual research into the payment needs and requirements of both UK and International payers. YouGov, on behalf of WPM, have been conducting a yearly survey since 2015 into the attitudes and opinions of UK students and parents towards different types of payment methods. And in 2017, WPM began conducting research into the payment experiences of international students, which consists of annual surveys, focus groups and one-to-one interviews.
Our research helps us to understand the needs and dynamics of the sector, in order to ensure our soultions and supporting service model is meeting the sector’s current and future requirements. Our Consultants and Customer Success Team apply this research and best practice to your own unique set of challenges and opportunities, with a focus on continuous improvement, and providing clear and actionable advice.