The New Age of Collecting Debt in Student Housing

Collecting rent each month from students has moved into the online realm.

 

The buzz word around the student housing industry is social media. The term refers to the interactive tools used to communicate with groups and incorporate sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, text messaging, etc. These social media tools are being used heavily by marketing departments across the industry as a way to reach the tech savvy demographic found in student housing.

As a leasing agent, accountant and general manager, we have depended greatly on paper notices as well as phone calls to the residents and the guarantors as the only way to communicate the debt owed to the property. Property software now enables the accountant to email notices as an additional communication method.

As checks become outdated — most freshmen entering into college have never used them — we need to adapt/evolve as an industry to include the use of social media in our collection efforts. As management companies and owners, we need to connect to our residents on their level. Unfortunately, this is not the traditional nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday schedule. The use of social media will help by allowing the property management to interact with the residents on a higher level. Some examples are:

Sending an email blast – Try sending an email to the residents on the first day that rent is due and the last day to pay the rent without late fees. Send an email to the guarantor as well as the resident before the late fees begin to accrue.

Posting on Facebook – If you regularly have postings on your Facebook page then add a reminder about rent. Call it the money-saving section and post things about free oil changes or free movie tickets. Also include things like how to fill out a money order or explain late fees and show a cost comparison for paying on time verses late. Post links to articles about good credit history and good rental history. Give a small prize to someone who is able to answer a question about the articles or information posted. This way it is seen as a positive area for the residents. Using Facebook to contact the hard-to-reach international student population or dropping a line to find out if someone is on vacation helps create the great customer service connection that we all strive for.

Posting creative contests – Try to post contests for individuals who pay on time or early. Provide a prize or some treat to incentivize the “good payment history” behavior. Use this same contest in the office or at events to reinforce the participation.

Text Messages – Using this form a media can be tricky, but if used correctly it will be an excellent source of contact for the current student population, which sends an average of 80 text messages per day.

Online Payments – Allowing residents to pay online is a necessity. Do not charge unnecessary fees, as this will decrease the chance that your residents will use this method of payment. Students change their phone numbers often so have a place on your website that allows them to update their information. Also, try to find an online payment system that transfers payment directly into your residential software. This increases customer satisfaction by reducing human error and the number of interactions with the funds. Try to also have an online system that either accepts or can make arrangements for the use of non-traditional forms of payments (ex. PayPal, credit cards with international addresses). Make sure your site allows recurring payments and the ability to disable the site to adapt to your needs. When dealing with NSFs make sure the site has a quick turnaround and you advise the residents as soon as possible. This helps to avoid feelings of ill will and distrust. Once again, keep the payment fees low and make sure the site is simple and quick.

Advertise these options to parents and guarantors. With most parents and guarantors still taking an active role in the payments of the student’s rent, having an online system that shows the resident their payment history and the amount currently due will also increase the satisfaction level of the resident and guarantor or parent.

As with anything new and undiscovered, the rules and regulations have not been worked out, so please refer to your legal counsel if you have any questions. Remember this is student housing and if you want to create an environment of on-time payments and still have great customer service, then you have to first make it easy and second repeat, repeat, repeat. A good routine can solve a lot of problems. Remember to speak their lingo, and keep up with the new ways of communication.

— Nikki Thompson is a general manager with Campus Advantage.

Tagged under