When you think of companies working with student loans, you may be tempted to think only of numbers, dollars, payments and forms—lots of forms—and impersonal call centers that deal with the financial nuts and bolts.
But the story of student loan servicer ECSI is a story of partnership and the sense of a higher mission, one of providing support to colleges and universities and of helping young people and their families navigate financial issues they may be encountering for the first time. It’s a story of building relationships and providing services in meaningful ways to constituents who need them
Above all, ECSI’s story is one of a small business able to perform like a much larger one—all while continuing to grow and provide exceptional experiences with every interaction.
Small business, big capabilities
How does ECSI do it? Director of Servicing Operations for ECSI, Mike Bowman, says technology— specifically, NICE CXone cloud CX platform—powers the company’s capabilities and enables it to meet the evolving and expanding needs of its constituents—colleges and universities, students, families. “The technology we use today is what's really helping our students and borrowers, our clients and our employees,” he says.
“Even though we're a small business, NICE has helped us with access to the most modern technology available in the contact center industry,” Bowman says. “Even though we're small—less than 150 people in our contact center—we have access to all the tools anyone else would have. It makes us look much bigger than we are and allows our business to be much more efficient than we have been in the past.”
ECSI’s service-driven philosophy
ECSI provides services to two groups. Its clients are colleges and universities who need ECSI’s help on business operations, routine administrative tasks, processing tax documents and the like. The second group comprises student borrowers who turn to ECSI with questions about financial aid, loan processing, their status at school.
ECSI’s core mission is simple and direct but service based. “Our goal is to make it very easy for colleges and universities to be of assistance to their students,” Bowman says. “We take the mundane, routine tasks off the table and that frees them up to have more time to help their students be more successful in school.”
He continues: “There are several elements to providing superior customer service to [everyone] we serve. We have to have reliable communication channels. There is a demand for digital communication, from both universities and students alike. NICE has done a very good job of providing us an advanced live chat platform, text messaging platform, as well as a traditional phone ACD platform. [That’s] made it very easy for our clients to communicate with us. And it's been a lot easier for students to get through and get help at the same time.”
Changing client expectations
ECSI’s approach has had to be dynamic, changing with the times and the expectations of its clients and the students. Which means that its technology platform has had to be evolving and responsive, too.
“Expectations from our clients have changed over the years, there's no doubt,” Bowman explains. “On the client side, they need quick answers to their calls, as well as high-quality responses to questions. How we provide that has changed. We've moved away from primarily phone calls to a more digital-channel contact center for our clients in the colleges and universities.”
Bowman says that working from home during the pandemic has further propelled ECSI’s clients’ reliance on digital communications channels. “The demand for digital communication has skyrocketed and continues,” he says.
The satisfaction of helping students
Even though educational institutions are ECSI’s actual clients, through its contact center, ECSI works directly with students and families who are navigating the student loan landscape – making payments, understanding the terms of their loans and completing necessary paperwork, many for the first time.
Bowman and his service team understand that for many, going to college—and paying for it—presents a variety of issues and tough financial choices. He and the team derive a tremendous amount of satisfaction from being the go-to resource for these students and their families.
“We’re helping students during [what can be] a particularly challenging time in their life, when they're working on their future, “ he says. “We're helping them get answers and support when there's a lot of confusion, particularly during a year like we've gone through during a pandemic. I can tell you that being able to provide a service that includes phones, chat, text—whatever it might be—to help them on their journey is very gratifying to us.”
Students drive digital demand
Students’ expectations continue to change dramatically. Bowman recalls being a bit taken aback when he listened to an angry student on a quality assurance call. But the student wasn’t angry at the representative; he was angry that he had to call in and talk to someone at all! He had tried, unsuccessfully, to contact ECSI on its “cumbersome and clunky” former chat platform.
“That kind of struck a chord with me and was a real turning point in my understanding of how things really have changed,” he says. “This particular demographic [teens and young adults] does not want to use their phone to talk to us. They want to reach out through digital channels.”
“As things change rapidly in the industry, we’re getting away from phones and really turning into a digital communications format. We're seeing text messaging and live chat channels skyrocket, while our phone traffic continues to go down.”
Bowman’s observations are borne out, in fact, in the 2019 NICE Customer Experience (CX) Transformation Benchmark study, which found that Millennials and Generation Z are driving a “digital-first” customer experience that includes email and web chat, video chat and co-browsing. Businesses like ECSI understand that younger constituents are also interested in “next gen” digital—chat bots, interaction automation and self-service solutions powered by AI. And that consumers across all demographic segments expect to a choice of channels, depending on their situation and what issue or problem they need to address.
Giving employees the tools to deliverFor ECSI, technology must be user-friendly and empowering for employees—and area where NICE provides the supportive tools ECSI needs. “We want to have engaged employees, with the right tools available to them to do their jobs right,” Bowman says. “If they don't have that, our students and clients are going to suffer. The InView [inViewTM for Performance Management] product allows us to ‘gamify’ the work and keeps employees aware of their staff, their quality, their productivity in real time and encourages them to do that much better.”
“We rely on NICE tools to help our employees do their jobs better,” he says. “The live chat platform we use today is a great example, because it gives employees tools that makes the job so much easier for them…Employees’ lives are easier, and the feedback is that they love this platform. We see it in our [low] turnover rate. It’s been a lifesaver for a very stressful job to begin with. That's very important to us.”
With NICE, speed, quality, efficiency
Bowman says that speed and quality top the list of positive outcomes ECSI has realized with NICE. “We ‘re much faster at answering students' concerns and responding to our clients today because of the digital channels that we have today that we didn't have before,” he says. “And not only did we not lose anything in quality, what we've seen is actually an increase in quality.”
Specific CXone solutions that have been especially impactful on ECSI’s business. The visibility of Workforce Intelligence/Optimization helps ECSI adjust labor and resources appropriately without human intervention, which has dramatically increased efficiency and has sped things up. “The reporting that CXone offers gives us a deep insights into our business,” he says, which in turn enable us to make better business decisions—where to put our labor, where to put our effort, what needs to be changed, what needs our attention, where are our opportunities. We are just very happy with the technology that’s available to us.”
On a macro level, Bowman describes the CXone platform as a triple threat of reliability, adaptability and affordability. “First is the reliability of the tools we use,” he says. “We know that the digital channels and the technology that we're purchasing are going to work--they have to work. Before we went to the NICE Advanced Live Chat, our live chat platform at the time crashed constantly. And you can imagine how horrible the conversation that is, when somebody is calling about thousands of dollars of financial aid and they can't get through.
“There’s also adaptability, meaning that these tools must change with time. When we work with our partners at NICE, they help us identify trends in the industry or new technologies available, so that we can upgrade to technology that's more current or better for ECSI than what we had before.
“And then, obviously, affordability, particularly during the pandemic, we had a really close eye on expenses. [It’s been] a really tough year. NICE partnered with us to find affordable options. They helped us add additional technology at an affordable cost and do even that much better.”
The value of a true partnershipWhile the CXone technology is one thing—critical because it drives the quality and efficiency of the service ECSI provides clients and student borrowers—the NICE partnership is another. Bowman values the relationship as an integral part of his business and in fact, says that partnership is ‘number one.’
“NICE has been a very good business partner for us,” he says. We work in a service industry, with clients and students and borrowers and all the issues of running a college and university and the business operations on campus. We rely on our partner NICE to be the ones out there looking for the new technology and to bring it to our attention, to understand our business and understand the issues and the problems in the industry. So I depend on NICE to do the research for me. They've done a superior job of doing that.
Partnership in a pandemic
Perhaps you find out who your true partners are when a pandemic suddenly forces your company to make critical decisions regarding employee safety, business continuity and how to be there for the students, families and clients that depend on you—in this case, ECSI.
“For us, not being here was not an option, “ Bowman says. “We had to be available to our clients and to the students. That meant we had to work from home, and we had to find other tools for doing that. We immediately reached out to NICE , just to let them know what was happening. But it was really great that our partners at NICE said to us, Tell us what you need. We didn't have to ask for anything.”
He continues: “In Pennsylvania, where we do business, we had literally 12 hours to leave our building and get people working. But we realized the technology we were using to connect with the Internet was not working the way we needed it to. The NICE team suggested we use their voice-as-a-service platform, which was the soft phones. They didn't ask for anything in return. They just said, How can we help you? And it really got us out of a bind really quick and, the service was actually superior to what we had been using.
“But the best part was that the NICE team were our partners: ‘Here’s what we have to offer you. This will solve your problem, and it's ready when you are.’ And within a day, we were up and running. We will be grateful to NICE for that for a long time.
Future growth, with even big(ger) capabilities
For ECSI, continuing to add new clients and to grow the business are priorities—right behind providing the kind of service clients and students have come to expect. As ECSI charts its future course, Bowman says that the company is frequently asked about outsourced customer service solutions, including by colleges that would use ECSI’s contact center as their own.
“The reason we get asked that all the time is because of the technology that we offer,” he says. “When they come visit us and see the NICE products in action, they want it. Now, they’re not a contact center, right? Their business is academics. Their business is getting students to graduate and move on with their career. We're in the customer service business, and they look at us with these wide eyes and say, ‘Wow, what this technology could do for our students. It's amazing. We want in.’ And so it actually helps us with our sales when they come in and watch us in action in our contact center, using this technology that NICE has set us up with. And we want to continue to build on that.
“We're recognized as somebody in the higher education industry that uses the most modern contact center technology, and people often come to us for advice on how to do that. [NICE] makes us look good. And that's a great partnership.”
The unified cloud CXone platform is driving big results for small and medium-sized businesses in every sector. NICE can help your business, too. Learn more about how CXone helps ECSI provide great service—and get great results.