New Look for StudyStays

I'm pleased to announce the new look for StudyStays, which is available from today.

It's a cleaner and more modern design. It has better mobile support, and provides more consistency between the mobile and desktop experience. And there are some new customisation options for banners and branding.

There's a video below with a 3-minute overview of some of the changes.

We've tried to take a fairly conservative approach in this redesign, so that not everything changes too much and all at once. This first update is fairly substantial already, so we've avoiding changing layout and functionality unless it was really necessary. We'll continue to make incremental changes to the new look going forward.

For now, you'll find the majority of admin functionality works just as before, but there are some new customisation settings to support the new look. Admin will be updated to match the new look in the not-too-distant future.

Updating to the new look is optional. So if you're busy with other things you don't need to worry about changes until you're ready to proceed. But if you are interested in using the new look, please get in touch and we'll probably be able to update your site overnight, making sure that any existing customisations and branding continue to work.

The following two video have some more detail about the customisation options that are available.

Customising the Home Page Search (4½ minutes)

Customising the Brand Header (4½ minutes)








Recording Feedback

You can record feedback on listings received from students. To access feedback, go to the Providers tab in Admin, then click Feedback.



Feedback is only visible to administrators. Providers won't be able to see feedback about themselves through the website.

There are three types of feedback: recommendations, comments and complaints. This lets you track the sentiment of the feedback, i.e. positive, neutral or negative sentiment.

New feedback is shown as "Open". If feedback requires further action from staff, you can leave it as "Open". Once you've dealt with the feedback you can mark it as "Closed", which is similar to archiving it.

Complaints against a provider will affect the approval score for new listings added by that provider.

The "New feedback" form in admin lets you lookup the provider, listing and student; and enter the feedback all in one page.



You can also allow students to provide feedback directly on listings. An administrator with "Super admin" permissions will need to enable this through Admin > Settings > Feedback, by ticking the box to "Allow students to provide feedback".

When students are allowed to add feedback, they will see a note at the bottom of listings with a link to enter the feedback.


You will be notified on the Admin Overview tab when students have provided new feedback.

New feature: Messages between students and providers

The new Messages feature for StudyStays introduces a new way for students and providers to communicate.

Using the Messages add-on, the conversation between students and providers can be handled through your web site, rather than just showing contact info and leaving it up to your users from there.

This gives your users more privacy and security. It also gives administrators increased control and accountability measures to prevent and investigate scams and any other abuse that may occur.

As you will see below, messages work hand-in-hand with normal email. So users can reply directly from their email program, or from your website, or both.

Enhanced Scam Protection

Until now, registered students have been able to see providers' contact information on listings when they are signed in. Even with security measures like email verification and approvals, there have been times when scammers have passed these checkpoints and gone on to try to scam providers. When this happens, it is difficult to try to work out who the scammer is, since there is no requirement for them to use the same email address that they used to register for the site.

Most of these scam attempts appear to be detected by providers before any money changes hands. But it's still an annoyance for providers, and the only solution until now has been to try to educate them on the dangers of online scams.

With the Messages add-on, there is no way for scammers to email providers directly. All messages must be sent through your website, unless providers choose to reveal their email address explicitly to a student. This means when a scam attempt occurs, you can identify who it was, see the message they sent, and block them from using your website again.

With built-in features for reporting suspicious messages as you can see below, it's quicker and easier for your users to notify you of abuse.

Messages In Action

Here are some screenshots showing how Messages work.















 

Like What You See?

Messages are ready to use now, for an additional annual fee of $400. This fee helps cover the cost of the significant technical requirements of routing emails through your website reliably and securely.

If you're interested in using Messages, please email Support and we can set you up as soon as you like. For the first 5 universities that sign up for Messages, we'll waive the annual fee until your next invoice.

Automating Homestays - Email

The Homestays Add-On offers a few handy features to help automate email communication.

There are a number of steps that your guests and hosts need to complete. While the exact steps will be different for each Homestay program, some common steps are gaining admin approval, submitting payment, requesting a homestay, confirming a placement, and maybe going through an orientation or having an inspection.

Homestays can help your users get through each step of the process by sending emails whenever there's new information for the user, or some sort of action is required of them.

Some of these emails are sent automatically, such as reminders for upcoming placements. Others are sent as a result of admin actions you perform. In either case, you can customise your email templates to make sure your users get the information they need, when they need it.

There are just under 40 different email templates available to customise, including a "Signature" template which is inserted at the bottom of every email.

You can edit each template, using rich text formatting (e.g. bold text and links). Some emails have a button to help the user know what to do next.

This particular template goes out when a guest's homestay application is approved. Let's see how that works by approving an application. Here's one that requires approval.

Clicking the "approve" button brings up a window showing the email that will be sent, based on the template. You can make further changes here if you like, and then click "Approve this application" to complete this step of the process.

Now that the guest is approved, if you look on the right-hand side of the screen you can see that the guest has "1 email sent." Each email that is sent will be tracked on your system so that you can see a history of correspondence.

Emails are listed in reverse chronological order by subject. You can click any email subject to see exactly what was sent.

Homestays Admin Sneak Peek

The Homestays admin functions sit under a "Homestays" tab, alongside your other Off Campus admin tabs.

Clicking into the Homestays tab gives you an e row of tabs that you can use to access the various functions required to manage Homestays.

Placements

The Placements tab shows you placements that have been assigned by administrators or chosen by guests.

The right-hand side of the placements screen allows you to filter placements by type and date. In this screen shot, I'm viewing all the confirmed placements in the last week:

Guests

The Guests tab, shows you some overview information about guests including some stats about things that might need your attention. As with placements, you can filter on the right hand side. There's also a search box to quickly look up the guest you're interested in. I'll use it to look up a guest named "Mariano":

Here's Mariano's record. All the data shown is just for demonstration purposes, including the cartoon avatar. On your actual Homestays website, guests and hosts can upload a profile photo which is handy for putting a face to a name.

Homes

The Homes tab, as you might expect, shows information about host families and their homes. Notice you can filter by campus here, as well as by the status of the home. Also shown is the Export button which you'll recognise from your existing StudyStays admin. As with Off Campus, you can export your Homestays data to a spreadsheet if you need to do extra calculations or work with the data directly.

Here's an example of a host record. Up the top you can see there is the same area for notes that you're used to. You can also tag hosts to keep them organised. Tags come in handy for group auto-assignment—but more on that in a later post.

That's all for today! In tomorrow's post I'll share some ways you can save time by automating common Homestays tasks.