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 Sneek Peak

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.

Introducing Homestays

Today I’m very happy to announce the new Homestays add-on for StudyStays.

The Homestays add-on gives you a website for managing Homestay accommodation for international students. It fits in nicely alongside your existing Off Campus Accommodation website, making use of the admin interface that you’re already familiar with.

Some key features are:

  • Guests (students) can apply for a homestay matching their preferences and requirements
  • Hosts can self-manage their homestay, including details about living arrangements, features, preferences and availability
  • Guests are matched with the best homestays for them using a scoring system.
  • Guests can either request a homestay themselves, or have one assigned by an administrator
  • Agents can manage homestays on behalf of their students
  • Group bookings help you easily manage study or tour groups.
  • Auto Assignment automatically assigns the best matches for groups
  • Automatic email notifications to help streamline the application and placement process
  • Comprehensive admin tools for managing guests, hosts, homestay placements, applications, agents and groups.
  • Customisable forms (e.g. for Guest and Host registration) and scoring rules for matching guests with homestays
  • Customisable to suit your procedures for recording host orientation, inspections and payments.
  • Off Campus students and providers can use the same login for the Homestay website

The Homestays add-on has had almost two years of development and testing in collaboration with QUT and Griffith University. Thanks to their innovation and patience, we’ve gotten to the point where we have a solid product for other universities to use “out of the box”.

The Homestays add-on is available now for everyone using StudyStays. For anyone signing up in 2017, we have a special rate of $9000 for the first year (ex GST). There is also a “Light” version available with some limitations for a lower rate.

I’ll be writing in more detail about Homestays over the coming weeks. If you’d like to be notified about new posts, you can subscribe to this blog by email below. I look forward to telling you about all the exciting features!

Where Does Email Go?

Recent updates give you more insight into automatic emails. Automatic emails are one-off emails — the emails that get sent when a user does something (like registering), or needs a reminder (such as when a listing is about to expire).

Up until now, you've been able to configure the templates for these emails through admin, and see the last known status for an email address.

With the new changes you can see the text of each message that was sent, and whether it was delivered, or bounced, or was treated as spam.

Verification Is Now Required For Your Sending Email Address
With these changes, it's now a good idea to verify your sending email address (the Admin > Settings > Email > "Send From" setting). Verification only has to be performed once, and it's simply a matter of checking your "Send From" email address and then clicking "Save". This will bring you to a page to verify your email, which involves receiving an email from Amazon SES (Simple Email Service) and clicking the link it contains.


Once you've verified, we can send email with this address as the sender. Until you verify, we will send from "noreply@studystays.com", with your email as the Reply To address.

So verifying your email address gives recipients a better idea of where each email is coming from and why they're getting it.

Viewing Sent Emails for Students and Providers
You can see how many emails have been sent to a particular student or provider from their sidebar.

In the example above, clicking the "3 emails" link will show you which emails were sent to this user and when, along with information about whether each email was delivered or not.

New Outgoing Email Report
You can find this report under Admin > Reports > Administration. It shows a list of emails that have been sent, with the most recent emails first.

Send Mailouts From Your University Address
Mailouts will now be sent from your university address, rather than mailout@studystays.com. You'll need to verify your sending email first, as described above. This gives your mailouts some added credibility, because people can trust that they're coming from you.

Speedbump Terms and Conditions

There is a new setting that lets your choose how to present your terms and conditions to students and providers when they register. We're calling the new option "Speedbump Terms and Conditions" because it slows people down a bit to focus their attention on the terms.

Option 1: The Tick Box
This is the default option if you don't change anything. It shows a tick box with a link to read the full terms and conditions.


This option makes it quick and easy to register, while still ensuring that students and providers agree to the terms. It's fairly common practise to do it this way, but it does mean you'll get people who are legally bound by the terms but haven't actually read them. If your terms and conditions are an impenetrable wall of legalese, then it might be best to stick with this option. You can then send plain-English information in the welcome email that gets sent after registration.

Option 2: The Speedbump
This is the new option. Instead of the tickbox, terms and conditions are displayed full-page after people click the 'Register' button:

This should work well if you have conditions that are fairly easy to read. It's still fairly unlikely that people will read much of this text, but you can call their attention to a few key sentences or words by selectively bolding them.

Choosing an Option
You can change this option by selecting 'Speedbump-style terms and conditions' under Admin > Settings > Website. If you don't choose the new option, you'll stay with the default tick box terms and conditions.

Editing Terms and Conditions
Whichever option you choose, the way you change your terms and conditions is the same: just edit the relevant page under Admin > Content > Pages.

New StudyStays Logo and Website

I just launched a refresh of the studystays.com.au promotional website, with a new look and a new logo.
The design is by my friend Deena. Deena worked part-time at StudyStays last year on marketing, promotional material, and this website. On a side note, Deena just recently won the People's Choice Award for Most Promising Female Songwriter in the Queensland Music Awards for her single Turpentine. She also puts together a pretty tight website, if you ask me!

Front page content customisation

There are 4 parts of the front page content that you can customise:
  1. Student and provider titles
  2. Student and provider "blurbs"
  3. Front page content
  4. The side bar
To customise the first three, go to Admin > Content > Front page.

1. Student and provider titles

These titles help direct the two main audiences in the right direction. Feel free to use different terminology here if you like. Keep in mind that the terms "Student" and "Provider" will continue to be used throughout the website for these user types, no matter what titles you use here.

TIP: Another effective way to direct the two main audience groups might be to use titles that highlight the actions that each group are likely to want to do. Examples: "Find a place to live", "Advertise your property".

2. Student and provider "blurbs"

These "blurbs" are an opportunity to provide audience-specific information, in addition to the default actions that are shown above the blurb.

TIP: It's possible to have too much "blurb", leading to a type of clutter and confusion known as "blah". Too much text or lots of bold text can make a blurb look impenetrable to users who are trying to get something done as quickly as possible—and so they end up skipping it. So, keep your blurbs short and snappy if you can. Try linking to a separate content page if you have have more to say. And if you have things to say to both students AND providers you can use the next option, which is....

3. Front page content

This is where you can be a bit more expansive about things like the purpose of the website, a description of the service you offer, general information, and helpful links.

TIP: When you're trying to point out important information, it's easy to go overboard and present A WALL OF BOLD TEXT (***IMPORTANT, MUST READ!!!). This can be counter-productive: if everything is important, then nothing is important. If you think about the way you use other websites, you'll probably conclude that people will usually only skim this text. So try breaking your content up in to sections with headings and very selectively bold important key words. If you have a lot to say on a topic, create a new content page with all the details and just link to it from the front page.

4. Side bar

This is a bonus option: the side bar is shown on every public page, not just the front page. Unlike the other options above which are under Admin > Content > Front page, you edit the sidebar from Admin > Content > Side bar.

TIP: Because space is tight in the side bar, links and occasional brief sentences will work best. Again, try to limit what you put here to just the most important things, as too much will mean a side bar that trails off the page: it's almost guaranteed that no one will read to the bottom in that case.

Property Address Improvements

These improvements should make it easier for advertisers to list the correct address for their property.

There are two parts to the change.

Address autocompletion when adding a new listing
There's a new page for adding listings, with a few quick questions to help advertisers get started quickly. The "Address" text box now pops up a list of matching addresses, which saves the advertiser from having to enter street address, suburb, state and postcode separately.

As well as making it easier for new advertisers to get started, this should lead to more accurate addresses with less typos.

After filling out the new listing details, advertisers are sent to the normal listing form with the relevant fields already set up for them.

Drag to change map location
You might have encountered situations where the map marker ends up in the wrong suburb, state or even country. Advertisers can now adjust the location of the map marker if the automatic lookup places it incorrectly.
You can also use this drag feature from admin to correct stray map markers.

Follow-up emails for listings in the approval queue

You might find this update useful for those times when your listing approval queue starts getting long.

You now have the option to automatically email providers after their listing has been in the queue for a while. The setting to enable this is under Admin > Settings > Email Templates > "Send an email while listings are in the approval queue". As well as changing the email template, you can also set how many hours you want to wait before sending the email.


The default email apologises for the delay and explains that you'll try to approve the listing as soon as possible. This might be useful at busy times of the year, when a bit of proactive reassurance could reduce enquiries and complaints from providers.

Making sure units have unit numbers

This is just a minor improvement, but now when providers list units, apartments or flats, the listing form will now check to make sure they entered the unit/flat/apartment number.



This will handle a variety of unit address formats, things like:

Flat 2 14 Smith St
2/14 Smith St
F 2 14 Smith St
Unit 2 14 Smith St
2/14 Smith St
U 2 14 Smith St
APT 2 14 Smith St

Only listings with "unit", "flat", or "apartment" in the property type will be checked in this way. One exception is granny flats, which won't require a unit number.

Hopefully this improves the quality of addresses, without making you do any extra administrative work.