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.
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.
Here are some screenshots showing how Messages work.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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!