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“Salesforce is a fantastic tool that gives us that tracking ability.” - Patrick Versace, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Enterprise Applications

UNC Charlotte takes student service to a new level with Niner Central

The business of being a student at a major university can be complex because of how the financial and registration aspects are tangled up together but managed out of separate offices. If a student has an outstanding balance, that will affect his financial aid, and he may not be able to register as expected. Or while he’s trying to register, he may get an alert that his account has been put on a hold because of a financial aid problem–or is it actually a billing matter?

It can be hard to untangle the issues, and just as hard to get quick and easy answers to resolve the problem.

At the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, seeking answers to those problems meant crisscrossing the 1,000-acre campus to talk to someone about financial aid, or registration, or an outstanding bill—or all three separately.

“We would send students all over the place. Parents and students would get very frustrated,” says Patrick
Versace, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Enterprise Applications. The university has more than 29,000
students and is still anticipating enrollment growth, but it didn’t want the frustration to grow with enrollment.

So the campus followed the lead of many other universities in implementing a one-stop shop that consolidated the front-facing aspects of the Registrar’s Office, Financial Aid Office, and Office of the Bursar. The office, christened “Niner Central” after the university’s “49ers” nickname, went live in November 2017, with the physical building opening in February 2018. Now students just go to one location to address their financial aid, billing, and registration issues.

“We have customer specialists cross trained to deal with issues related to all three offices, in a single location. That makes it easier,” says Kimberly Laney, Director of Niner Central Student Services. “We simplify that business side of being a student so students can focus on their studies and their programs.”

On (Service) Cloud Nine

Niner Central improves student service because it allows the back offices to focus on processing and administration while turning over customer service to specialists, Laney says. When a student emails or calls one of those offices, the communication is directed into queues at Niner Central. The student service specialists handle general issues that can be found with a little digging on the websites, or those that involve individual student information. More complex issues get sent to the partner offices directly.

Because UNC Charlotte deployed Salesforce Service Cloud for case management tracking, there’s no disruption when a case is escalated to a partner office. The Salesforce CRM allows the offices to assign workloads and set schedules for working the queues so there’s no disruption throughout the workday, says Jason Dominiczak, the university’s CRM Administrator.

Salesforce had 95% of the functionality and connections they wanted right out of the box, says Cindy Barbarino, Director of Data and Analytics. The university had to do some customizations to integrate it with external systems.

“It really works very well for us,” Dominiczak says. “The level of transparency that’s created in Salesforce is really great. We never have to wonder who was touching a student profile or assisting any guest at a given time.”

It was important to Versace that Salesforce be able to seamlessly expand across the university. That’s coming a few years down the road.

“My vision for the enterprise applications is that we have a connected campus, so we can ultimately have
data from the time we recruit a student until they graduate and become an alumni and are employed,” he says. “Salesforce is a fantastic tool that gives us that tracking ability.”

Solving problems, building connections

With Salesforce’s help, Niner Central is eliminating the frustrations parents and students had in getting billing, registration, and financial aid issues resolved. In two and a half months, Niner Central handled more than 16,000 unique requests—including 8,000 during the peak time from January 2 to January 20.

And Niner Central’s partners are using information from the queries to streamline processes. For example, they noticed students were returning multiple times to deal with the same financial aid issue. They were anecdotally aware of that problem before, but now the data they retrieved from Salesforce proved there was a problem. So the financial aid director changed some of the processes, and now students are required to produce fewer documents.

By solving and heading off problems, Niner Central is creating a stronger connection between students and the university, Laney says.

“I think students feel well cared for,” she says. “One of the priorities we had at Niner Central was to create a warm, welcoming environment. We wanted our staff to be super approachable. We want to have first-contact resolution, but it’s important our students know where to go if they have a question. So, while we focus on those three partner offices, we also help direct students on where and how to solve issues dealing with anything else.”

The customer service specialists make it a point to create a rapport with the student, Laney says. They ask about details and events beyond the immediate problem as a way to connect with the student and promote other services.

Hopefully, the connections built in Niner Central will be lifelong ones that result in more alumni donations, Laney says. Salesforce is an important part of making those connections. “Salesforce enables our customer service specialists to be presented the appropriate data, to capture the required standardized information and processes, and to truly be more efficient at their jobs,” Barbarino says.

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