How Nelnet’s EdTech platform scaled communication and onboarding in a crisis
When it comes to education, students should be focusing on their classwork, while teachers should be helping them hone the skills that will carry them into the workforce. Spending time learning complicated software just to pay tuition or track grades and attendance only diverts attention on both ends.
Nelnet Business Services, a division of publicly-traded education finance service company Nelnet, is using Pendo to alleviate that burden through in-app communication and training. The division is tasked with developing software that helps families more easily pay their bills and interact with their schools, and allows teachers and school administrators to track student progress and financials.
Liz Feller, Rebecca Turner, and Tami Zwick are on the online help and communication team at NBS. The team is responsible for managing all of the software’s documentation, including an online help site. Over the past year, they’ve also taken on responsibility for implementing Pendo.
Pendo’s in-app guides allowed the team to take the information that lives on the help site and deliver to users contextually, while they’re performing tasks in NBS products. For busy teachers, that eliminates the friction of having to pause what they’re doing to track down information from an external website. Usage analytics help the Nelnet team target that content to the right set of eyes, at the right time.
“Pendo was really the only option we found that gave us the best of both worlds—both the analytics and the ability to segment our guides based on them,” Zwick, the team’s front-end web developer, says.
Nelnet’s first project with Pendo guides was to build a beginning-of-the-year onboarding checklist for teachers and administrators, which was delivered through a Pendo Resource Center and featured tutorials on how to perform common tasks to kick off a school year.
Insights from Pendo showed that teachers, in particular, found continued value in the guide year-round, so it was expanded and renamed “Classroom Essentials.”
When new features or user interface enhancements are rolled out, Pendo guides take users on step-by-step tours of the changes, rather than forcing them to read pages of release notes.
“That has been really effective not only in communicating, but also in reducing support calls about how a screen changed, and the user can’t find things. Now, they can take a tour anytime they want to refresh their memory,” says Feller, the team’s Pendo administrator.
Driving event attendance
Guides also help Nelnet publicize efforts to improve the platform, Feller says, which helps communicate to users that feedback and requests are being heard and acted upon.
Nelnet is also driving event attendance and community engagement with in-app messaging. A guide promoting their annual user conference through the Resource Center boosted registration from 250 people to more than 500 in two days, Turner, the team’s documentation manager, says. “The goal was met, and it was pretty phenomenal.”
In addition, webinar registration and attendance have significantly increased with the help of guide promotion; one recent webinar hit its 4,000-participant cap, and routine webinar attendance has increased ten-fold.
Boosting feature adoption
On the tuition management side of the platform, the team has been tasked with reducing the volume of support calls from parents at the beginning of the year, when they’re seeking statements for tax purposes. A guide on the platform’s home page now directs these users to their annual payment summaries, Zwick says.
“Once we put the guide in, the number of users actually using the feature spiked by 200%,” she says. “We drew attention to it, so they were able to find it themselves.”
Communicating in a crisis
Pendo also proved to be a critical messaging and user onboarding tool when schools and universities around the world shuttered as part of social distancing measures during the Covid-19 pandemic, Feller says.
Before the crisis, the team built out a series of guides to instruct new users how to get set up in the system if they had to close their campus. When schools actually closed, new guides were created to direct users to those resources, and Pendo’s Data Explorer showed views of those guides and usage of various e-learning features skyrocket.
“All of a sudden there was this need for immediate communication, to reach people quickly and make sure they see things,” says Zwick. “We could do email, but with everyone transitioning from being in school one day and the next day putting together a whole curriculum to teach from home, we were worried it would just get buried.”
Now, the team is building similar guides for other areas of the system. Feller says Pendo has provided Nelnet with the foundation it needs to scale up support for any part of the platform in this manner as soon as the need arises.