Are you helping your customers right now, or screwing them?
Like so many other companies, Navient, a student loan servicer, sent a vacuous, unhelpful email about the COVID-19 pandemic. You could easily ignore it, or just give it a cursory read.
But because of changes passed by Congress, many borrowers don’t have to pay anything for six months. Navient decided to hide this “notice” under an innocuous link that most of its customers will ignore. The result will fool many borrowers into making payments they don’t have to make.
Here’s the email that Laura, one of my readers, received from Navient:
Subject: Coronavirus update for your student loans
Laura, here’s more info about help available on your student loans.
During this uncertain time, Navient is committed to keeping you informed about what is available to help you manage your student loans. A couple of weeks ago we introduced you to a dedicated COVID-19 page. To help answer questions about available options and recent announcements, we’ve added a new ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section this past week.
Please visit Navient.com/COVID-19 for more information. We encourage you to check back often, as we are committed to serve you during this unprecedented time and will continue to update this page to keep you informed.
Like most of the country, the majority of our representatives are now working from home offices. We ask for your understanding if you hear a dog barking or other background sounds. You can always access your account 24/7 on our website or our automated voice response system. We appreciate your patience as we all get adjusted to this ‘new normal’.
If you’ve been impacted by the coronavirus and are having difficulty making payments, we’re here to help you explore your long-term options to reduce or postpone your payments. If you need immediate relief due to the pandemic, you can request a coronavirus national emergency forbearance for up to 90 days. Give us a call at 888-272-5543 – we’re here for you.
Thank you and please be safe.
This checks all the boxes on vacuous emails during a viral pandemic:
- Generic greeting: “During this uncertain time . . . “
- Announcement of a seemingly minimal level of help for customers: “We introduced a new page and an FAQ.”
- Putting the onus on the customer: “We encourage you to check back often . . .” (Sure, what else do you have to do during an emergency but frequent checks on your student loan page?)
- Excuses in advance for poor service: “We ask for your understanding . . . ” (I’m a lot more inclined to be tolerant of organizations that treated me well before the pandemic.)
- Buried lede: “You can request a coronavirus national emergency forbearance for up to 90 days.” (How busy do you think those phone lines are right now?)
The worst part of this is what’s not in this email
Laura just happened to click on that first link, the dedicated COVID-19 page. Most people wouldn’t — what resources could a student loan servicer have about a pandemic? But here’s what you see if you click on that link:
So if you have a Department of Education-owned loan, there’s no need to pay at all until September, and no need to call, either. This doesn’t apply to all loans, but it clearly impacts many of them. If Navient has “sent notification in writing to all eligible borrowers,” why didn’t it include that notification in the email? (The email was sent on April 7, the same day that the Web page was updated, and 11 days after the new legislation was passed.)
Hanlon’s Razor states that you should never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence. But now we have to choose an explanation.
Why did Navient send an email suggesting you should call a probably wildly overloaded service number to get forbearance on your loan, when its own website explains that you may not have to pay for six months? And why did it include that notice under a link that most people wouldn’t think to click?
Was it because its email communications group was incompetent?
Was it because explaining the different situation depending on what kind of loan you have was too complicated to put in an email, but not too complicated to put on a Web page?
Or was it because they hoped a bunch of people wouldn’t realize what was happening and would make payments they didn’t need to?
What do you think?