It was disgruntled students that coined this phrase on my last campus. The “Bounce” was costing them precious time spent chasing signatures and removing often-unnecessary registration “holds” when they wanted only to finally get to class! Individually, the students praised our office staff, but begged us to please “talk to each other.” Crazy thought, right?
All this chaos from complex transactional business processes being housed in separate silos has led to the creation of many successful so-called “One Stop” or integrated student services in colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada. And there is no doubt that co-location of critical services such as student records, financial aid and student financial accounts is part of the solution to prevent students getting bounced from office to office, even from building to building in some cases, running across campus to get things done.
But, as many colleges can attest, putting the offices that own the critical processes all in one place is not the entire solution. It can make the service back and forth and runaround a lot shorter, but to really eliminate the bounce, the offices responsible have to unpack the processes that are causing the chaos.
Here are a few things you can do without a One Stop to eliminate the bounce:
- Eliminate the paper forms. Paper is probably at the center of the storm. Check and see how many bottlenecks or workflow snags involve paper forms that have to be routed by a student. If a form is online, but has to be printed off then processed, it doesn’t count as being paperless, by the way. It just means they miss one trip to get the form from you in the first place!
- Transcribe the journey. Literally map out the pathway that the student has to take to get that bottleneck task accomplished. How many stops, how many touchpoints, how far do they travel and how long, at best, before the process is complete from start to finish—their goal finally reached?
- Automate what you can. Today, most student information systems (SIS) have workflows that can be implemented behind the scenes, so staff can work more efficiently across offices. If your SIS doesn’t have that functionality, then you can leverage a workflow from another software you already have, such as your document-imaging system. The other systems that you have resident are already linked to your main records to provide a separate but related service. Be creative about how to use their delivered functions in new ways. Once the student tells you what they need in their student portal online, you can find a way to deliver that almost automatically leveraging software you already own.
- Create service-level agreements. Although rarely found in higher ed, service-level agreements (SLAs) are promises that companies make to customers about service-deliverables. If the critical student service offices involved in a process would work together to establish, publish and maintain turnaround times for key processes, then students could get used to these SLAs and even plan ahead. But when there is a veil of secrecy as to how long something will take, such as processing a transcript order, the published time estimates are padded so that students won’t expect completion too soon, guess what happens? Students’ call, they email, they come in and they complain everywhere, especially online about your bad service. Have you checked Yelp for reviews of your campus student service? They can be alarming and can really hurt your institutional brand. It truly helps to be more transparent about that turnaround time for service requests. Make a realistic promise and then keep it.
- Ask students about pain points. Be sure to survey and talk directly with students about the pain points that they are feeling around transactional processing. You may be surprised to hear that something that you felt was working all right is actually a great source of frustration and time-wasting for students. Bring key staff players to the table with these survey data, start with the worst offending process and try to work together to broker a solution that everyone can accomplish and get behind.
- Still need a One Stop? So what do you think? Would co-location have helped you fix that process? Would it have helped the student to have you all in one spot? If yes, then lobby for the service integration, but remember that the steps above still have to happen even when you share the same office together. You will still have to work closely and well together to continuously improve processing. Efficiency is really more than location.
Oh, one more thing. If you do get that One Stop, but the staff at the front desk intake position can’t do anything but direct student traffic elsewhere, you are actually creating a bounce! Give those staff adequate cross-training and account access to perform the quick service wins from all the offices in the One Stop and then you are really working efficiently. Let the front desk expedite all the quick answer questions. Transfer students to an area expert only when an expert judgment is needed.
Again, it may be that integrating student services on your campus is the very best next step to improve student services, but you have to be willing to also “unpack” the service issues together as a staff team. Together, staff and managers can determine where things have to change, then negotiate and broker how those changes will occur to produce wins for everybody concerned!
Susan Leigh is a retired university professor and enrollment management administrator who consults with colleges and universities on ways to improve and streamline the business of being a student. She also teaches customer-service training and certification for higher education professionals, as well as management skills for service excellence. Details can be found at susanleighconsulting.com