I started receiving notifications from LinkedIn yesterday congratulating me on my two year anniversary at Flinders University, so I thought I would take a moment to write a short post reflecting on my time here, and on where to from here.
Well, I think its safe to call the result of this year’s Australian census, making it a much quicker call than our Federal election last month – the results are in, and the ABS lost. Lost to the point that makes the Australian cricket team’s recent performance against Sri Lanka look not all that bad in comparison.
It was, on pretty much all fronts, a train wreck.
In the first two posts of this trilogy I discussed the background of the Flinders Connect student service centre and a strategy for driving the highest value from a combination of online self-service, service centre support, and more focused interactions. In this final post, I want to explore something which sets the University context apart from that of (say) a bank, a telco or a government department.
That something is one of the goals of of all Universities: to develop strong graduate capabilities within students as a fundamental outcome of attending University.
In the first post of this trilogy I set the scene around the creation of a new student service centre, and noted that many of the enquiries answered during our first ‘peak’ period at the start of Semester 1 could have been very easily done by students online. The question I posed at the end was which enquiries could have we avoided by having them done online via self-service, and how could we have achieved that?
Before I get into proposing answers to that question I want to consider another one – why should we drive enquiries online in the first place?
Me: ‘You know you can make this purchase online and you won’t have to wait in a queue here, right?’
Student: *shrugs shoulders* ‘Yeah, but I’m here now anyway, so I might as well wait’.
This was a conversation, or a variant thereof, that I had more times than I can remember during the last week of February and first week of March this year. As you may already know, I accepted a role almost one year ago at Flinders University to lead the creation of a centralised student support centre, which went live in October last year, and which met its biggest test at the start of Semester 1 last month.
It was these many conversations that, about three weeks ago (just as the smoke was clearing from the start of semester frenetics), started off a blog post in my mind that I’ve been struggling to write ever since. It was only on the counsel of two people very close to me that I realised the post (which was seeming even more long and rambling than my usual efforts) was actually three separate posts, and should be written as such.
This post marks the first in the trilogy.
As some of you may know, my role for the last six months has been setting up a new student services centre at Flinders University. This new service, called Flinders Connect, opened its doors this week to students, so I thought it would be an opportune time to write a brief reflection on the week in relation to the psychology aspect of the UCE152 MOOC.
The first reflection relates to a concept known as expectation confirmation theory, which can be summed up neatly in the diagram below.
In other words, our satisfaction relates to our expectations, the perceived service we get, and the disconnect (for better or worse) between the two. A follow up point was that initial expectations will have an impact on our overall satisfaction – the higher our expectations are coming in, the more likely we will be satisfied, even if the service has fallen below expectations. This is a fascinating part to me in the lead up to the opening of the service centre, as it flies somewhat in the face of the ‘be gentle on us’ mindset I’ve been personally thinking of promoting for our early days while we ‘find our feet’ as a services team. Should we instead be trying to set the expectations for students of the quality they will receive right from the outset? I can’t shake the feeling that the risk of trying to build expectation is greater than the risk of students having low expectations of our service – at least at the outset. This has also got me thinking about the expectations we have of ourselves in contrast to the expectations that students will have of us. On the latter I really have no idea what students will expect in terms of quality of service. This is possibly a blessing – a ‘blank canvas’ to work with in terms of client expectations.
The second reflection relates to the emotional responses that we want to elicit from the current students who come to us for support. We are, like most service centres, almost completely out of the picture from the mind of a student in their initial purchase decision. Nobody will choose to study a degree at Flinders university because our support team is awesome, and it is arguable as to how much an impact we would have on students returning for future study, or as an influencer to other potential students. What I do think is material in this context however is our ability to remove administrative barriers for students in order to let them focus on the main game – studying towards achieving their qualification.
What emotions do we want them to feel after they’ve been served by us? Perhaps relief, calmness and a sense of security in knowing that if they hit another administrative ‘distractor’ then we’ll be there to help. To me this sits in the lower right-hand quadrant of Russell’s Affect Circumplex – we don’t necessarily need to aim for students to leave us in the upper right-hand quadrant of intense joy after we serve them, but we do want them to leave us knowing we’ve solved their problem so they can forget us as quickly as possible and get back to focusing on their studies. Like many service centres, the support we provide and the emotions we can elicit might not attract a swathe of new business, but if we do well then it should reduce the number of students who disengage from the university, and in the worst cases leave altogether.
This scenario is quite different between the current students who come to us for support and the potential future students who come to us as the first point of call for studying at Flinders. For these, it is more important to try and elicit more of the ‘upper right hand quadrant’ of experiences – in the ideal scenario, these potential students would leave us at the very least interested, and at best excited, at the prospect of coming to Flinders. This reflection has been useful to put a more structured model around the differences between these two groups of users, and will be valuable as part of our internal training processes as we start to form as a team.
Tonight marked the start for me of my first properly ‘open’ MOOC course – Understanding Customer Experience.
I’ll be using this blog as part of the course with the tag UCE152 as the identifier for related posts, so for those who are regular readers you might see some different (and hopefully interesting) posts here focused on customer experience.
To my fellow course participants – I look forward to learning more from you in the weeks ahead!
As part of the lead up to the opening of Flinders Connect next month, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the concept of ‘students as customers’, and the role that Universities (and our student services team one part of that greater whole) are expected to play in this relationship. In a recent staff forum I heard our Vice Chancellor muse that students may be customers, but they are not customers simply buying a commodity – they are more like adventurers signing up for a trek through the Himalayas, with an expectation that they will need to put in significant effort as part of the deal to get to their goal.
There must also, however, be the expectation from these customers that at the end of that trek there is some sort of payoff – most likely in the form of gainful employment – and yet we see plenty of stories like this one highlighting graduate employability being at its lowest level in Australia in over twenty years. We see the terms ‘job ready’ and ’employability’ skills’ bandied about, and yet we also see the counterpoint that Universities should absolutely not attempt to ‘educate to suit employers‘. So what then do we do to ensure that our students are getting the value they expect from their education?
First up, the (now somewhat old) news – I will be leaving NetSpot/Blackboard next week to take up a position at Flinders University here in the south of Adelaide, heading up a student services project which is one of a number of significant investments being made by Flinders at the moment. If that’s all you came here to find out, then you can stop reading now.