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Student self-service, the future of higher education

Guy Carberry, 12 July 2021

You can reduce student frustration and time spent answering phone calls by putting as much support online as possible. Invest in mechanisms for students to self-serve answers to their questions, freeing up advisers to spend more time answering the more complex queries.

What is self-service?

Self-service is the act of doing it yourself. Getting stuff done without the aid of another person. For example, helping yourself to food at a buffet, checking your own luggage at the airport or ordering a new pair of shoes online.

What is student self-service?

Student self-service is about enabling students to do something without needing to contact a person, for example:

Why is it important?

It may seem obvious but it’s easy to forget the benefits of enabling people to do things for themselves, accepting that they can’t because it’s just the way the organisation has always been. Universities are some of our oldest institutions and some processes and procedures have been in place for centuries. They have also typically been slow to embrace change and adapt to the digital world. The balance of power has shifted over the last few years where students are increasingly expecting to be treated as customers and have an experience comparable with that of the services they receive elsewhere.

A few reasons why it is important to put the power in student’s hands:

Not everything can or should be self-servable

It is important to remember that not everything can be self-servable. Nor should everything be self-servable. For example, it might not be appropriate to enable students to change their course of study without speaking to an expert advisor. You should devise clear criteria for assessing existing services to help identify opportunities.

It is also important to understand that students might not want things turned into self-service. They might actually enjoy interacting with a human. This may be a fundamental part of their experience. For example, students might like attending face-to-face tutorials, lectures, and seminars. They might like to talk to a careers adviser rather than using an online diagnostic tool. You will unearth this insight during the discovery phase of your project by talking to students and stakeholders. Sometimes self-service will be one way of students achieving their goal but often not the only way.

How to deliver digital services to students

To effectively transform your existing services into those with a self-serve element you are going to need to put the end-user, student or customer at the heart of your design process. You’ll want to adopt a user-centred design approach and make sure you start with a detailed discovery phase to truly unpack the opportunity and validate your assumptions.

A multi-disciplinary serving team comprising experts in user-centred design and development as well as key business stakeholders is essential.

A few tips

Using feedback and data to improve self-service

Making regular, incremental improvements to your self-service offerings will be rewarding to your students and to the organisation itself. Identify pain points via regular data analysis and testing with students and colleagues. Put measures in place to be able to quickly identify critical problems with your service. Create and maintain customer experience maps and service blueprints that your team can use to visually understand the process as well as identify opportunities for improvement.


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