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:
- Requesting a reference
- Requesting a study break
- Submitting an assignment online
- Requesting disability support
- Booking a tutorial
- Finding out what careers a degree might lead to
- Learning how to write for University
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:
- Students can do things at a time that suits them - day or night, fitting around shift work and other commitments
- People expect to be able to self-serve in this day and age! They want to feel that they are getting good value for money
- Reduces the time spent by people doing administrative tasks so they can spend their time on more complex work
- The resultant digital analytics help us better understand problems in business processes
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
- Capture user needs and expectations
- Identify the processes in the organisation that are time-consuming and costly to run
- Identify services that could be made self-service (not all can!)
- See how other organisations are delivering an equivalent service, benchmark
- Ask students what they would like to be able to self-serve
- Ask staff what they think would make their lives easier if students were self-serving
- Work out how you will measure the success of change - analytics, feedback etc
- Experiment with a few easy quick-wins and log your findings, see what you could take onto the next project
- Involve students in your design and evaluation process
- Embed continuous improvement user-centred design processes and respond to the need for change
- Get advice from technical experts
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.
- Students expect to be able to self-serve easy tasks
- Student expectations need to be managed where self-service cannot deliver the expected result
- Investing in continuous improvements based on data and feedback is critical