Published on 2017/08/30

Automations and Business Process Improvements Critical to Student Satisfaction

The EvoLLLution | Automations and Business Process Improvements Critical to Student Satisfaction
Far from being unnecessary complications, business process changes transform the staff experience and allow them to spend more time, effort and energy on high-value work and engagements with students that contribute to a truly transformative experience.

Business process changes and improvements have a tendency to be looked upon as negative distractions by the folks they impact. After all, you’re forcing people who’ve been doing their jobs—in some cases for 20-plus years—to do that work differently. However, far from putting people out of work, business process improvements and automations allow staff to better use their time and resources to deliver the kind of experience that makes a difference to students. In this interview, Jackie Anderson reflects on the impact business process improvements can have on the staff experience and on student satisfaction.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How does the staff experience impact the student experience an institution is able to deliver?

Jackie Anderson (JA): If staff are not willing to change and react to the existing students that are coming in—because they change every year, there’s a different type of student in your institution all the time—the students are adversely impacted because they’re not getting the things they’re expecting from their university.

When the staff don’t embrace new technologies or try to incorporate student input into how they’re operating as a unit, it also impacts students in a negative way. Students are meeting with staff all the time; they’re the first point of contact. Even if it’s not for advising, the moment they step on campus they’re meeting with resident advisors, people who are working in housing and the staff coordinators in their departments, and these are the people who have boots on the ground. If the experience they’re having with those staff is not positive, it turns the students’ experience negative from day one.

It’s important to note that staff are meeting with students on a regular basis, but most of the time they get disregarded. Senior leaders tend to prioritize the faculty-student interaction over the student-staff interaction, but the staff are what keep the students here and happy. They’re helping them with financial aid, they’re helping them get in with admissions, they’re helping them figure out their room selection and they’re helping them with their advising.

Everyone is impacting that student experience and I really think that without having staff on board with what the university mission is and how the university is operating, it really makes the students feel like they shouldn’t be in the university that they’re in. The staff experience is essential to how the student’s experience is going to go. When I think about business processes, staff have to be on board with change because again the students coming in every year are different and being able to accommodate those differences every year is important to keep the student experience positive.

Evo: How does a great staff experience impact the institutional bottom line?

JA: If the staff are not embracing the institutional mission with the understanding that everything they do impacts the student, it ends up making the student experience less advantageous than what it should be. That has an impact on the university through students’ willingness to engage as alumni, whether it’s through giving back, volunteering, etc. That ultimately impacts the bottom line because it’s connected to improving admissions and retention.

Evo: What role does business processes improvement play in the staff experience?

JA: It’s critical to the university to have business processes done well, and it’s one of these factors that people generally don’t think about. I’ve seen lately that several departments are trying to solve a problem without realizing that if they change their process, the issue would resolve itself. In particular, we have several units that are trying to purchase stuff from different vendors, but they don’t realize that we may have something on campus that is already working that can help them. I honestly feel that if every university embraced looking at business processes they would probably save a lot of money on the bottom line. Even just the day to day, how does the student flow from coming into the office and leaving, what does that look like? Changing that may seem like a lot of work but in the long run it ends up helping staff by allowing them to serve more students in less time.

I have written previously about how there’s a really low willingness to change in higher education because people feel like if they automate they’re going to be replaced. It’s almost like the robot experience and the automobile industry where factory workers were replaced. In reality, change just means that rather than processing paperwork you could be serving students. Business process improvement is vital in any institution.

Evo: How can technology—especially administrative systems and tools and the revised business processes they bring to the table—change the day-to-day priorities of institutional staff?

JA: If it’s embraced at the senior leadership level, where we’re going to improve the technology footprint on campus to improve the student experience, it changes how staff operate.  It really changes institutional culture. If senior leadership are implementing new processes then staff can make it a priority as well, and when the changeover happens everyone is on the same page and the bottom line is improved student service. Again, this goes back to embracing the technology that’s already purchased. The bottom line of all this stuff is that it’s helping improve the service provided to the students, which is why people work in higher education.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the impact that business processes have on the staff experience and by extension the impact that the staff experience has on student satisfaction and success?

JA: Staff are often overlooked when we talk about delivering a quality student experience. What I’ve seen on our campus is that staff are really dedicated to students but they feel like they don’t have enough time to do the things they need to do. Efficient business processes can alleviate a lot of the stress that some of our staff are having so they can spend time focusing on what their supposed to be doing—helping students—instead of on paperwork.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Key Takeaways

  • Staff-student interactions tend to get less attention than faculty-student interactions, but staff have a significant and direct impact on student satisfaction across their entire engagement with the institution.
  • Staff have a tendency to get set into their ways of processing information or completing workflows, but students are constantly changing and have high (and evolving) expectations around the level of service or efficiency the institution should have. As students change, so too should processes.
  • By automating certain processes or workflows, staff jobs are not being threatened. Instead, they are being freed up to spend more time and effort on high-value student interactions and engagements that really make the difference to students’ experiences at the institution.
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