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How Process Streamlining Supports the Student Experience

AUDIO | How Process Streamlining Supports the Student Experience
Back-end efficiency is critical for institutions that want to give their students a modern customer experience.
The following interview is with Carolyn Young, continuing studies director at Western University. Improving operational efficiency is a top-of-mind concern for higher education administrators across North America, as institutions are under increasing pressure to do more with less. But are there more benefits to this transformation than meet the eye? In this interview, Young addresses that question and discusses how greater operational efficiency can help institutions compete in the modern postsecondary marketplace.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How can better operational efficiency help institutions react to new opportunities and serve new marketplaces?

Carolyn Young (CY): This term “operational efficiency” is starting to come up in discussions I have with senior leaders at Western about how we’re going to plan for the next four years. We’re looking to find ways we can still deliver the services and the academic excellence to our students when we won’t necessarily have the funding for it. At continuing studies, there have been some important decisions we’ve made over the last three years that are going to help us with performing better in terms of operational efficiency, and it has to do with a change to our registration system, our student information system.

We went through major implementation over the last two years and there have been some significant changes to our productivity and to our processes that I see as extremely beneficial. We’ve been able to reduce time on tasks that used to be repetitive and redundant and, in some ways, not very helpful for our students.

Every year we launch our new courses and programs in June. This year there was a function in our system that was very effective at reaching out to students who had expressed an interest in specific courses. On the first day we went live with all of our registrations, close to 300 emails were sent out to people who had visited our website in the past and wanted to be the first to know the courses were open for registration. Out of that 300, 150 visited the website right away within 24 hours and there were at least 50 percent of those people who signed up for courses. That went right to the bottom line and what was so exciting about that process was that no one on our team had to do any work around that; it was actually just a function in the system that sent out those emails automatically.

Another example is how we had flaws in long-term practices. In our French immersion programs, when students were interested in registering for the course, the old process was that they would download a PDF, fill it out by hand and mail it in with a check. We were still using that process up until a year ago. Now the students go online, they submit their registration and pay for it online. This has been a huge change for us in terms of operational efficiency.

Evo: What impact does back-end efficiency have on the customer experience for students?

CY: Our ability for students to complete their registration online has doubled. Before we went with the new system, 40 percent of our students were completing registration online. The rest were either making phone calls or people were coming in and completing a hard copy. Now, 90 percent of our students and most of our programs [register online]. What that means is our students aren’t asking us how to complete their registration. In terms of customer service, our students have benefited from the ability to register online. When they’re seeking advice it would be around course counseling [and not registration]. Our staff now has more time to answer their questions.

With that change, it also means that in terms of development, our team has more time to create new courses and programs. We’re even able to do a better job at offering new course and programs to our students.

Evo: How can tech tools help institutions streamline processes and become more efficient?

CY: I use the reporting tools quite often in our new system. It comes with 150 ready-made reports and I’m very interested in looking at our enrollment trends. What has helped me so much is when I’m reporting to senior leaders about our enrollment trends, I have really good data and reports to show. We didn’t have those tools before. When people ask me, “How many of your students are in online courses?” and, “How many of your students are taking courses at this campus or this campus?” I have access to reporting tools that give me those answers. That’s a very important way of using tools to report accurately and effectively.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the importance of tech tools when it comes to increasing an institution’s operational efficiency and how that operational efficiency impacts the institution and the customer?

CY: Look at the way you do your business. If you’re hanging onto an old process, an old way of doing business, and you’re content with that, you need to look around and find out what’s happening.

Our customers expect what we call the “Amazon experience.” You go in, you find what you want, you buy it and you’re in and out in five minutes. If you’re using processes that are dated, you’re going to lose your customers.

This interview has been edited for length.

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