Leveraging Education Services Management in a Recession Economy

The economic crisis has hit higher education with a one-two punch--colleges and universities are striving to accommodate record high enrollments amidst shrinking endowments and budget cuts. The $100 billion emergency aid designated in the stimulus package will provide some relief, but not enough. Many students will still struggle to make ends meet and institutions will face difficult decisions in where to make cuts. At Delgado Community College we believe customer service will be critical during this challenging period, and that is why we have recently expanded our commitment to making service more accessible through Education Services Management (ESM).

By implementing an ESM approach to unifying service desk capabilities, Delgado has been able to make the most of internal and external resources, proactively address peak demand, and avert potentially disruptive changes in the service environment. At its core, unifying service desk functions throughout the campus ensures that students and faculty know who to call and where to turn when they have issues or just need some guidance. In addition, providing highly customized, centralized service helps accommodate increased enrollment (online and on-campus) without proportional increases in cost.

Quick and easy resolution to issues regarding financial aid, records, and technology may be the difference in whether a student completes a course or drops out. Consider the results of a recent survey by CampusCompare on how the current economy is impacting students. Of 800 students surveyed, a third, concerned about how they will pay for college, took part-time or second jobs; 13 percent of respondents dropped out of courses. Because many students are not familiar with the financial aid process, a direct path to financial aid information and/or faculty advisors is critical to keeping these students enrolled and engaged.

The Evolution of ESM at Delgado

It was a crisis of a different nature that first led our CIO, Thomas Lovince, to explore the concept of a unified service desk. In 2006, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, many of our faculty and students were forced to leave the region. Thomas and the Delgado team responded quickly with an action plan to significantly expand our distance education offerings. We knew 24 x 7 x 365 reliable and easily accessible support would be critical for this online population--and a 30 percent surge in our distance learning population required us to evaluate our overall service strategy.

Lacking the internal staff, infrastructure, and service management expertise to serve the surging online learner population, Delgado turned to a third-party partner, Presidium, for help, taking the first step in developing a holistic service strategy to complement its current help desk capabilities. We were able to deliver personalized, high-quality service for our distance learning students and instructors.

After implementing our expanded IT service desk strategy, which included extensive knowledge management infrastructure, an incident management system, and a co-managed service desk, self-help utilization increased dramatically within just a few months as did student satisfaction levels.

Less than a year later, students and faculty began to return to campus, and the benefits of co-sourced service desk were clear.  Based on the initial success with the co-sourced IT service desk, we recognized that such efficiencies could be applied to several functions across the college.

In early 2007 we initiated a cross-functional plan to unify service across the offices of Financial Aid, Bursar, and Registrar. Decision makers from all three functions were involved early in the process to ensure:

  - Widespread input and support across the college's service teams

  - The unified service desk effectively resolved each team's issues

  - Highly customized interactions between service desk and students

  - Appropriate level of systems access required for the supported applications and management systems

  - Rapid deployment of a tailored training program

After a successful and collaborative planning phase, October 2008 brought the launch of DCCLive!--a unified service desk that streamlines support for IT services and the offices of Financial Aid, Bursar, and Registrar. As a centralized service desk and self-help portal, DCCLive! provides one location for students and faculty to access service, via multiple channels.

Students who were typically faced with recurring busy signals, long hold times, or several internal transfers now have the vast majority of their issues resolved in 4-10 minutes, depending on the nature of their inquiry. Overall, call volume has decreased by 37 percent, due to 90+ percent first-call resolution rates and no call transfers.

Students and faculty have more resources at their fingertips and thus can resolve issues quickly and accurately--with a single phone call. Internal staff members are spending less time fighting fires and can therefore dedicate more time to proactive initiatives such as training faculty and expanding the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning.

Student satisfaction is also at a record high, as evidenced by student feedback such as: "What a wonderful idea--I love [DCCLive!]. I got what I needed from the extremely courteous staff member, who was professional and competent--without having to drive an hour to the school."

What these anecdotal reports and hard data points really boil down to is the fact that our internal functional experts can focus on educational priorities and leave the day-to-day fires to an experienced partner. Decision makers and internal team members can devote their time to proactive outreach and in turn help enhance the reputation of the college. Most importantly, students have 24 x 7 x 365 reliable access to the information and resources they need to succeed. When students succeed our mission is met!

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