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Reinventing the Student Services Experience

By outsourcing administrative customer queries, staff time can be better spent and student needs can be better met
University Business, April 2013

As students’ expectations for service increase, so does the pressure on an institution to keep enrollment numbers up. The administrative team at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana decided that to keep retention at a high level, it was necessary to provide a seamless, personalized customer service experience to its more than 200,000 enrolled and prospective students. This web seminar, originally broadcast on February 12, 2013, addressed how Ivy Tech shifted a slow, outdated administrative process to one that reinforces immediacy, connection, and improved customer satisfaction.

Craig Chanoff
Senior Vice President and General Manager
Blackboard Student Services

At a time when resources can be unstable, institutions like Ivy Tech are facing more challenges than ever in meeting their enrollment goals. Let’s be honest: serving more learners with fewer resources, while attempting to improve all aspects of the student life cycle is difficult work. At Blackboard Student Services, we first understand what our clients are looking to accomplish, then we work together to leverage best-in-class people, processes, and technologies to provide a consistently superior service experience at a sustainable cost.

Jeff Fanter
V.P. of Communications, Enrollment and Marketing
Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech is the nation’s largest singly accredited community college system, with 14 administrative regions, 31 campuses, and 200,000 students. Fourteen administrative regions means 14 admissions offices and 14 financial aid offices are serving those 31 campuses. In the past, since some of our processes are regionally based, conflicting information may have been given to students who were taking courses at several different campuses, depending on which campus they called. We just weren’t making it easy for the students or ourselves. It was simply impossible to serve students of different needs with an outdated service model. Students were simply seeing it as easier to leave than to stay and struggle through administrative issues.

Some campuses were performing well, but some weren’t. Our biggest issue was volume. We had more student calls than we could handle; wait times were unacceptable. Students would simply hang up and not get the information they needed. Some even posted negative comments on Facebook about our helplines—saying things like “they don’t answer the phone.” We had an understanding of our students’ expectations; new students were looking for hand holding, and current students were simply looking for a consistent process. Both wanted the high level of customer service they have come to expect from commercial businesses. We knew we needed to provide a consistent service experience and access at a faster pace with more hours. Staff members needed their time freed up so they could spend more time face-to-face with students who have unique needs. After weighing the pros and cons, we decided that partnering with an outside company made more sense than building our own singular service process.

Chanoff: Many institutions know Blackboard as an education technology company. But what many may not know is that we are committed to helping institutions support positive change in the entire student lifecycle. This is especially needed during times of economic uncertainty that can impact enrollments. With this mission and the right people, process, and technologies, we help an institution grow with solutions in enrollment, registration, financial aid, student accounts, and the IT Help Desk. Through two operations centers in the United States, Blackboard Student Services addresses the important needs from students who demand access to their institutions 24 hours a day.

Fanter: After visiting the Kentucky call center, we learned that Blackboard could handle our volume. We are a large institution and we needed a vendor that could handle a large number of calls. They needed to be focused on the student—the student is the client, not the institution. Blackboard’s call center is staffed by managers that come from higher ed and understand the issues we face. They understand the importance of five questions being answered in one phone call. What resulted was the Student Success Help Center. All inbound calls for administrative questions go to Blackboard’s call center. The center is open 18 hours a day for prospective and current students. We built a knowledge base of 700 questions and answers for the Blackboard team.

We have one place where questions are directed, via phone, email or chat. Blackboard’s knowledgeable professionals are focused on the students. When members of our financial aid team trained the Blackboard team on our financial aid process, they were very impressed with how much the Blackboard team knew about financial aid.

Chanoff: Students live, work, and learn in a technology-driven, 24/7 world. To stay competitive, you have to deploy a communications strategy that mirrors the habits and preferences of the 21-st century student. Engage them with the right message, in the right medium, and the right time. Fanter: We think there were several key elements to our success. One was engaging key stakeholders early. We wanted to be transparent in the process in how this would affect our employees’ jobs. We also engaged with our students to better understand their needs and see if this was something they really wanted and needed. We were very proactive in getting the word out and sharing how this solution would help both students and staff, through social media like Facebook and a variety of other means.

As a result, we have reinvented the student services experience at Ivy Tech. We have removed the obstacles that were getting in the way of student success—a 19-minute wait time has turned into a 30-second wait time. Since Blackboard agents are cross-trained in many departments, they can answer a multitude of questions. We’ve had an over 57 percent reduction in call volume to Ivy Tech since the opening of the helpline. Now that administrative service is handled outside Ivy Tech, my staff has time to focus on other issues, to follow up about financial aid or academic challenges for example. The bottom line is we can focus our attention and outreach where it is needed the most. We can be proactive, and not reactive.

The greatest goals driving our desire for a new student services experience were both increased enrollment and higher retention rates. We have already seen an enrollment increase from the fall to spring semesters. Providing students with an easy way to get answers to their questions and having the time to proactively reach out to students are two important reasons for this increase.

Chanoff: Today’s students have grown up with the immediacy of the web. Many have told researchers that their service needs are not being met at their higher education institution. In these tough economic times, many will start to question the value of higher education and seek alternatives. There can be real consequences for not delivering the flexibility and personalized experience that students are used to in other areas of their lives. This can include them not continuing their education with the institution because they don’t feel they are getting the right level of support outside the classroom.

Students have changed from being passive consumers of institutional resources to being active consumers expecting a high-touch experience. Students and parents want access and information that is immediate and personalized for their needs. If institutions do not address these concerns, it leaves their executives exposed as students take to social media to let their concerns be known to the community.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety please go to

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