Rethinking student services at Salford

AskUS at University of Salford (Paul Craig Photography.)
Co-locating a range of services, including finance and registration brought many benefits to the University of Salford.
In 2015 the University of Salford’s student services was completely redesigned with students and staff members from other parts of the university co-creating the the new facility. In this blogpost, Victoria Owen, a customer services manager, reflects on the process and how the redesigned service works in practice.

At the University of Salford we are passionate about delivering service excellence in a friendly and approachable way to the university’s diverse student community. But until last year, the hard work of student support staff was hindered by how student services was set up at the university.  

Before 2015, front-facing student services were delivered from three separate locations across the university – this resulted in high student bounce with a potential distance covered of almost two miles between services.

This setup was becoming a major barrier to student success; the distance between services really slowed down process flows and decision making, and compressed the university’s ability to be inclusive and provide parity of service to all. In turn, this impacted on the university’s ability to deliver a positive student experience, at times resulting in difficulties in even getting the basics right.  

The frustrations that stemmed from each of the services being located in three separate buildings also led to a lack of common understanding between service providers. The teams did not feel they were working towards shared goals and consequently there was minimal partnership working.  This ultimately impacted on each service’s ability to deliver service excellence both to students and to fellow colleagues

Process inefficiencies were also apparent due to the duplication of work across the three service desks causing frustrations for our students, and colleagues; being located at three separate locations meant that it was difficult to resolve student issues as students were passed around campus to see different teams. Engagement with our people was high on the agenda for the askUS project to ensure that all colleagues joined in with the journey of improvement.

AskUS_full size
The launch of askUS has helped the University of Salford to deliver on its principle around putting students first.

It was recognised that relationships between the university and the Students’ Union needed to be improved. While the Students’ Union and Student Life service desk were co-located in University House, there was little collaborative working with both services feeling distinctly separate to students which led to a poor student experience.  

Another barrier for colleagues was the lack of clear customer service guidelines to ensure the approaches at each service desk were aligned to the university’s core values. Feedback from students referred to the university’s main areas for delivering front facing services as being staid, uninviting and dull; as a result, students didn’t feel engaged with the services delivered in each location and did not feel a sense of belonging or identity.

It had been almost five years since any of the university’s front facing service areas had been updated. The university’s principle around putting our students first made it feel like the right time to review the quality of service and facilities.  

Historically there had been a lack of student consultation or gathering of feedback on core services which resulted in the student voice being diluted. So this project centred on co-creating with students, and working with operational colleagues to design how the service should work, look and feel.

The result of this process was askUS, a new student-facing ‘one stop shop,’ taking just 14 weeks from project launch to service inception. The successful launch of askUS required the bringing together of three disparate teams into one area with an overall reduction in available staff office space.

Innovative ways of using the back office area were explored as a means to accommodate all teams and to create a “one-team” ethos. Co-creating with students, the askUS team quickly overcame the lack of clear customer service guidelines and students were also invited to choose a name for the service from a shortlist drawn together by staff and students.

One year on from the introduction of askUS and we now have a clearer picture of the benefits for both students and staff. The launch of askUS has been a major driver in the university delivering on its principle around putting our students first, with positive reports from staff and recent surveys reflecting improved student feedback.

The original intention was that University House, as a location for a student one-stop shop, was only an interim solution.  However, the success of space configuration and the close proximity to the new student accommodation has opened the door for the university to consider askUS in University House on a more permanent basis.

Co-locating a range of services, including finance, visas & immigration, registration, counselling & wellbeing, careers & employability in little over three months was challenging, but ultimately, brought many benefits. We outlined our approach to this project and sharing lessons about what worked, in a case study. Feel free to take a look.

Victoria Owen
Victoria Owen is a customer service manager at the University of Salford.