IT teams in every organization, in every industry, are doubling down on delivering excellent customer service. According to the Service Desk Institute’s report on Customer Experience in ITSM, more than 50 percent of IT professionals ranked “Customer Experience” as the most important quality of their service delivery. But in the higher education sphere, where education is your commodity and students are your end users, IT teams face unique challenges – and drive unique priorities.

Students often live on campus, and may need or expect 24/7 support. And because most currently matriculated students belong to the tech-savvy Generation Z, their expectations for technology and service are sky-high.

We spoke to Ken Wieler, CIO of Yale School of Management in Connecticut, and Alison Robinson, Associate VP of IT at CalPoly San Luis Obispo, California, to learn what it’s like to serve students as customers, and how they’re optimizing the customer experience. Their respective schools are very different – Yale SOM is a graduate school with less than 1,000 students, while CalPoly is a polytechnic state university with more than 20,000 students – but both IT leaders embrace the importance of an excellent customer experience.

Improving the user experience

It’s official: kids’ most important learning is happening outside the classroom

Gone are the days of spiral notebooks and chalkboard dust. The mechanisms of learning have changed dramatically over the last couple of decades, and IT teams have played a central role in that transformation, helping educators find innovative ways to cater to students’ unique needs and iterating on the learning experience, all while operating in the traditionally stagnant “industry” of education. For example, the IT team at Yale SOM has upgraded classroom technology in order to offer remote in-classroom experiences for EMBA students, which is hugely important for those who work full-time and attend classes on the weekends. They may not always be able to make it to New Haven, but they want to feel like they’re in the room even when they aren’t. “To deliver as much of an immersive experience as possible, my team is exploring classroom technology such as 360-degree cameras that allow remote learners to see their classmates and truly feel present,” says Ken.

The Yale SOM IT team partners with faculty to explore even more creative pedagogy. Several years ago, the dean of the school asked Ken to produce multimedia case studies to give students broader context on their curriculum through videos and news articles. “These case studies would reflect the way we absorb knowledge in the real world and challenge students to identify and synthesize the most important or interesting information – find the message in the noise,” says Ken. “As the school saw it, students are living in a world with a lot of chatter, and when you’re confronted with an issue in the corporate world, you aren’t given a neat ten-page packet of information to help you navigate it.” Ken and a colleague stayed up late one night putting together a customizable prototype that is still used today as the format for all Yale SOM case studies.

Offering next-level support

In an age of on-demand everything, where students have the highest of standards for consumer experiences from services like Uber, Amazon, and Netflix, they expect IT support when and where they need it. In order to deliver that kind of experience, Alison and her team at CalPoly SLO have focused on self-service and service availability. “If students need to check out equipment, there are kiosks in the library where you can swipe your student ID and grab a laptop,” she says. As tech-savvy Gen-Z-ers, students only need guidance, not hand-holding. The IT team at CalPoly is looking to expand the kiosks to other places on campus so that they can meet students where they are and offer even more self-service options.

At Yale SOM, Ken and his team are dedicated to providing a higher level of service for busy graduate school students and the faculty that teach them. For example, they’ve worked hard to reduce response times to just two hours. As Ken points out: “If the entire organization can’t print, as stupid as it may sound, the entire organization comes to a stop.”

A big part of their success in delivering excellent support is down to their weekly meetings with student representatives and faculty, which help them stay plugged in to the community and understand students’ wants and needs. Ken and Alison are both committed to delivering efficient and exceptional support because they understand that technology should facilitate learning, not get in the way of it.

Embracing change

Reaching new heights in the cloud

Higher education is an industry that can be slow to accept change, but Ken and Alison both emphasize that it’s necessary to improve their students’ experience. Alison and her team recently made a switch to the cloud: “It enables anywhere, anytime, any device access to campus resources,” she says. So students can now work outside, at home, or at Starbucks instead of visiting a computer lab to access the software they need. They also created a mobile app that allows students to access course materials wherever they are – Alison has seen students doing math homework on their phones.

At Yale SOM, Ken is experimenting with new ways of working. It’s a smaller school, so they can be more nimble and adopt more agile practices. As Ken points out: “The environment, community, and technology changes constantly so we always have to be open to reevaluating processes and making improvements.”

The relationship between higher-ed IT teams and the students they serve is different from the one corporate IT teams have with their employees. The mission of universities is to educate and empower their students. Students aren’t just the IT team’s customers – they’re the university’s customers, too. As Ken and Alison demonstrate, the best IT teams in higher education understand that, and go to great lengths to improve the customer experience and help their students succeed.

Educating IT for a tech-savvy Gen-Z...