At your service … McGill gets the point

Posted on Thursday, September 2, 2010
Servie Point ID Cards

Library Information Science Master’s student Ciara O’Shea smiles for the camera in the ID card section. / Photo: Owen Egan

One-stop shopping smooths the way for students

By Jim Hynes

McGill’s downtown campus is a beautiful one, especially lovely in the summer and fall.

But when they are busy getting ready for a new school year, with the dizzying number of things all that involves, students don’t exactly have time for a campus tour.

Like it or not, that’s pretty much what many were getting in past years, having to visit as many as six different locations to enrol, register for classes, obtain an international health card, ask questions about their student account, pick up certain loan cheques and collect all of the documents they needed, from transcripts to confirmation of enrolment letters. Call it a tour of campus service counters.

Thanks to Service Point, this is changing.

Service Point is a partnership between a number of different University units, such as Enrolment Services, Student Accounts, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, Scholarships and Financial Aid (International Student Services), Student Affairs in the Faculties of Arts and Science, and Food and Dining Services. Front-line services formerly in six different locations in four buildings have been integrated to offer students many of the services they need, all under one roof.

And what a roof it is – and in a prime location.  The former archives of the McLennan Library were renovated to create a state-of-the-art space fronting onto the now pedestrian-only McTavish St. student services corridor. Floor-to-ceiling windows, new comfortable furnishings and an open concept combine to create a welcoming
atmosphere.

To be served, students now simply select the service they need from a touch screen computer, are issued a ticket and wait their turn on comfortable chairs and couches. When their number comes up, they meet with a single service representative trained to take care of the full spectrum of their administrative needs.

The new space also includes McGill’s Welcome Centre for prospective students, formerly located in Burnside Hall, where campus tours are offered.

Task Force feedback

Service Point was born from student’s dissatisfaction at “getting the runaround” under the old system, dissatisfaction that was made clear to the Task Force on Student Life and Learning that started surveying them in 2005.

“Basically we were inadvertently making it difficult for them to get anything done,” Kathleen Massey, McGill’s Registrar and Executive Director of Enrolment Services, said. “We were getting in their way. Students don’t come here to learn about the bureaucracy of a university, they come here to pursue their educational goals and dreams. They were articulate about that in their feedback to the Task Force. They asked us to fix it and we are doing our best to do exactly that.”

The concept of streamlining student administrative services at McGill pre-dates the Task Force by a number of years, Massey said. She was asked to lead a project to turn the idea into reality when she came to the University in December 2007, and by January 2008 the project to create Service Point was up and running. Construction and renovation work got under way in early 2009, and Service Point began operating in its new location this past June.

“The project is not just about construction, it’s about rethinking the way we deliver services and putting the student at the heart of our decision making,” Massey said. “We are fortunate in that we are building on a legacy of people who have cared about the services that they’ve provided over many years, people who did their best with what was in place. And we are trying to take it up a notch by always having the students in mind. When we think about launching a new service, about improving anything, we have to ask ourselves the question: ‘What’s the impact on the student?’ and ask students what they are looking for in terms of a better experience.”

Helping make that experience better is a dedicated staff of 21, including 17 service professionals who work at the 12 service desks and in the integrated call centre. Another 90 or so colleagues, who are specialists in specific areas, also work in the new space, literally behind the scenes. Student Accounts experts are also co-located in the new space. Each Service Point team member took part in a 12-week training course to prepare them for their new jobs. The training consisted of twice-weekly sessions involving both technical and functional training for new services.

The first reviews are in

Service Point is currently in the midst of its first busy period ever, and all indications are that students are immensely pleased with the new system.

“People are pleasantly surprised when they are seated and someone is seeing them personally rather than being served at a counter like we did before,” said Jocelyne Younan, the Director of Service Point and Assistant Registrar. “Our staff members are also saying that they love the fact that they can sit down and have a conversation this way. It’s a more human way to interact with our students.”

Having the Welcome Centre next door to Service Point is also turning out to be a stroke of genius, Younan said.

“By moving here, the Welcome Centre has become infinitely more visible. Visitors are feeling more comfortable here and they often come back after the tour loaded with questions for our Welcome Centre staff. It’s working out perfectly. Even if prospective students are not here for a tour, the Welcome Centre is right there to help them. We don’t need to send them across campus. It’s much more efficient, and prospective students really get a good feeling about McGill right from the start.”

But Service Point is much more than a fancy new physical space and welcoming atmosphere, it’s about a better way of doing things. In fact, one of the best things about it isn’t at Service Point at all; it’s in cyberspace. Confirmation of Enrolment letters, which virtually every McGill student once had to line up for to be able to get things like a student transit pass, can now be obtained online.

Reflection, understanding, collaboration key to building better system

The Service Point team certainly didn’t invent the concept of one-stop shopping for student services; they’re just trying to perfect it. When conceiving the project, members of the Service Point project team visited other universities to see what worked and what didn’t and what might suit the McGill context.

That’s not all the team looked at. In order to come up with the most efficient, student-friendly system possible, they needed to take a good hard look at the student life cycle itself.

“The concept of the student life cycle really forms the backbone of the whole suite of services that we’ve included in this one area,” Romesh Vadivel, Service Point’s Associate Director, said. “Understanding student needs as they progress from prospect to applicant, to registrant to second, third-year, graduate, etc., helps us understand what they are looking for and needing as they move through the life cycle. Anticipating what their needs are at certain times of the year enables us to either ramp up those services or to restructure them to meet the
demand.”

Creating Service Point also required its stakeholders to look inward, said Associate Dean of Arts (Student Affairs) André Costopoulos, who said moving his faculty’s front-line services to Service Point will now allow it to focus on mentoring and advising.

“We had to figure out what decisions and processes were going to Service Point, and that meant that we had to take a good hard look at what we’d been doing for years without necessarily thinking about it,” Costopoulos said. “We had to identify what those processes were and understand them for ourselves so we could explain them to Service Point. We also had to figure out how we could separate some of this stuff from the core advising, and then work out procedures like how information was going to flow from advisors to records people, that kind of thing. It was a very useful exercise.”

It’s that kind of collaboration, Massey said, that has made Service Point possible.

“When you develop strategies and ways of working in silos, even in all earnestness and good faith, you can inadvertently establish processes that conflict with each other. And we now have the opportunity to fix them. We now feel the students’ pain when deadlines clash, processes conflict, or information isn’t consistent, because we experience some of what they have been experiencing now that we are all integrated in one area,” she said.

“What I’ve learned through this experience is that it really requires a level of trust, communication and collaboration that is pretty special. The amount of hard work that has gone into this really cannot be underestimated. And the only way we can keep improving students’ lives is by continuing to work together this way.”

That spirit was put to the test last spring, when a student showed up seeking to replace her lost Food and Dining Services meal card. Under the old system, she needed to get her card in one place and the sticker that activates it in another. After Service Point and Food and Dining Services staff recognized the impracticality of that process, it was changed. Both the card and the sticker are now available at Service Point.

Indeed, despite all of the hard work they’ve done, the team at Service Point knows the true test of their new way of serving students is still to come. That’s why they’ve designed a flexible system, one that can be adapted to different needs as they become apparent.

“One of the key things we’ve done, and which is unique to McGill, is that we’ve created a position on the team whose responsibility is service improvement,” Massey said. “From Day One we’ve said that we need somebody who is going to look at what we do, consult with students and colleagues and see how we can do it better. This system we’ve put in place is designed to be flexible.”

Need proof of this commitment to flexibility? Inside the Service Point triage area, amidst the new furniture and state-of-the-art equipment, sits a good old-fashioned Suggestion Box. Have a comment to make? Service Point is all ears.

Service Point will celebrate its opening with an official launch on October 20. For more information about Service Point, visit: http://www.mcgill.ca/students/servicepoint/ (students) or http://www.mcgill.ca/integratedservices/ (staff).

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