Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: 40,000 users, one unique experience
Year Submitted 2015
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name Title
Manon Vaillancourt Director, Student Life Services at UQAM
Name of Institution Université du Québec à Montréal
Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) André Dorion
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Vice-President, Administration and Finance
Office Address Pavillon Athanase-David, local D-4410
1430 Saint-Denis
Montréal, Quebec H2X 3J8
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Telephone: 514-987-3000 ext. 0120
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.
Abstract

With over a hundred employees and 460 student employees, Student Life Services (SLS) is one of the UQAM campus’ largest employers, serving over 40,000 students. Such a large service poses some obvious challenges. How can we share an organizational culture when teams are divided into five distinct services that rarely work together and are not aware of the others’ expertise? How can we offer a “unique” experience to 40,000 individuals with a variety of needs and expectations?

To answer these questions and find applicable solutions, in the fall of 2012, the SLS team undertook steps to improve its user experience.

Aided by a consultant specialized in strategic organizational development, a 12-employee work committee began assessing “user paths” and setting service quality objectives. From this exercise, fluidity came out as the ultimate objective for improving the use of our services. But how can we truly integrate this objective of increased fluidity into our daily practices?

So that we might first understand and assimilate the principles of “user experience” and then participate in proposing solutions for improving the fluidity of our service offer, the entire SLS staff took part in training-brainstorming days. Everyone helped define the organization’s values and agreed on the team qualities we need to develop (namely, collaborating and being service-oriented) to improve our work together.

We then defined and implemented specific projects for improving the user experience. Here are the highlights:

  • Automatic transactions online: Many processes that required students to come several times to our service counters can now be done online (study grant applications, workshop registration, registration for sports activities, reservation of rooms for student associations or groups, etc.)
  • Harmonization of business hours: To facilitate access to services, we standardized the business hours of our various counters and telephone lines.
  • Website overhaul: Formerly organized to reflect the SLS’s complex organizational structure, our website is now structured according to students’ needs, thus facilitating access to content and services.
  • Social media: Without replacing traditional avenues of communications, social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Google+) now allow us to round out and maintain conversation not only with students, but also with the student associations and groups who use these tools. In all, nearly 15,000 people look to Facebook for information about student life on the UQAM campus.

Begun in the fall of 2012, the process of improving our users’ experience culminated in the spring of 2013 with training-brainstorming days for all employees. In fact, it continues today (a detailed timeline can be found in APPENDIX I). For the current year (2014-2015), many committees are working to set up a recognition program for employees that will highlight their individual strengths and qualities in the goal of working better together to offer fluid services and encourage collaboration between our five divisions. Employees already receive a monthly newsletter, and other projects are underway to pursue our commitment of “40,000 users, one unique experience.”

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.
Transferability

Although the solutions that came out of the “40,000 users, one unique experience” project are specific to our work context, the process that led to their development could certainly benefit any other large teaching institution seeking to harmonize service demand and offer.

To guide its process, our team adopted a framework that could be applied elsewhere. Here are the five steps for improving the user experience:

  1. Recognizing the organization’s mission, directions and values: An organizational culture can’t be imposed. To appropriate it, the team has to define it.
  2. Defining the service quality objectives: After having defined what characterizes the organization (mission, directions and values), the staff must agree on service quality objectives. These objectives can be summarized as a pyramid. Ours is built on the accessibility of our services, staff skills, courtesy and rigor. It culminates with “fluidity” as our ultimate objective in improving the user experience of our services.
  3. Defining advantages for collaborating and being service-oriented: During the training-brainstorming days, our staff was asked to define the strengths both of working together (team qualities) and being service-oriented (harmonized qualities regarding service); these strengths are what we needed to develop to collaborate better. A checklist of these advantages was laminated and given to staff members (see APPENDIX II) so that they may refer to it at any time.
  4. Developing specific projects to improve the user experience: Now that it is more skilled at collaborating, the team can work to develop specific projects that will improve user experience. At SLS, we have automatized several services, standardized business hours, created a new website that is innovative in many ways, become present on social media, etc.

Setting up an employee recognition program: To better coordinate our efforts in a fluid service offer, our team is currently setting up a program that will recognize employee strengths. In doing so, we wish to publicize and recognize the qualities found within our team to facilitate lateral collaboration between our various divisions.

Quality Impact

The business hours of our different service counters and telephone lines were standardized. This greatly facilitated students’ referencing and access to our services. Previously, given the size of UQAM’s student services, someone referred from one service to the next could end up at a locked door. The standardization of business hours is therefore an example of the more fluid service offer we are aspiring to.

The overhaul of the website (as can be consulted here, in French) is a major project with a positive impact on the quality of our services. By making it easier to find information, students come informed and are seeking out less help from clerks to find the answer to their basic questions. Although a large amount of outdated content was removed, the number of pages consulted on the site continues to grow (7.68%, going from 1,379,181 in 2012-2013 to 1,485,115 in 2013-2014), as does the number of one-time hits (going from 280,250 to 284,903). We have noticed a significant improvement in several variables used to assess the user experience, particularly the bounce rate. This means hits on the homepage, which the user leaves without further interaction. While the bounce rate increased as the site got older (it was created in 2008) and reached 58.51% last year, it fell to 52.67% this year, a rate seen four years ago.

Productivity Impact

One of the largest projects coming out of “40,000 users, one unique experience” is the automation of processes that previously required students to come to our service points, sometimes multiple times. These operations can now be done automatically online, thus freeing clerks from repetitive tasks. The most remarkable gains in productivity we have noticed are:

  • Grant applications: Since adopting the electronic application in the fall of 2013, the number of applicants for study grants at UQAM increased by 50%. The time required to evaluate these applications has been reduced to 70% in some cases. There is no longer any management required for paper applications.
  • Workshop registration: Students can now easily sign up or take themselves off workshop attendance lists (and receive a confirmation of their action by email), even when our offices are closed. In two years, nearly 4,000 registrations have been carried out online by the attendants of SLS’s various workshops. These new technological platforms also considerably reduce paper use in all of the SLS and sport centre’s activities.
  • Computerization of processes for student associations and groups: Since 2013, revision of processes and adoption of technological solutions have led to considerable gains in efficiency and in the delivery of services to our users. For example:
    • By standardizing our forms, we have cut the time required to analyze grant applications to our recognition program for student projects in half.
    • Our reprography fees dropped 90% once we began accepting online submission of the documents required by the various committees.
    • Student payroll costs were reduced by $1,500/year.
    • Email confirmation for the reservation of rooms and audiovisual equipment reduced users’ visits to the service counter by 50% (2,169 fewer visits).

Using the technologies students prefer (website, social media and email) and thus reducing the number of printed communications has also led to large savings: over $22,500 are now saved annually on producing promotional materials. All promotional materials were reviewed and only four paper-form SLS productions remain in circulation.

Innovation

The innovation of this project is couched in the originality of its process. To improve the user experience of our service offer to students, we first worked on the organization’s cohesion and team spirit.

 

Many of the projects that have come out of this process are also innovative. We have automatized various processes (study grant applications, workshop registration, sports centre activity registration, reservation of rooms for student associations or groups, etc.) so that they can now be done online.

Moreover, the process of improving the user experience has led us to entirely rethink our website. Its overhaul is innovative on several accounts:

  • Adaptability (responsive design): The site is designed according to adaptable design guidelines. In other words, it adjusts to various platforms (computers, cell phones, tablets) without requiring parallel versions (so no mobile phone version). This was a first for UQAM.
  • Universality (universal design): Because SLS plays a frontline role with handicapped students and because expectations and needs are increasing in this regard, our site had to be exemplary in its accessibility. Again, we favoured a design that was accessible for all rather than creating distinct versions.
  • User friendliness: The old site presented its information according to SLS’s organizational structure. As a consequence, it was difficult for visitors to find the information they were looking for without good knowledge of the organization. The new site, however, adopted an information architecture focused on students’ needs, thus facilitating access to our content and services.
    • Link to the new Student Life Services website (in French)