Streamlining student services

UND One-Stop, Student Financial Aid, Student Account Services celebrate ‘wins’ in customer service

Chelsea Larson and Janelle Kilgore

UND Director of Student Financial Aid Janelle Kilgore (right), with Student Account Operations Manger Chelsea Larson, discuss student financial aid at a recent team meeting (Jackie Lorentz photo/ UND Today).

Almost two dozen people gathered around a large white board split into quadrants and splashed with Post-it notes. As they sipped their Monday morning coffee, Student Account Operations Manager Chelsea Larson held up another bright-orange note.

On it – a quote from an excited parent she had on the phone just last week.

“As she was talking, I was writing it down,” Larson said as she started to read. “‘You (UND) have by far exceeded my expectations in terms of customer service and answering all of my questions.’”

Larson then stuck the Post-it to the area on the board marked “People,” as her colleagues lit up around her. “Families feel this way, and I think it’s important that we hear this. So good job, everybody.”

This is a new highly efficient, communication-centered meeting style for the recently-connected teams of Student Financial Aid and Student Account Services. Across the quad at One-Stop Student Services, a similar meeting is taking place.

This trifecta is nearing the end of its busiest season of helping students pay for their education, and is taking time to celebrate several streamlined service successes.

Compared to last fall’s first disbursement, UND applied $3.2 million more in financial aid for 230 more students in the first couple of weeks of classes. In posting scholarship checks, the team was two weeks ahead of where it was this time last year. The financial aid office manually processed 1,023 external scholarship checks – 418 more than the same time last fall.

On top of that, staff notified students early about when they could expect to see their private loans come through, even providing them with a timeline.

And their rate of student service isn’t slowing down.

“The Financial Aid staff not only improved all of these processes, but they’ve also taken over 1,000, probably close to 1,500, more student contacts in the way of emails and phone calls,” UND One-Stop Relations Manager Matt Lukach said. “When we’re busy at One-Stop, they help us with phones, and the phone has not stopped ringing. So we appreciate their help.

“This didn’t come easy. We worked hard to get where we are, and it’s not over yet,” he added.

Chelsea Larson and Janelle Kilgore

Recently-connected Student Financial Aid and Student Account Services teams take part in a new highly efficient, communication-centered meeting on the second floor of Twamley Hall. Across the quad at One-Stop Student Services in the Memorial Union, a similar meeting takes place. This trifecta is nearing the end of its busiest season, helping students, and it’s taking time to celebrate several streamlined service successes (Jackie Lorentz photo/ UND Today).

Data and dynamics

So how did the triple team turn so quickly into a well-oiled machine? It’s all about raising up the power of data and communication – and burying the fear of change.

“We had a moment of silence for what Student Account Services previously looked like in one of our meetings,” said Student Financial Aid Director Janelle Kilgore. “Because it’s also trying to let go of what has happened in the past, and saying it’s okay for something to look different or be done differently.”

This fall, the service groups began using Microsoft Business Intelligence (BI) software to track their students’ data, determining which students (program and year) were addressing the balances on their accounts and when, where and how they were doing so.

That data, combined with specialized team training to find faster and more efficient workflow and communication styles, has already led to a smoother experience for the end user. Once the offices can begin collecting this data historically, they can begin to seek out areas that can be polished even more.

“It’s about looking at the process,” Lukach said. “Every process has waste in it. If you take out that waste, you improve the process.”

Strategic Plan at the top

The new “huddle board” meeting style is one of those process efficiencies. The board is broken into People, Data, Current Projects and Wins. The group spends ten to thirty minutes every morning of the week discussing the four areas in a casual, standing get-together. It’s a big difference from the longer, more sporadic meetings of the past.

“They are already seeing improved communication, with everyone understanding real time what the needs are,” Larson said. “We ask every day, ‘What can we do today that would have made yesterday better?’ And we’re already getting ideas and suggestions from the team.”

One thing guides every 8:30 a.m. meeting – a shining beacon posted to the pinnacle of the board.

It’s the One UND Strategic Plan.

“We started with that at the top to keep it always at the forefront of what we are trying to do,” Larson said, “looking at how we can impact those goals and make real changes.”

This unit of change-seekers is setting an example – stronger teams create stronger connections with students, bolstering the strength of One UND.

“They have done an incredible job, and with an unmatched level of positivity,” UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo said. “I would love to see that innovation continue to spread throughout campus.”

UND Vice President for Finance and Operations Alice Brekke also commended the team for pushing the envelope, not only for UND’s students, but for those on the front line of the unit itself.

“It’s a great opportunity, and they have really embraced it,” Brekke said. “This is just the beginning.”