There are many slightly varying definitions of service design. The one I like the best splits the experience in to two sides (recognising that both the provider and the user have different roles and needs but the same aim) whereby services need to be “useful, usable and desirable from the user perspective, and efficient, effective and different from the provider perspective” (Mager and Sung, 2011). And in order for this to happen, users must be involved in the process of designing services. It is impossible for a service provider to determine what is “useful, usable and desirable”from the user’s perspective.
Who creates Support Services?
Higher Education is probably the most co-created, voluntarily accessed public service there is. This is the case all over the world. But where are the users when it comes to creating a support system for education? In my experience as a student in 5 countries and as an education sector employee in 4 countries, I can honestly say that you don’t see them much. I have studies and/or worked in institutions that are fee-based and non-fee based; from elementary level to doctoral students.
For the most part in my experience, it is administrators who create and deliver services that support students with little input from the users themselves. These are services that are still very much designed FOR people. Change is reactionary and taken behind closed doors rather than co-created. With current or new services almost entirely formed with the current administrative structure in mind. It ends up serving the administration rather than the students. It is for these very reasons that service design should be flush with case examples of education institutions of all levels. But I can't find very many. For the most part when I find the terms 'service design' and 'education' together, they are talking about curriculum and teaching service design/design thinking tools and methods to the students. But it needs to be used to serve these students on the services side also.
Higher Education as an Big Investment
Higher Ed is one of the largest investments of time and money that individuals will make in their future. When you think about it, it is probably more determinate of later status and income than any other purchase they make. It is also the only thing that you can purchase that can almost guarantee to make you wealthier, increase your social status, make you more pleasant dinner guest and, most important from my personal perspective, the only thing that you can purchase that no one can ever take away from you.
This significant purchase is also expected to be paid for primarily upfront, without a chance to test drive it before it is bought. Even if a student walks away after 6 months or a year, the monetary cost, the time investment, and the emotional cost is huge (and all of these can increase for an international student). On the institutional side, the cost of a student leaving an institution early can also run into the thousands (euros, dollars, pounds, etc) when you consider the cost to replace the student in marketing budget, administrative costs, and the lost money from the expected income for the institution. The premise is the same as in business, it is far more expensive to recruit a new student than it is to keep the ones you have. Having a student leave due to poor service design, is a loss for both the institution and the student. Therefore, usable, useful, and desirable student services which are purposefully and thoughtfully co-created with the users are a critical component of student retention, engagement, and satisfaction.
"...usable, useful, and desirable student services which are purposefully and thoughtfully co-created with the users are a critical component of student retention, engagement, and satisfaction"
The Student Experience
The student experience is becoming one of the most talked about topics in higher education. Institutions have, in the past 5-6 years started hiring student experience officers and managers and even, VPs of student experience. Experience surveys are run for both domestic and international students and rankings based on student experience are being created. And with the omnipresent social media and rating sites (and those happy to sad face service buttons everywhere), students are able to share their experience (good and bad) immediately with their friends, on twitter, in Facebook groups, etc. They can take a photo or video of what is being said to them or what they see that is creating a problem and this can go around the world in a matter of days, if not hours. And it can be anything that they connect with their student experience- it doesn't need to be connected to your institution directly.
I would argue that the student experience is made up of three primary pillars: education, support services and the surrounding society. In order to have a good experience all three of these need to come together and be consciously and deliberately contemplated and actioned. This means that institutions of higher learning need to build better and stronger relationships with the right external partners. Do you know who they are? Do you engage with them proactively with a wide range of other actors? In the end it means using service design very deliberately and strategically in the organisation.
So let me know…where is service design in higher education support services being used…I would love to hear your stories!
Mager B, Sung TJ (2011) Special issue editorial: designing for services. Int J Des 5(2):1–3