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Using Service Blueprinting to See Higher Education from the Student’s Perspective

Professor giving a lecture

SOURCE: iStockphoto

Tools such as service blueprinting are part of an emerging solution set that can help college leaders meet society’s demands for a more educated populace.

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The September 22 issue of The Economist included an intriguing article, “The magic of good service,” highlighting the growing trend of large companies to employ “chief customer officers,” or CCOs. Chief customer officers are responsible for “look[ing] at the business from the customer’s point of view” and evaluating the customer experience from end-to-end. The article noted that successful companies such as Disney, Cisco, and Home Depot have implemented this type of customer-centric approach to improve their services and to create a better overall customer experience.

One of the techniques used by chief customer officers is to create a visual map, or service blueprint, of a customer’s experience to identify any problems the customer encounters and then work with the company to eliminate those problems.

The Center for American Progress believes this service blueprinting technique could be a powerful tool for improving services in all kinds of industries—including higher education. Service blueprinting could help colleges and universities improve their own services in areas such as admissions, financial aid, academic and career advising, and student learning experiences such as online courses, among many other possibilities.

In fact, in 2011 CAP released a paper in collaboration with the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State University about this specific topic. The paper, “Leveraging Service Blueprinting to Rethink Higher Education,” introduced our higher education audience to service blueprinting and outlined its potential to improve a variety of higher education-related services.

The paper was written by Arizona State professors Amy L. Ostrom, Mary Jo Bitner, and Kevin A. Burkhard—all of whom are experts in service blueprinting and have consulted for dozens of private-sector companies, helping them improve services and build customer loyalty. Although the service blueprinting technique was pioneered by for-profit businesses, the authors demonstrated that it has become an increasingly valuable tool for nonprofit organizations as well.

That’s why the Center for American Progress again partnered with Arizona State University and HCM Strategists, a public policy and advocacy consulting firm, to host a recent workshop on service blueprinting for college leaders. Sixteen college leaders from across the country—including chancellors, provosts, and deans—gathered on Arizona State’s campus last Wednesday to learn more about service blueprinting and to discuss ways in which it could be used to improve services for college students.

At the workshop Ostrom and Bitner outlined the six components that are used in the service blueprinting technique (click here for an example):

  1. Customer actions: All steps that customers take or experience as part of the service being examined
  2. “Onstage” technology actions: The actions by customer-facing technology (for example, websites, automated telephone systems, kiosks) that customers experience as part of the service
  3. “Onstage” contact employee actions: The contact employee actions that involve face-to-face interactions with customer
  4. “Backstage” contact employee actions: Other contact employee actions (not involving face-to-face customer interactions), including email and telephone contact with customers, preparation work, and any activities that facilitate the service process
  5. Support processes: Activities that facilitate the service and are done by individuals who are not contact employees. This also includes technology-based and other systems that are needed for the service to be delivered
  6. Physical evidence: All tangibles that customers come in contact with during the service experience that impact their customer quality perceptions

During the workshop college leaders learned how to apply the service blueprinting technique to services offered through the higher education system. Small groups discussed issues such as academic advising and financial aid services, and in each case participants put together a visual blueprint of the experience from the student’s perspective using the components listed above. The goal of each exercise was to focus exclusively on the student experience—as opposed to the experience of faculty or administrators—and then determine the various services necessary to provide that experience.

Creating a service blueprint of the different functions related to higher education—from admissions to financial aid to course enrollment—allowed workshop participants to identify “pain points” along the way that complicate or diminish the student experience and make it less likely that the student will persist to a degree.

The workshop enabled college leaders to hone their service blueprinting skills while gaining a better understanding of the student experience. The goal was that workshop participants would return to their home campuses and become catalysts for transforming the delivery of services at their individual schools.

It’s no secret that higher education is under pressure due to rising tuition, ever more diverse student populations, and the demand for greater accountability from policymakers. Tools such as service blueprinting are part of an emerging solution set that can help college leaders meet society’s demands for a more educated populace. CAP believes that participants in the Arizona State University workshop are the frontrunners in an effort to empower higher education practitioners with the cutting-edge tools they need to develop institutional practices designed to provide students with experiences that will make it more likely they will complete their education. In so doing, they will add to our national competitiveness and their own economic mobility.

Stephen Steigleder is a Policy Analyst with the Postsecondary Education Program and Louis Soares is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Katie Peters (economy, education, poverty, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.741.6285 or kpeters@americanprogress.org

Print: Anne Shoup (foreign policy and national security, energy, LGBT issues, health care, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7146 or ashoup@americanprogress.org

Print: Crystal Patterson (immigration)
202.478.6350 or cpatterson@americanprogress.org

Print: Madeline Meth (women's issues, Legal Progress, higher education)
202.741.6277 or mmeth@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Lindsay Hamilton
202.483.2675 or lhamilton@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org