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Achieving Service Innovation and Service Excellence through the lens of the User Experience

Achieving Service Innovation and Service Excellence through the lens of the User Experience

15 June 2017, by Dr Stephen Weller


At The Australian Catholic University (ACU) we have been on a major journey of growth and excellence since 2013. The University has grown in size from 21,000 to 33,000 students, the number of staff has grown from 1,450 to 2,350, and we have increased from six to eight campuses. At the same time we have striven for excellence across our key areas of activity. We launched a series of programs to deliver academic excellence, research excellence, learning excellence and service excellence. This effort has been rewarded with ACU being ranked for the first time in late 2016 by both the THE Rankings and the QS Rankings.

Service Excellence

As the leader of a portfolio responsible for delivering university services, my focus has been on delivering service excellence. Not just within our Portfolio but across the whole of our University. I have previously written about the ACU Service Excellence Framework (1). This Framework, launched in the last quarter of 2015, provides for a distinct Service Delivery Model, Service Principles, a Service Catalogue, the identification of Service Leads and a dedicated Service Improvement Team.

Throughout 2016 we worked hard to implement the foundations of the Service Delivery Model, to articulate and embed the Service Principles including in all position descriptions and performance review plans, to communicate and begin to set Service Standards within the Service Catalogue, to work with the Service Leads to empower them to use their mandate to deliver enhanced services and to identify and then implement nearly 200 service improvements across our Portfolio.

At the same as we have moved to implement and deliver our Service Excellence Framework we have received positive engagement with our colleagues within the University and across the HE Sector. We have worked collaboratively with staff in other portfolios, faculties, schools and institutes within our University who have wanted to start their own journey towards service excellence. And our colleagues within the University have presented their work at conferences within the HE Sector and been invited to share their experiences at other universities.

Service Innovation

So much of our initial journey towards service excellence at ACU has been about delivering service improvements based on our own professional expertise. We have known what services needed enhancing, what systems needed upgrading, what processes needed streamlining without needed to directly engage the user. Of course at the same time we have undertaken and considered staff surveys, analysed student surveys, and commissioned focus groups.

But the time had come for us to begin to talk about service innovation in addition to service excellence. We had made substantial gains by fixing the services, systems and processes that we knew needed enhancing but it was time to start to deliver innovative services. However the challenge in how to be innovative is well – being innovative! It requires a different mindset and one that requires new thinking and new perspectives.

During the last quarter of 2016 we began to initiate what would become the Integrated Service Management Project within our Service Excellence Framework. It is a whole of portfolio program of activities aligned around the creation of a single platform that will provide a seamless service experience that is transparent, efficient and consistent.

The Integrated Service Management Project is an ambitious program of work that will focus on in excess of one hundred services delivered by five hundred staff to 30,000+ students and 2,000+ staff. These services are increasingly delivered on a twenty four/seven basis and through mobile digital platforms nationally and internationally.

It will build upon our enhanced service delivery, our system upgrades and our process review and it will be focussed on an experience that is digital and framed through the perspective of excellence in the user experience.

User Experience

But what is excellence in the user experience and how can it be used to deliver not just service excellence but service innovation. I have since the last quarter of 2016 been challenging the five-hundred staff in our portfolio to focus their efforts in delivering service excellence by looking through the lens of the user experience. We have all seen and read the increasing focus on the user experience, or the customer experience, or UX, CX or increasingly just X!

Our Portfolio Leadership Forum had considered aspects of design thinking, the development of user personas, and process mapping through LEAN methodology that was designed to take account of the user. But to be honest it has all been a bit esoteric and at the end of the day was beginning to sound like yet more work on top of the day to day activities.

However I have recently come across a great article and a very innovative visual through which to practically advocate the user experience. Riding the UX Horse to Create Empowered, Successful, Loyal Users by Traci Lepore (2) uses the analogy of a horse to frame the lens of the user experience. The analogy of the horse focuses on the functionality, the usability and the pleasure that can be derived by the rider of the horse through consideration of the user experience.

The horse is functional and as a service can take the user from point A to point B and like the horse most services meet this basic functional need. With the appropriate equipment the horse can be made more usable so that the user can be in control and like the horse many services can be customised to meet the specific needs of the user. But the horse can also allow the user to derive pleasure from the experience through the nature of the ride however it is only some services that in addition to being functional and usable are also pleasurable.

Lepore (2) uses the analogy of riding the horse to advocate for the creation of a balanced model that is focussed on the user experience. A functionable experience will allow for competent users who know their goals and can complete the required tasks to achieve these goals. A usable experience will allow for confident users who are empowered and able to take more risks. And a pleasurable experience will result in satisfied users who share their positive experiences and become brand ambassadors.

The ride ahead

At ACU we are approaching the second anniversary of our ride towards service excellence and we are approaching the first anniversary of a sharper focus in that ride on aspiring for service innovation. The aspect within this ride is a singular, and at times obsessive, focus on the user experience. And it is through the focus on the rider as well as the horse and the journey that is going to help us achieve our goals of service innovation and service excellence.

Now I will be honest and say that horses are a big part of my life. We live on acreage with two of our own horses and our daughter Alice is a competitive eventer and many a weekend will be spent in the company of horses. So the analogy of riding the horse to consider the user experience is one with which I am comfortable. But whether or not you ride or even like horses, I believe that the analogy works as a basis to practically consider the user experience. And it is my view that through the lens of the user experience we can sharpen our efforts to deliver service innovation in the pursuit of service excellence.

Whilst no-one has really challenged our goal of service excellence at the end of the day how could they? Equally whilst no-one has really resisted our effort for service innovation have they understood what we mean when we have proposed to be innovative? Now that we are putting the user experience at the centre of this journey will we succeed in delivering innovation and excellence? At the time of writing this article I am not sure – but at this stage the early signs and the engagement of our staff are very positive.



Dr Stephen Weller is Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Australian Catholic University and a member of the 2017 Service Improvement and Innovation in Universities Conference steering committee.

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