Years ago our team interviewed an individual for a position on our office staff. This candidate had previous work experience in their international church’s facilities management group. After asking a particular interview question this individual was reminded of an experience she had with a facilities request that had come into her group to swap out a light switch in one of the church buildings within their jurisdiction. There was nothing wrong with the light switch. It wasn’t broken or cracked. There was no electrical safety hazard. The issue? It was the wrong color. While this may seem like a frivolous request on the surface, the candidate described how her facilities management group fixed the issue right away changing the switch to match the others in the chapel of their church.
You see, as she described it, the light switch was in a meetinghouse chapel and the individual who submitted the change request had noticed the different colored switch during a worship service on Sunday. This particular facilities management team recognized the light switch request as an important way to remove a distraction from this most sacred room and worship experience. Light switches were in their stewardship and their stewardship had caused a distraction from what mattered most. I found this experience and story to be so enlightening I remember it to this day over a decade later!
Consider the mission of your business or organization. Now consider what you do day in and day out. Have you installed any “wrong-colored light switches” in your stewardship that might be a distraction to fulfilling your organizational mission? Reflect on the experiences you are giving your customers. New service models and technologies in the retail and service sectors are dramatically influencing the expectations of consumers. What administrative overhead (not apart of your core mission) is getting in the way of your customer satisfaction? What administrative policies and procedures have become more complex as a result of trying to manage the monolithic increases in consumer expectations and needs?
Look at higher education for a moment during this pandemic. While customers drive the conversation and creation of new technologies in certain sectors of our economy, the same has not necessarily been true for students attending on-campus at schools around the country. And yet, the transactional experiences students have at colleges and universities, to a large extent, are similar in scope to the transactional customer experiences that have innovatively brought us one-click purchasing and immediately reading book chapters online while we wait two days for the physical book to arrive on our doorsteps! But that isn’t the experience students get when dealing with colleges and universities related to enrollment application procedures, antiquated registration systems, and tuition payment processes online. No, their administrative experience is often like the long line at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
I recognize that university activities designed for personal growth and development, like learning experiences developed and delivered by professors and content experts, would not be appropriate to be left to the auspices of students. But, if we are to keep pace with expectations driven by students considered customers in other service sectors, we might do well to consider students as customers in the context of administrative processes and let customer expectation and demand dictate the quality and way in which we deliver transactional encounters on college campuses.
Why? Because administrative overhead is not part of the mission of any university. There is no part of any mission that states standing in a line builds character, let alone providing any educational value. Screenshots and tutorials for archaic systems leave students bewildered at the complexity rather than happy for the helps. And paper processes not only offend trees, but embarrass university offices when we consider the incredible technological advancements at our fingertips in so many other transactions we deal with on a daily basis. It isn’t enough to digitize existing operations. We need to revolutionize administrative processes. Just because colleges and universities serve students doesn’t necessarily mean they are student-focused. If not kept in check, administrative processes become too bureaucratic to navigate and students sink in the ocean of “college knowledge” that is difficult for even the most seasoned administrator to understand.
Like in many other service sectors, zero overhead should be the mantra of higher education post-pandemic. Software that requires training is a waste of time. Processes championed in the 20th century are Stone Age in the 21st. And while a university academic catalog may never achieve the simplicity of an iPhone manual, it doesn’t change the fact that students expect, and rightly deserve, administrative services that get out of the way of their more important academic and educational pursuits. Anything less would relegate university administrators to a wrong-colored light switch in the church chapel.