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24/7/365: ASU Help Desk

If you’ve ever asked a question on My ASU or called the university’s main phone number, chances are you’ve interacted with the ASU Help Desk. What you may not realize, however, is that prior to July 2015, the agents who responded to your service requests didn’t work at ASU.

In the late 2000s, ASU recognized the need to provide 24/7 service support and secured outside services for the key support functions of information technology, faculty and staff support, general student services and financial aid.

In alignment with ASU’s Service Excellence Initiative in 2013, these services were brought back to ASU to ensure student satisfaction and overall service was provided for the university community. In April 2014, the Help Desk soft launched Salesforce for technical support and student services. The following January, it began a gradual rollout of financial aid services, and in July 2015, officially became the sole 24/7 customer service provider for all ASU service issues.

As one of ASU’s early adopters of Salesforce, the Help Desk was among the first university departments to actively create cases using the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. Its primary goal was to make reaching out for and receiving service as easy as possible for its constituents. To achieve this objective, the department partnered with various functional units around the university to build out its Knowledge Base, thereby enabling the Help Desk to serve as tier one support for all the different colleges and departments across campus.

“We really consider ourselves between Tier 1 and Tier 2 support,” says Melissa Heinrich, director of corporate enrollment partnership services for Financial Aid and Scholarship Services and one of the Help Desk’s project managers. “There’s a wide spectrum of things that come in on a daily basis for us to handle. It could be an engineering grad talking about their hours requirement or it could be an incoming freshman asking about residence halls.”

The Help Desk is now equipped to handle the majority of these inquiries, but in the event that another department needs to step in, is able to reassign and reroute cases through Salesforce.

“We rely on the relationships we have with our university partners and the information we collect in the Knowledge Base so agents can investigate and resolve issues for any department,” says Heinrich. “But when it’s not possible, we can easily escalate the case to Tier 2.”

During times of normal service volume, there is a 24-hour resolution goal for all cases, which extends to 48 hours during peak periods. Cases are accepted on My ASU, via webform, chat, by phone or through an automated self-service system, allowing students to retrieve information such as their account balance and financial aid refund status quickly and without speaking to an agent, if that is their preference. The interactive voice response (IVR) phone system — created through an integration between Salesforce and inContact call center software — also has a callback feature that allows students to keep their spot in the queue without having to stay on hold.

When customers call into the IVR, they are asked up front if they’d like to participate in a survey, which is used to track quality as well as opportunities for recognition and appreciation.

“It’s less about if they’re satisfied with the answer and more about behavior and whether they felt the agent cared about their problem,” explains Chris Tyler, manager of system strategy and business development for the University Technology Office and another project manager for the Help Desk.

For those customers who want to talk with a live agent, the Help Desk has a service level goal of 70 percent for answering calls and relies on a variety of call center metrics — including average speed of answer and abandoned calls — to ensure customers are being taken care of correctly. Additionally, it relies on speech analytics to search and flag positive terms such as “you’re the best” or “thank you so much,” and negative terms such as “disappointed” or “upset.”

“Every interaction that we have with a student is recorded,” says Tyler. “The speech analytics program converts it to text and looks for keywords to determine if it’s a call that needs to be reviewed or is a call that has a lot of good praise that we can then use for coaching. Only five percent of our total population may ever do a survey, so it helps us find additional opportunities to capture how a call went.”

In the short time that the Help Desk has served as the sole service provider in this capacity, it has augmented the vision of ASU’s Service Excellence Initiative, providing the entire university community with both exemplary customer service and a 360-degree view of the student service experience.

“Our previous CRM tools were siloed, so if a student called into one department it wouldn’t necessarily be visible to another,” explains Heinrich. “Service was lost this way, since students couldn’t have a continuous experience across the university. So another goal was to make sure that in our effort to provide the best customer service, we documented the student experience so it could be visible to the university community and take place within the context of prior interactions, ensuring all the needs of the student or any other customer are met.”

This transparency is beneficial not only to Help Desk agents, but also to students themselves.

“Previously, students had no visibility into the progress of a case,” says Heinrich. “Now with the My ASU Service Center, students can actually see the cases they’ve submitted, so if they’re wondering why someone hasn’t reached back out they can check the status, which is a big win.”

This feature is especially important when inquiring about financial aid, tuition and billing. Though these departments have been historically decentralized, Heinrich played a major role in forming a central place within the Help Desk for students to get financial answers quickly.

“It was confusing for a long time,” she explains. “Student Business Services was for your tuition bill and Financial Aid was how you paid it, but the line between them wasn’t clear. We needed a holistic understanding of what was going on with the entire student financial picture, so we did a lot of training with our Help Desk agents — [team members] Antonio Miranda and Carlos Benjamin did an amazing job in a short amount of time with complicated and involved concepts. But now if students have a question about money, no matter what department it falls into there is a team of people who are cross-trained to respond.”

“With the IVR, students can call in and get a credit balance regarding their financial account without having to talk to an agent,” adds Tyler.

During the annual peak service period in August 2015, the self-service feature handled nearly 1,000 of the Help Desk’s more than 75,000 cases. More than 10,000 cases were handled via chat, and of the remaining 64,000 cases handled via phone, nearly half were questions related to finance. Additionally, Help Desk agents exceeded their 70 percent service level goal for answering calls, averaging 84 percent for the entire month.

The overwhelmingly positive statistics from one of the busiest months of service has helped quell any lingering doubts over the initial time commitment required for the Help Desk project.

“There was some development time involved up front and some people were questioning whether it would really be useful,” says Tyler. “But then they saw the results from August and are now looking at ways to take it even further.” 

When asked what advice they would offer someone who is just starting out with Salesforce, Heinrich stressed the importance of teamwork and embracing changes when needed.

“My advice would be to continue to ask questions and collaborate with professional resources,” says Heinrich. “You can set up Salesforce any way you want, so you need to be open to opinions about how to structure it. Make sure you get feedback from your staff every step of the way because they’re the ones who are actually going to be using the tool.”

For Tyler, finding success is not so much in the tool but in hiring agents with the right personality for the job.

“Our fundamental requirement is customer service,” he says. “We can teach someone how to handle the tool or be skilled on a subject, but we can’t teach that innate character of being good at customer service. You either care about customers or you don’t.”

Which is why the decision to bring the Help Desk back in-house was so significant. Now and in the future, agents are and will remain an integral part of the ASU community who own the student experience and are highly invested in making a positive impact, both for the success of the Help Desk and the customers they serve.