Long Wait Times Lead Florida State College College to Implement an Improve Queue Management System
With student frustrations leading to high staff turnover, the five academic advising offices needed a solution to improve satisfaction.
At the height of enrollment season, with peak numbers and a new student information system creating an increased demand for help, student advising services for Florida State College at Jacksonville were struggling. With over 40,000 students across seven locations in Northeast Florida, advising services were imperative for guiding students on their degree paths. Unfortunately, the five academic advising centers, two military and veterans student services centers, and the international student services office were all experiencing multi-hour wait-times, leading to both staff and student frustrations.
Recognizing the need for a change, the Associate VP for Student Success began a search for the perfect queue management solution: one that allowed for appointments and walk-ins, could administer student satisfaction surveys, and permitted students to check in remotely and view accurate wait times. Discovering QLess, she was able to efficiently implement a consistent experience across all advising centers, improving staff and student satisfaction while decreasing wait times and frustrations.
When Erin Richman, Associate VP for Student Success, joined Florida State College, the student services department was struggling to contend with high service request rates during peak enrollment season. They were also in the process of implementing a new student registration system, which led to an even higher than usual number of students seeking help from her team. With advising centers across five locations, each with multi-hour wait times, unhappy students were resulting in high employee turnover. “Unfortunately, I inherited a trifecta of frustrations. We had a student system in place that was not operating well for registration and information. We also had an influx of students who needed help navigating that system. Finally, we had staff jumping ship because they were so frustrated with it themselves,” said Erin.
“Unfortunately, I inherited a trifecta of frustrations. We had a student system in place that was not operating well for registration and information. We also had an influx of students who needed help navigating that system. Finally, we had staff jumping ship because they were so frustrated with it themselves."
– Erin Richman, Associate VP for Student Success
Long wait times and increased frustrations among students was also resulting in a poor public image. With lobbies constantly full of students sitting and waiting for appointments, students had begun publicly voicing their frustrations at the unacceptable delays. At the same time, the frustrated atmosphere generated by the long wait times was causing incredible attrition among employees: “I had real clear observations about what needed to change immediately.”
Although they had already been using a queue management system for years, it wasn’t working for them. “It was almost like an Excel spreadsheet: it was just a list of names in order,” said Erin. When students were checking in, there was no clear estimate of wait times. Concurrently, they had no appointment capabilities, giving students no other option but to wait. Finally, as a data-driven professional, Erin was frustrated at the lack of analytics provided by the old queue management system. “We had very basic metrics, but what we needed was to be able to tell which employees were actually pulling their weight while we were in this crisis.”
After months of muddling through with poor solutions, Erin had a clear list of demands for their next queue management software. First, she needed to have both walk-in and reservation scheduling capabilities, “I wanted employees to be able to take walk-ins if their appointments didn’t show up.” Second, she wanted a method for students to provide feedback directly to her team, instead of turning to social media or emailing the president. “A key requirement was the ability to immediately text students a satisfaction survey as they left our offices.” Finally, she wanted accurate wait time estimates and the ability to check in remotely.
In order to sell these desires to her team, she conducted a six-month pilot program at one of her locations to gather data on the system functionality. “Our staff was very hesitant to implement appointment scheduling capabilities. They didn’t think students would show.”
After six months, Erin had information on which times were the most desired, and which days and times had the highest no-show rates. She found out that many students were looking for early morning slots. Staff also experienced 10 to 20 percent student no show rates, with those numbers worse on Mondays and Fridays. Finally, they discovered that there was a desire for virtual appointments. Using this data, Erin was able to determine what the next steps should be for their advising centers.
While at a conference at another college, Erin stepped into the student services area and stumbled upon QLess. “I interacted with the system and thought ‘This is what we need!’ ” After confirming that the capabilities met her extensive list of requirements, she set out to implement QLess across all five locations. “I already had the data from our pilot study, so configuring and launching the system was a seamless process.” They used the pilot study data to configure slots for reservations, allocate times for walk-ins, and predict the number of students needing virtual appointments. They would also use the data to create accurate wait time estimates. “Between our long wait times and our appointment data, we were truly the ideal candidate for QLess.”
For the launch, Erin ensured that there was leadership on-site at each advising location to provide support to students and staff. They also emphasized educating staff on the system, and providing them tools to guide students on how best to leverage QLess. “We trained the frontline staff to let students know that once they signed in for a walk-in appointment, they didn’t need to sit down and wait. They could go get a coffee, meet a professor, or go to the library, and we would text them when it's their turn.” They also made sure that students understood the remote check in capabilities to reduce wait times even further.
After showcasing the results that they were getting from QLess, the staff were immediately impressed with the feedback loop and data capabilities. “The change was overnight. Everybody was happier: students, staff, and managers. The staff loved the visual nature of it: they could finally see where students were, how many students were waiting, and what their day would look like.” The students loved the estimated wait times and being able to check in remotely.
With text message survey capabilities through QLess, they were able to send students a link to a basic satisfaction questionnaire immediately after their appointment. “We get a 3% response rate overall on that, and we have received really good feedback, both positive and negative.” Using the data collected via the survey, they have implemented an employee recognition program to improve satisfaction and retention. “We now have a systematic, ongoing, organized way to recognize employees so that they feel valued.” With the negative feedback they receive, they are now able to get the information to the proper parties involved without having to escalate the situation.
Since implementing QLess, Erin has seen improved employee satisfaction and a dramatic change in employee engagement. When she started at Florida State College, 35 percent of advisor positions were vacant and there were no managers. Now, “leadership has been stable for three years and turnover is low. We rarely have vacancies.” Although an overall organizational transformation and culture shift helped improve employee satisfaction, she sees QLess as a symbol of the leadership's commitment to improving employees’ abilities to be the best they can be. “Our staff should be focusing on the work that they do, which is helping people discover their goals and plan their academic journey. They shouldn’t have to organize lines or deal with scheduling frustrations.”
Since implementing QLess across the five advising centers, other departments have noticed the success and implemented it themselves. “We’ve created a separate queue for financial aid and student financial services, as well as veteran and military services and adult education.” This has helped to create a consistent student experience. “It's really reduced the overall headache at the institution as far as student complaints are concerned.”
These positive results are reflected in improved student satisfaction. Since implementing the survey capabilities, the average student satisfaction rating has grown from 4.52 to 4.65. “Over the years of having QLess, we’re seen progressive and consistent improvements in the student experience at our advising services.”
“The change was overnight. Everybody was happier: students, staff, and managers. The staff loved the visual nature of it: they could finally see where students were, how many students were waiting, and what their day would look like.”