New service offers concise answers to students’ questions

The Registrar’s Office and Student Financial Services have introduced a new, 24/7 online service for current students. It’s called “Ask a Student Services Expert”. A first for a Canadian university, the concept involves students and administrators typing in a question in natural language. A customized response comes back upon hitting the “Ask” button.

Left: York students can now access information on student services 24/7

The Registrar’s Office and Student Financial Services are working to enhance and refine this service. Jillian Oinonen, York’s assistant registrar, information technology & publications, Susan Chisholm Milligan, a customer service representative in the Registrar’s Office, and Lynne Van Buskirk, manager of communications & special projects, Office of Student Financial Services, are the main implementers. The initiative is part of the Division of Students’ continuing endeavour to provide client-focused service delivery. 

Admissions rolled out Phase One of the service for new students. This new launch represents Phase Two and addresses questions that registered students have about York.

The system, while complex behind the scenes, is very simple for students to use. A student needing an answer on financial aid could type in “Where is the financial aid office located?” The system then replies with a comprehensive answer targeted to the question.

The product is being used by a several universities in the US. The preliminary questions offered to York by the service provider needed to be adjusted to reflect a Canadian perspective. “The feedback we received from the company handling the product was that we had really refined the product and expanded its scope. We were really pleased that they found our feedback so useful,” says Van Buskirk.

Since going live on May 3, the Ask a Student Services Expert has answered over 11,000 questions, which clearly demonstrates the need for the service. “The feedback we’ve received from students has been very positive,” says Oinonen. “Responses to any unanswered questions are immediately added to the database, so that it is continually being enhanced.”

The new initiative has many advantages. Students can access the database anytime, day or night. It saves a telephone call to the University. “Students don’t have to wait on the phone and they don’t have to make a special trip into the University. It is providing another way to access our online information,” says Van Buskirk.

In the development phase, student input was gathered. As well, the frontline teams were involved in testing it before it was released.

“One of the things that we have always hoped for is that faculty or staff will use Ask a Student Services Expert,” says Van Buskirk. “Students may ask how to get details on a particular subject while they are having a conference with their faculty advisor or professor. This offers an immediate resource for administrators, faculty and staff to answer the students’ questions.”

Phase Three will handle specific queries, for example, individual requests for specialized letters. Visit the Ask a Student Services Expert Web site to try out this new interactive initiative. Feedback can be directed to Jill Oinonen at or Lynne Van Buskirk at