1. About how many of the 150 colleges that you’ve worked with have struggled to provide adequate customer service?
2. Is providing customer service on a college campus different from providing customer service at a mall or in a corporation?
3. Can you give us one example of something every campus could do to improve its customer service?
Here is my response along with the Ten Steps You Can Start Today to Improve Customer Service on Your Campus. I’ll be writing on each in the next week or two.
My Summary Response
Of the 151 schools, colleges and universities I have worked with since 1999, approximately 150 have struggled with customer service. The other school just gave up and decided that losing enrollment and employees was inevitable. For them it was. They did not care about customer service.
Students not Customers - More like Patients
The struggle begins with the very idea of customer service for most colleges. The term is one that academic communities feel is wrong for them. “Students aren’t customers after all” is a phrase I hear quite often. And there may be some truth to that since students are not customers but more like our clients. Clients are actually different from customers. A customer is an individual who is interested in making a purchase and then moving on. A client is seeking improvement and enhancement or repair so they can move on. Sort of like when a patient sees a doctor. And in education we are really in the role of doctor (PhD or not). Our students are our patients/clients coming to us to improve their intellectual and occupational health.
And like some doctors who view their patients as cases and income, some schools see students as people who need to be taught so they can receive the revenue they need to be able to do what they really care about. These schools struggle not only with customer service but with retention, revenue and fund raising. The indifferent, supercilious, doctor ends up spending too much time and money on both malpractice suits and attracting new patients. Schools do too. Colleges and universities that struggle rather than embrace academic customer services spend a major amount of time and money recruiting replacement students and employees as well as the “morale malaise” rather than meting the mission and goals of the institution.
There are some schools that try to engage the campus in customer service as defined by Disney,
A retail store or hospitality service provider serves its customers for a short period of time and for a limited purpose. At a Disney for instance, a customer is there to get away from reality and just enjoy oneself for a day to a week. Their goals are narrow and simple. Make me smile. Make me forget work, reality and my cares. Help me escape my life.
A student attends a college for almost opposite reasons. The goals are broad and long-term. They include engaging reality and learning about it. They are in a university or school to embrace a goal of career, a place in the real world. Students seek not to be made to smile and be happy all the time but to be challenged with ideas and intellectual stress that might cause angst and discomfort that will allow them to engage the world. Sure they wish to enjoy their years of study and customer service like smiling and providing good directions can help. But finally it is the preparation for the world outside of academia that is the real client service we provide. And our client service needs to be directed to that goal and our higher education world.
Academic Customer Service
As for retail customer service, attending a college is not at all like buying a pair of jeans. When someone buys jeans, he or she has a singular objective to accomplish. Get a pair of jeans and leave. One does not buy a zipper, pick out denim, choose buttons, stitch or hem style and level of pre-wear then take it all home to put it together. No. You go to a store, look at what is provided, choose a pair, pay for them and leave. It is easy to be nice to a person who is just picking out a pair of jeans, bringing it to your register and leaving. “Thank you very much. Have a nice day”. In college, students have to construct the jeans themselves and have to interact with many people and office to get all the pieces needed. Each course is a part of the final pair. Each course is purchased separately over a period of many years. Every day, every class becomes a buying decision. Should I go to classes today? Do I want to buy Algebra today or just skip it? And it is the student’s job to stitch all the course material together to create a final education and future.
10 Steps You Can Start Today to Improve Customer Service on Your Campus
Here are a few things every campus can do to improve its customer service very quickly.
- Use the 15 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service. Don’t just put them on the wall. Use them. If you would like a copy, click here
- Everyday is day 1. Make everyday the first day of classes, a new decision day for students.
- Turn your school into
where everyone knows your name and everyone’s glad you came. Cheers University
- Smile and at least make believe you like students. It sooner or later becomes a reality.
- Orient for success. Provide students skills they will need to succeed at the school.
- Throw out lifelines. Make sure students know where and how to use help like counselors and advising. Don’t have your own, hire an external group like Student Resource Services to do it.
- Do or get a customer service audit of your campus and then make needed changes to improve.
- Listen to students and all employees. Not just faculty and administrators.
- Make customer service training and recognition a constant on the campus. If you don’t have the capabilities to do it yourself, hire someone. It is cheaper than losing students and/or employees.
- Attend seminars, speakers and read about academic customer service on campus then implement the ideas that fit. like Boosting Enrollment and Retention Through Customer Service on 11/12.