Thursday, February 28, 2008

Just Ask Pogo About Customer Service in College

A faculty member of a client college I had presented a workshop at last year emailed today. Seems he was confused. He is getting fed up with the way students behave in class. He said he is tired of competing with cell phones; upset by students who just walk into or out of class when they feel like it and certainly bored and even appalled at times by the language, tone ands attitude some students use. He feels he should not allow these sorts of activities but is concern that would go against what the customer service attitudes being expressed by his department chair who fears a high drop out percentage. Fewer students could lead to a smaller budget? Those attitudes are expressed by supporting students who might complain the faculty member is being too hard or strict in class. The faculty member comes up for tenure soon and does not want any problems.

Okay, leaving the whole tenure process and results on teaching and student service aside because that is one of the largest problems in academia, what the faculty member described is a common misunderstanding. See, I can be quite temperate at times. But I must say that the faculty member and his chair just prove the Pogo cartoon once again.

If anyone believes that pandering to the worst instincts and behaviors of students is providing customer service they are not only wrong, but to quote Dr. House they are idiots. They are not providing good customer service anymore than a dentist who sees a bad tooth and leaves it in so as not to cause the patient pain from a root canal is.

Keep in kind that anyone who believes that the customer is always right is almost always wrong. QUIZES ANYONE? Students are not right. In fact it is because they are wrong -or maybe better word - flawed that they come to college. They attend higher education because they know they are not prepared to succeed in a career yet. They also realize they need to learn from books and from people if they are to get that job or grad school before a job to reach their goals in life. They pay money to be made stronger, smarter and less socially awkward. And due to false notions of customer service we fail them – sometimes in all three areas.

If we make courses easier because we believe they do not want to work that hard, that is not customer service. If we do not challenge them as much as we ought to create greater intellectual plasticity and ability preferring to hand out high grades that will reinforce their self-esteem, we have not served them well. And if we allow them to act in ways in our classes that will surely get them fired on a job we have failed. That is not customer service! That is in fact, major dis-service.

If anyone believes that letting students skip classes will be helpful to them in the world of work, it can only be an academic living in the tenured palace. There is not right to fail in life/ Faculty who allow students to walk in late or walk out when they want, talk on the phone, nap during class, be rude, use inappropriate language, be rude to the teacher, hand in homework when and if they please and so on are just preparing these students for failure in life. And they are preparing themselves to hate what they are doing as teachers.

“Uh Ms. Dennison, I came into the meeting late because I really needed a latte and I had to leave the meeting to talk to my bud who is having a rough time right now. Oh yuh, the analysis you need and told me to get to you today, well, I had stuff to do so I didn’t get it done yet but I may be able to get to after some things I need to do tonight. Okay?”

How long will that graduate of your college have that job I wonder?

By letting students act in inappropriate ways that will bite them in the future is so far from good customer service that it is appalling bad. College is not just to instruct on some facts, some processes. It is to teach some abilities to survive and thrive in the real world. Real customer service is telling students who walk in late “You just got fired from your job and class today. Arriving late and interrupting me and the class is unacceptable behavior which will not be tolerated here or in whatever field of work you wish to enter.”

“Cell phones are not permitted to be used in this class. It is disrespectful to me and your classmates when you go and talk during class and will not be accepted by your colleagues nor your bosses on a job. Shut them off. leave them off during this class.”

“Work is due when it is due. If it is not on time, there will be consequences here as there would be on the job you may eventually get.”

And so one. You get the idea. Taking positions such as these above is actually good customer/client service. Moreover, it is also providing good academic customer service to the other students who are trying to learn from you. They are as upset with interruptions, cell calls, talking, sleeping, etc as you are. Maybe even more so. They are not paying for you to let other students hinder their chances to learn and succeed.

Students are your clients who come to your school and your class to be made better and stronger just as any client with a problem, a challenge or a need comes to an expert. We expect the expert to tell us the truth and to tell us what needs to be done even if it is not necessarily what we ant to hear. Just as when I am a client of my doctor I expect the truth and courses of action with integrity even if I do not want to watch what I eat and exercise.

Would anyone feel he or she received good service if the doctor told us that we were engaged in unhealthy behaviors but just keep doing them. “Hey, I don’t want to upset you, you know bedside manner and all so yes keep drinking to excess, overeating fried and fatty foods topped with ice cream and candy, engaging in a sedentary lifestyle, sticking nickels in your nose, coming to class late unprepared and overtired, talking on the cell phone during meetings, cursing out your boss and just being a general pain in the butt is just fine. And oh yes, while your at it, you might consider smoking too. Keep it up”

Of course not. And we should not be doing anything even close to that in the name of customer service. We do not help students and we certainly do not help ourselves. Stop it and replace it with real service. Being a provider of good customer service does not mean doing what is harmful to the students now and for the future.

4 comments:

Suddencheese said...

Interesting view on students as customers. It never occured to me that simply because someone pays for something they were automatically categorized that way. Could it be said that patients at a hospital are customers?

narrator said...

I am amazed that your view of students as customers is even remotely controversial. Of course they are the customers (and are at every level of education). If you are an educator you have a job because the students need you to supply something to them, just as if you sell refrigerators at Sears you have a job because people need refrigerators. And suddencheese? I doubt that there is a hospital in the United States who hasn't learned this same thing about their patients. They will almost always refer to their "customers" - as does, for example, the state social services agency that I work with.

The fact that students are customers isnot demeaning to teachers or professors. As you say here, "anyone who believes that the customer is always right is almost always wrong." Customers in the field of education need support, guidance, great teaching. They need high expectations. But they also need their specific needs tended to, not just because they are the only real reason the school or university exists, but because they are humans, with rights and freedoms "just like you."

Anyway, I came here from the IHE rant-fest that disgusted me as it disgusted you. And I was stunned that the first commenter would express amazement at such an obvious idea.

But then, so much about higher education amazes me. And very little of it in a good way.

- Ira Socol

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Lacy Brown said...

I simply stopped visiting the "Funny Pages" after Pogo and the gang left town. Pogo Help