Monday, August 13, 2012

Students and Staff are the Most Important Stakeholders and Customers on Campus

A college or university has five major stakeholder groups when it comes to hospitality and customer service:
1.      Students
2.      Staff
3.      Faculty
4.      Administrators
5.      And the community the college is in.

Let’s spend a few minutes on the first two groups which too often get overlooked as to their real importance.

Most colleges get this wrong. They seem to think that the students are not stakeholders and certainly not customers at all. They are people we have to educate and collect money from.  Staff are just people that work at the school and they are to serve everyone else without much more than an annual recognition award for one of them. They believe that the faculty are among the most important stakeholders to be served. That administrators are very important and the community is a group we try to keep happy so they don’t complain. This is all wrong.

In fact, the students are the most important stakeholder group on the campus. First off there would be no college or university without them. If there were not any students to serve there would be no school. They are the ones who actually pay money into the school. Without their tuition there would be no revenue for anyone else at the college.  They are the primary customers.

They need to be number one in everyone’s mind. Period.

If we do not serve them well and make them feel welcome and valued on campus they will go elsewhere and take their tuition money with them leaving the institution that much less well off.

And they are doing just that because we do not position them as our most important customers. In fact, after six years of attending college, only just over 50% actually graduate from the school they started at. Fifty percent leave and most of them leave because we do not treat them as valued customers. And of the fifty percent which is the national average 76% of them leave specifically for customer service issues ranging from poor service to poor scheduling.

While we have a chance, let’s settle an issue once and not for all I am sure. Students are customers. They satisfy a basic economic definition of a customer. They provide payment for services offered by the school.  Not always all the services that are promised. Not always services that are done well. But they pay money for services and that makes them a customer. And a customer is someone who exchanges money for goods or services.

Call them clients if you will. Call them students if you want but that does not change the fact that they are customers. Nor does it change the reality that they see themselves more and more as customers who are paying the bills., And that makes them demand more and more from a campus community that is too often reluctant to provide the services and hospitality the customers are paying for.

Students are our business; our primary business. And they are thus our primary customers.

Staff are the next most important stakeholders in customer service. They provide the most immediate service outside of the classroom. Granted the classrooms and the teaching that takes place in them is one of the most important services a college provides. But students encounter and take service or lack of it from the staff on the most continuing basis. Therefore they are the ones who need to be considered next for importance of receiving customer service.

When we talk with staff members when doing a campus service audit for example, we hear over and over again that they are not given service from other members of the campus. That in fact they feel they are treated rudely and at best as an afterthought from members of the college. Yet, as primary providers of service they need to be treated with great appreciation and hospitality or they will learn that being of service is not of value and they will take their poor treatment out on students.

Think of staff as the waiters and waitresses at the college as a restaurant. Staff are the ones who provide the table-side service to our customers, all of them by the way.  If you don’t treat them well or treat them rudely, your food will be served more slowly for example. Service will be slow and not very good so your entire meal experience will be lessened. In a college that could mean that for faculty who rely on staff, Xeroxing might not be done on time, typing can take longer to get done or you might just be told that a staff member is too busy to help you with a task.  This is if you don’t treat the staff with basic customer service such as being polite, smiling at them, saying please and thank you and showing general appreciation. 

For supervisors this means going up to staff members and simply saying something nice and complimentary to them. It means treating them as real people with value and purpose. Let them know you appreciate them.
A simple start is to spend the first few minutes of the day asking everyone, individually please, how was your Labor Day weekend? Do anything interesting? I mean managers and administrators will ask one another so why not ask everyone else? If you feel that talking with staff like clerical folks is somehow below you, you need to get your head out of your butt and realize you depend on them to make you look good. Head up butt is never a good look by the way And the view is not pretty.

Take the time to engage your staff and one another no matter what your job is. Smile at everyone and just ask how their weekend was. Not just this first day of the week; but every first day of a week and a random Wednesday or even Thursday just ask how the family is. "How's little Billy doing with his first year of work? Hear that Sarah is enjoying school. Is Sam still in jail....Well, maybe not that but you get the idea.

You can even be creative and as if someone has anything interesting planned for the weekend on a Friday. And them here’s the full circle part. On Monday as how it was. You will be amazed at how the people who you work with will want to work more and better with you. It’s that old engagement stuff.
Try it. It works.

If this article made sense to you, you may want to contact N.Raisman & Associates to see how you can improve academic customer service and hospitality to increase student satisfaction, retention and your bottom line
UMass Dartmouth invited Dr. Neal Raisman to campus to present on "Service Excellence in Higher Ed"  as a catalyst event used to kick off a service excellence program.  Dr. Raisman presents a very powerful but simple message about the impact that customer service can have on retention and the overall success of the university.  Participants embraced his philosophy as was noted with head nods and hallway conversations after the session.  Not only did he have data to back up what he was saying, but Dr. Raisman spoke of specific examples based on his own personal experience working at a college as  Dean and President.  Our Leadership Team welcomed the "8 Rules of Customer Service", showing their eagerness to go to the next step in rolling Raisman's message out.  We could not have been more pleased with his eye-opening presentation.    Sheila Whitaker UMass-Dartmouth

If you want more information on NRaisman & Associates or to learn more about what you can do to improve academic customer service excellence on campus, get in touch with us or get a copy of our best selling book The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education. 

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