Monday, November 13, 2017

Student Engagement Depends on How Well They Are Served In and Out of the Classroom

Though some faculty deride academic customer service as a noxious import from business, it has been found that faculty who provide
increased levels of customer service will have a better and more satisfying teaching experience. And their students will learn better with greater desire, compliance and increased retention.

When students believe a faculty member provides them good service and cares about them, they are more willing to listen and learn. Students are also more compliant with the teacher’s instruction, more willing to engage in-class and complete assignments.

I recall a master teacher and academic customer service provider named Dr. Taffee Tanimoto at the University of Massachusetts in Boston back in 1969. Dr. Tanimoto was the chair of the math department. He loved math and was always bothered when we students had problems with algebra. He also loved teaching. Our diffidence bordering on hostility toward math baffled him and he admitted it in class. He also said that he might not make us become mathematicians but he would do all he could to have us learn algebra and maybe even like some of it if we would just work with him.

To back it up, he started 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. tutoring classes that met every Tuesday and Thursday. He lived over 30 miles away from the University and took the train in to be in the classroom by 7 if any of wanted to show up early. He would also be available in his office until 5:30 every day to go over problems with any student who needed help – even if they were not in his class. He even tutored me once at the Back Bay train station over coffee as we both waited for trains.

He was patient but did not pander – no physics for poets type of classes. Full bodied algebra, calculus and trig. He demanded but did not reprimand. He provided excellent and extremely important customer service that made us want to learn algebra. And we did succeed and as he said, he succeeded. I even got a C+ but even more I learned to like math even if it didn't always like me because of Dr. Tanimoto. His extra service made me want to learn algebra and trig even though they were foreign languages to me. If nothing else, his going beyond my expectations not only made me inclined to want to learn, they made me fell an obligation to do so.

Dr. Tanimoto was going out of his way to provide us extra help and thus academic customer service so we could understand algebra. As a results, I felt I needed to do all I could to try and learn the material.  I did not learn to love algebra even if I did learn it but I did have feel a great affection for Dr. Tanimoto.

I also grew to love the University because of the customer service I was given in and out of the classroom. And the faculty loved the University too where they could take some maybe not the always most brilliant kids and make them into educated future successes.

Dr. Tanimoto made me want to learn from him. As a result,customer service helped me and a group of math clods pass algebra. And it helped him and many other faculty like their jobs in the classroom much better than many others who saw teaching as just a job.
The customer service/willingness to learn contention is supported not only by the Taffee Tanimotos of academia whose customer service engages students by providing extra service in learning and success, as well as the results reported from colleges that have engaged faculty in customer service training. There are other formal academic studies and reports that help forward the case. Studies such as the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and another by Hombury, Koschate and Hoyer in the April 2005 issue of the Journal of Marketing on customer service and WTP (willingness to pay) alongside consideration of interactional equity theory support our contentions with their research.

The studies have found that the greater the feeling that one received good service. the greater the willingness to pay for that service. Thus, if a college provides good academic customer service, students will not resist tuition payment, or even increases, much. They will feel they are getting a good fiscal return on their money as a result of being served well in and out of the classroom.

In the 2006 NSSE Director’s Report (P10) report, the following is stated  "For years, researchers have pointed to involvement in educationally purposeful activities as the gateway to desired outcomes of college. Students who engage more frequently in educationally effective practices get better grades, are more satisfied, and are more likely to persist. Two decades ago, this literature prompted Chickering, Gamson, and their colleagues to compile a list of “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” which are reflected in many NSSE survey items. Recent findings from independent studies have corroborated the relationships between engagement and indicators of student success in college such as grades and persistence with undergraduates in different types of institutional settings. These studies also show that while engagement is positively linked to desired outcomes for all types of students, historically under-served students tend to benefit more than majority students."

We have no disagreement with this observation. Instead we add that the same is true for faculty when they become engaged with their students. Moreover, we add that though there is no disagreement with the NSSE panel's recommendations of curricula and pedagogy they feel would add to engagement, true engagement comes from appropriate customer services to students.

The 25 Principles of Good Customer Service in Higher Education begins with:
“where everybody knows your name
and they’re awfully glad you came”

This is the type of service engagement that must be created before pedagogical or curricula engagement can be achieved. If students feel that no one knows their name, i.e. no one cares about them, they will not engage with curriculum or pedagogy. But if students do feel that the professor cares, that will increase the willingness to learn leading to greater learning and increased teaching satisfaction for the teacher.

If you would like a copy of the 25 Principles of Good Customer Service in Higher Education, click here to request.

To increase retention, graduation rates and enrollment get in touch with us now at 413.219.6939 or email me at

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