by Jayme Arnett-Technology Analyst and Communication Supervisor, Ohio University
How do you define good customer service? Do you want your institution to be known for having the nicest people or the most knowledgeable? I would advocate the winning formula is to have nice and knowledgeable people. The facts are clear, good customer service, even in Higher Education, matters. It’s more than a friendly smile and cheerful tone, it’s about forging long lasting relationships between the student and the institution.
Students that receive a high level of customer service, when dealing with everything from admissions to course registration, are more likely to remain enrolled in their institution. Today’s students are more discerning, price-conscious, and outcomes-oriented that previous cohorts. Whether you’re calling your current students Gen Z, iGen, or the Centennial generation, they have higher expectations when it comes to service and quality than ever before. Today’s students have almost complete freedom of choice between the difference colleges and universities in the market, especially with the rise of online education.
Debated throughout the years is the notion that students are not “customers”. My goal is to not persuade you one way or the other. If you’re a faculty member, you have a logical basis to follow the student model. After all, if your student earns an “F” grade, you don’t want to entertain the idea that “the customer is always right”. If you’re working in an administrative unit like the Registrar, Admissions, or Financial Aid, it’s equally easy to argue that students pay for a service the institution provides, thus making them more like customers. Whether we call it customer service, excellence in teaching, or the student experience, it’s all about putting the learner at the center of operations. Personally, I prefer Robert L. Lenington’s approach, author of “Managing Higher Education as a Business.” He weighs in on the debate by saying, “A unique feature of higher education is that the students are both customer and the product of the business”.
So, what are the basic tenets of the customer service paradigm your institution should model? Here are several to consider:
Treat students with dignity and respect.
- Give students clear directions on how to solve their problems and issues.
- Be responsive to students and their parents.
- Give timely answers to students’ questions and provide regular feedback on their progress.
At Ohio University, we want every employee, regardless of their level of student interaction, to know we exist to serve students. We solicit feedback, especially when it hurts, and we’re willing to change processes to improve.
To build or change the culture, develop a service strategy. Recognize and incentivize stellar customer service performance and don’t forget to share feedback with staff periodically. In the ultra-competitive race to attract and retain students, commit to be intentional about measuring the service your institution is providing.
Originally printed in the OACRAO newsletter.