If there’s one thing students hate, it’s standing in line at the Financial Aid office, only to be told they’re missing vital documents and will have to come back.
“Why couldn’t someone tell me that on the phone?” a student wails. “I’ve been standing in line over an hour!”
There are lots of excuses for this type of situation, but what it boils down to is poor customer service. And good customer service, increasingly, is what students expect from the colleges and universities they attend.
Customer service, or customer care, is a relatively new concept for academia. Traditionally colleges have assumed that, as grantors of coveted baccalaureate degrees, they can set the standards of behavior toward their consumers.
But times are changing. Executive Bill Sams, challenging higher education’s notion that it has an inherent right to act as it sees fit, wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The right of organizational existence is predicated on creating value for those the organization serves” (Sams).
The last three colleges where I’ve taught have made concerted efforts to better serve their students. Administrators have focused on identifying snags a student experiences during registration, for example, and fixing them. At the university where I taught most recently, regular seminars on Customer Care were held, where faculty dialogued on handling student problems more compassionately, and were advised to sit down and talk with students confused by registration rather than sending them to another office.
But the emphasis on customer service at some colleges is going far beyond just fixing snags at registration. At the University System of Georgia, a strategic plan is being implemented to provide better customer service to the state’s 35 public colleges and universities. The plan consists of six goals, including “Increase efficiency, working as a system”. And key administrators will have customer service accountability added to their annual performance evaluations (Customer Focus).
At the smallest of the institutions where I recently served, administrators called students who missed classes or were slipping in their studies to follow up with them and hear their complaints. Extra work—yes. But more and more, colleges are realizing that young people are this country’s most important asset, and if it takes a customer service initiative to help them stay in school, most institutions are willing to provide just that.
Customer Focus, “About the Project”. Retrieved November 29, 2010 from http://customerfocus.usg.edu
Sams, Bill, “The University of the Customer”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 22, 2010, Volume LVII, No. 9