What Does Customer Service Mean in Higher Education

StudentBridge Staff |May 25, 2015

In the business world, it’s common knowledge that we are in the age of the consumer. And in colleges and universities, the “consumers” are the students. So, what happens when they’re unhappy? They leave or share their negative experience with their peers – both of which are damaging to your brand and overall reputation. According to a study by The Connection, 34% of students leave college as a result of poor or weak customer service. To help protect and retain that 34%, we’ll discuss what customer service means in the field of higher education, and then we’ll provide some ways you can improve your customer service.

It is easy to see how customer service can be lost in the structure of higher education as it is today. According to a report by Complete College America, on average there is just one academic advisor for every four hundred students. The combination of this ratio with the sheer number of choices for majors, curriculum, and courses causes many students graduate with more credits than they are actually required to have. And while students are at college or university to learn as much as they can, this is not the most cost-effective way to earn their degree. But, this does not mean that the answer to your college or university’s retention problem is hiring more academic advisors. The other fundamental issue with the treatment of students is the general assumption that students are in school to learn and work for their degree, not to be catered to. Students should have to follow the rules and processes set by the institution, but administrators should be conscious of the sacrifices that students make in order to complete their education.

The solution to customer service for students is a job that requires the cooperation of the whole institution, but the steps to take are fairly simple. As stated in an article from the Academic Advising Journal, “simply doing whatever the student wants is not the answer, but perhaps there is a happy medium in serving the students while teaching them.” First, treat students with basic principles of respect and courtesy. When you receive an email, reply in a timely fashion and if you don’t know the answer, help guide the student to the answer that they need. Second, listen to the needs of the student and show compassion. If they are concerned about completing their degree in a timely fashion because of a financial strain, work with them to develop an accommodating plan. If they are struggling in their current curriculum, help them find a new curriculum path that may be a better fit. Notice that in no way is this rewarding the student for poor performance, but rather guiding them on a path to success. Third, simply be available to them. Advising four hundred, or even more, students makes it challenging to have a personal relationship with each and every one. But being accessible via email, phone or office hours allows the students to engage as much or as little as they want or need.

Helping the student to learn and thrive in the most efficient way possible can be an extremely difficult process. In the same way that positive customer experiences increase loyalty and referrals in the retail setting, students can become your best marketing tool. Not only will you retain your currently enrolled students and keep them satisfied, but they will share their positive experiences with their friends and family. Eventually, your institution will be known for its incredible student treatment and will draw in students to whom customer service is a priority. A great customer experience is a valuable asset to add to your college or university culture, and with some simple changes can help to better your brand.