Is the student always right?

We’ve all heard the phrase, “the customer is always right,” when referring to providing good customer service in business and industry. But does that same principle apply to us in higher education? Is the student always right? Using student satisfaction is a helpful indicator to measuring our customer service; however, using a student satisfaction scale alone, without other information, can present a biased picture of educational success for a student.

A paper in The Mentor, an online higher education journal (click here) , addressed this conflict and attempted to identify a middle ground for higher education. Student service can be defined to focus on the actions our institutions take to support each individual student and their entire educational experience and not just a simple “satisfaction scale.” The debate over calling our students a “customer” may never end but the 7 principles described in the paper can provide a clear roadmap for leaders.

1.       The success of the institution is dependent upon providing high-quality service to students. Students affect the bottom line.

2.      Employees need to be reminded that every single one of them, regardless of their level of interaction with students, is in the business of serving students. Everything is woven together in the institution, and students deserve to receive assistance to meet their legitimate needs.

3.      When it comes to experiencing service satisfaction, perception is reality in the minds of every student. It is important to understand the student in order to deliver service in a manner that is perceived to be satisfying to the student.

4.      Each student is unique, thus it is important to understand the unique qualities of each student in order to provide service that meets their individual needs.

5.      Employees should follow a variation of the Golden Rule by treating students the way that they would want their son or daughter to be treated.

6.      It is hard to recover from a mistake, so when it comes to service to students every effort should be made to do it right the first time.

7.      There is a need to solicit feedback from students at all times and then listen, especially when it hurts. How else can a high level of service be measured?

In the end a customer service orientation will drive our schools to deliver an extraordinary education for all our students.

Todd Thorsgaard

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