Do you remember the children’s book, Are You My Mother? The story of the young bird asking, over and over, the critical question, are you my mother? I believe that leaders in higher education need to push their organizations, and their people, to ask a similar question over and over. Are you my customer? And we can learn from the young bird to not restrict who we consider a customer, even internal customers!
The traditional structure and hierarchy in higher education often identifies groups as faculty or staff or administrators. And even further, we tend to divide ourselves into colleges, departments, bargaining units and divisions. Then you can add in shared governance. All of these push us to not view fellow employees as customers who have legitimate needs that we can serve. Over time this approach makes it harder for each group of employees to actually do the job we are all here to do, deliver a high quality education to our students in higher education, or in general, to provide a high quality product or service to our external customers.
As Martinez, Smith and Humphrys highlight in their book, Creating a Service Culture in Higher Education Administration, “excellent external customer service is achieved through a team of people who deliver excellent internal customer service.” The starting point is to ask the following three questions about our own colleagues and co-workers, even if they are in a different bargaining unit or on the opposite side of campus!
- Who are they?
- do you rely on their work to do your job?
- do they rely on your work to do their job?
- What do they want?
- what information, resources, data, documents, materials, or support do they need from you to do their job?
- what do you have that can help them serve the students they work with?
- How have they changed?
- are you meeting their current needs?
- how have their customers changed?
- what is different in their work?
Asking these questions, and truly listening to the responses, will build the foundation for collaboration and enhance our institutions ability to provide the high quality education we all want to deliver to our students.