I was reminded a few weeks ago, in response to a situation I will outline in the next paragraph, of how important customer service is throughout education and especially at the very competitive higher education level. And by customer service, I am not suggesting a weakening of standards; rather, I am just suggesting that we, especially in private higher education, do all that is necessary to minimize administrative hassles and in that way help our students succeed.
A colleague at another very good private institution was telling me about a student, who was completing his third degree at this institution. He needed just one more course to earn his second graduate degree and had a potential excellent job opportunity (in an area where there is a tough job market) that was contingent on competing the degree before the end of January. The school involved didn’t have this course scheduled in the winter session, didn’t offer this course in January, and the administrators contacted were not responsive to the student even given the compelling nature of the student’s request—not to do any less work, but rather just complete the degree within this session so as to take advantage of an important opportunity. The administrators contacted felt that because this course had never before been offered during a winter session, it should not be offered now and besides, since this was an intensive course, there was no way the student could do the work involved. The story has a happy ending. More senior level administrators, responding to an appeal from the student, intervened and asked that the course be given as a tutorial (or independent study) type course. The student was assigned everything that a student taking the course in a regular semester was expected to do, and he did it all well and in the shortened time frame available. The faculty member upheld standards and worked with a highly motivated student and the rest was history. The administrator telling me this story concluded by stating how much he hoped the possible job opportunity would work out for the student (now a three time alum). I do too, but even if it doesn’t, I expect that this alum will be a very loyal and supportive graduate of an institution that helped when help was needed at a key time in his life/career.
The person who preceded me as Provost often said when looking for a model of good customer service, we should emulate a Bloomingdale’s rather than a Korvette’s or an Alexander’s. Don’t know or remember those two chains which were very prominent in this area a number of years ago? Not surprising since both are now out of business. No doubt in my mind that customer service helped determine their fate.