Redefining Customer Service in Higher Ed: Faculty Insights

Faculty sometimes look askance at the notion of “customer service” in higher education. There are good reasons for faculty suspicion of the customer service terminology, but this need not be the case. Faculty can embrace the concept of delivering good service without compromising any skills that go into excellent teaching. 

Treating students as customers may be a new idea for faculty accustomed to viewing education from a personal pursuit or growth perspective. Faculty have traditionally viewed the relationship between themselves and students as mentor and mentee, not service provider and customer.  


How Higher Ed Positions a Product

However, we have to face the reality that higher education, as opposed to primary and secondary education, is a free choice and costs students money—both actual tuition dollars and the opportunity cost to attend class instead of work. Anytime a person makes a free choice to do something at an expense to themselves, they are a customer. 

One reason faculty resist the customer service idea is that they believe they have to defer to students over and above their own curriculum and classroom management. This is not true. Students pay tuition to access the expertise of faculty, and faculty should never compromise their expertise. Faculty expertise, delivered to a high standard, is the product colleges sell. 

Faculty disagreements with students often originate from simple customer service issues. Students want to meet with faculty to discuss grades, but faculty don’t respond to emails or accommodate student requests. Students need to discuss personal problems that may require missing class, missing assignments, etc., but faculty don’t take the time to listen. Students don’t understand how a grade is calculated, and faculty won’t explain it.  

In the above examples, faculty don’t necessarily need to approve a student’s request for an exception or change a disputed grade (unless it’s justified, of course), but faculty certainly need to listen, respond to emails and phone calls, and engage with students.

Customer service is never about saying “yes” to every demand, but it’s certainly about listening and responding to every question. 

Read Our Blog: Elevating Student Experiences

Improving Student Experience with Service-Driven Implementation

Higher education is at risk in America because the cost is high, and the value is under question. Some of these large issues are outside the control of individual faculty or even individual institutions, but the way faculty deliver lessons and treat students is 100 percent within their control. Call it excellent teaching, excellent mentoring, or excellent customer service—it all aims at the same goal. 

Steve Smith, a former college president, enhanced campus customer service through innovative steps involving faculty, staff, and students. Throughout his career, he’s led workshops for hundreds of campus administrators on customer service training and consulting.