As the pandemic continues to take its toll worldwide, colleges and universities are feeling the impact. Amid unprecedented challenges, higher education institutions are realizing that a student-centric culture is critical to a successful experience. In the case of Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) in Texas, the emphasis is placed on ‘experience.’

Like many colleges and universities, PVAMU understands the importance of fostering an on-campus and remote learning experience that emphasizes the students. In this regard, customer service is starting to see enhancements and upgrades and some, like PVAMU, have taken it a step further by pivoting from customer service to customer experience.

In a recent episode of Trellis’ Student Centricity podcast, Dr. Sarina Willis and Soluria Pearson of PVAMU discussed their institutions’ decision to take a customer experience approach. Pearson explained the distinction between customer service and customer experience as the following, “Customer experience is the sum of all the interactions; customer service is just one element.”

The higher education landscape looks much different than it did pre-pandemic. As staff and administrators work to adapt to modern expectations of virtual and in-person learning, they understand customer service can make all the difference in students attending and remaining at their schools.

Improving customer service in higher education begins with college staff and administrators recognizing their principal customer, the student, is there by choice. The student had a choice to attend and the students has the choice to leave. When staff and administrators begin to view this relationship as a collaboration, customer service will improve simply because all parties are collectively on the same side, with shared goals.

Five Core Values to Improve and Sustain Customer Service

1. Follow your own rules.
If an institution enacts a rule, they must follow the rule just as they expect of the students. If, for example, a professor states a rule for students to follow, ‘Office hours are between 1-5 p.m.,’ the professor must be held accountable to the same rule and be available when posted.

2. If a student comes to you, own it.
When your principal customer comes to you with a problem, make the problem your problem until you are able to find a solution or determine the best path forward. When staff takes action, the student is heard and recognizes the effort which results in appropriate, high-level customer service.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no.
It is okay to say no to a student when ‘no’ is the final response. When a student sees that action is being taken on their behalf – even if the final answer is no, it can still render a positive result.

4. Don’t match emotions with your customer.
If a student or parent is frustrated, upset, and voicing their emotions with anger, mirroring the emotion means you have moved away from customer service and are engaging in a personal disagreement. If you become angry or frustrated, you are no longer in the position to problem solve.

5. See what the students sees.
The adage of, “put yourselves in their shoes” can be easier said than done. But to understand the student’s perspective in a challenging situation, you must meet them where they are. Listening to understand rather than listening to respond will render better results.

In a recent Academic Impressions survey, only six higher education professionals from nearly 80 universities gave their school’s student-centric serve an “A.” Student-centric learning experiences begin with improving customer service and student retention is tied to customer service. PVAMU’s Dr. Willis suggests that improved customer service starts with improved communication within each department. “Leadership has to buy in and model better customer service. There must be accountability and a willingness to change when things aren’t working,” Willis explains. “If you don’t have the right people in the right positions, it won’t work. There needs to be leadership investment and a commitment to listening to the students and responding to their needs.”


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