Everyone has experienced an overly zealous salesperson—the one who knows absolutely everything about what will or won’t work. On the other hand, there are times when a little help or a friendly suggestion might be appreciated, but there is no one to be found. The best scenario is when a friendly, knowledgeable salesperson makes suggestions based on the information provided to them by the customer. These service-oriented interactions, or lack thereof, color opinions of the organization involved, influence future decisions on engagement, and speak to the importance of an attitude of service.
Higher education is, more times than not, a business. In counseling roles, advisers are selling a commodity: knowledge and guidance for customers—in this case, students. While students are unique in that most are required to seek the advice of an adviser, what they pursue in counseling sessions can categorize them as different sorts of customers who can be persuaded to “buy” more. While classrooms and research centers will continue to evolve in their glacial, punctuated way, counselors and advisers can take advantage of basic customer service theories to increase engagement and ensure that students will make the best “purchases” during their college careers.
Our students are buying our services, and it behooves us as counselors to adjust our practices to seriously consider the relationship of supply and demand. It may be that our customers know more about us (and about themselves) than we give them credit for. It is absolutely necessary for the growth and development of our craft that we become dynamically customer-centric. This means not only having a clear mission for your office or department that is easily identifiable by your current and potential customers, but also examining your customers’ missions to better identify what kind of collaboration you can create.
A semi-radical idea to easily gain this necessary information is to simply ask your customers (students) what they expect from you and your department. We spend significant time and effort reminding students of the high expectations their university/ educational opportunity program/ department/ family has for them. Students have equally high expectations for us much of the time, as well. Keeping a service-oriented mindset, while recognizing that “good” service always benefits both the customer and the larger organization, allows for counselors to continue their pursuit of individualized advising in line with personal, professional, and institutional goals. We can and must give students credit, anticipate their needs, leverage our knowledge as counselors to “upsell” or inspire, and humbly welcome feedback.
- Several service-based practices can enable and preserve success:
- Include collaborative language into advising meetings.
- Highlight what program staff and other offices can do and make appropriate referrals.
- Invite student insight and feedback to improve or better tailor services to their needs.
- Gather and use information from students to work smarter—service is about presentation as much as substance, so small changes can make substantial differences.
- Maintain a balance between program needs, institutional goals, and student-as-customer views of “dream” products, services, and outcomes.
Nobody will expect you as an adviser to be perfect or to have all the answers. In fact, most students will find a know-it-all advisor a bit off-putting. But they do (and fairly!) expect you to make their academic experience a better and smoother one. No administrator is an island and none of us live in a bubble, so establish and maintain connections across campus. Knowing your product and your organization are vital to increasing “customer” satisfaction as a metric for student success.
Christina Philbert (@CmPhilbert) is a Higher Education and PR Consultant, Academic Coordinator, and Counselor. Interested in revolutionizing higher education, crafting dynamic profiles, baking cookies, and painting her nails.