Customer Service Plays an Increasingly Important Role in Higher Education


Dr. Keith Levick of Customer Care News recently sat down with Dr. Lewis N. Walker, president of Lawrence Technological University, to discuss how customer service relates to the field of education.

CCN: Has the issue of customer service affected education and, if so, how — in what ways?

LW: Well, I think it is a very big issue in education and something that higher education needs to deal with a little bit better. It is very important to us as a private university. Right next door to this building, connected to this building, is the Alfred Taubman Student Service Center. And I don’t know whether you looked at the function of that building or not, but we built that building to bring all the services that students need here at Lawrence Tech together in one place, to serve them in innovative ways — and I say all the services except the academic advising — but what you’d call tutoring and what we call our academic achievement center is located there. We are distributing laptops right now to our incoming students, and the help desk and all the support for the students is there. So…are the financial aid, the admissions, the registrar, the housing; the dean of students is centered there; the actual athletic service activities are in the field house, but it emanates there and they can sign up to do things there; all of the placement for finding a job is there. And our philosophy is that we want to provide excellent service to our students. We at Lawrence Tech have a very high expectation of what we want our students to accomplish. They must accomplish that, but we are here to help them accomplish that and to meet that standard in every way we can. And in those service activities we want to serve them very well. Again, we don’t do these things for them — they have to take responsibility and do them. That’s part of their learning and development. But we are here to serve them well and inspire them to stay the course and meet our standard to be successful.

CCN: Who is the customer? Is it the student or is it also mom and dad — the parents?

LW: Absolutely. We have many different customers we work with, and we do view our students as a customer. It’s a little different relationship because we get to specify what the academic curriculum is and the program they have to achieve based upon professional standards, our knowledge of the profession, our assessment of where it’s going in the future and how best to prepare. Then we view them as a customer that we want to serve… and develop…in every way we can. The parents are definitely customers who we work with and build a close relationship with. So, our first-year program builds strong linkage with the parents. We put together a parent notebook…of various programs, contacts, how they interact; and 11 Fall 2010 we do this as a team with the parent to try to make sure they get established here in that first year. That transition time is a tough time. That’s when the bulk of people that drop out of school run into troubles and don’t adjust to college, so we have a very aggressive first-year program that then interacts with the parents very well. Industry and the community are our customers as well because they take our product, and we have to serve them well. They take our product — our graduates — and we do projects for industry. Government, local government, various aspects of government [are]also a constituency we serve. We are a private university, but we view ourselves as a community-serving republic. The governor will come here Friday evening for a program she wants to put on in an auditorium here at Lawrence Tech, so we serve people in that way. Everybody has customers. Every faculty member has customers — the students. The staff members have customers, if you think of it that way, [which]they serve. We try to create that awareness.

CCN: How is Lawrence Tech preparing students to address customer-care issues in the future?

LW: One of the reasons we want to do this is to set a standard for students because they learn from us. Kids learn from parents how they do things. They observe in ways that may not be spoken — how you act. If you have that customer service from your heart, you have an expectation. Parents, in my view, can’t be their child’s friend. They have to love them, but you set a standard, an expectation. You set a behavior and then you work with them in every way you can to develop them and nurture them and mentor them and make that happen — to prepare them. And then they learn how to behave from how you behave. And our students are sponges [who]take from us not only the technical facts or whatever we want to write on the blackboard — they see how we act and they mirror that. And if we act with integrity, with discipline, with caring and with customer service, but yet having an expectation, they will learn that, and I think the best way to prepare them to have that approach is that.