Students Are Our Customers
by Steven Tankanow, Director
Total Quality Management or TQM, is pervading all areas of American industry. One main tenet of TQM is delivering superior customer service. We are familiar with companies such as Stew Leonard in Connecticut and L.L. Bean in Maine that offer legendary customer service. So why shouldn't learning institutions approach customer satisfaction with this same dedication?
Some say that schools can't be measured by the same yardsticks; after all, schools don't have "customers." But don't they? Schools have the most important internal customer there is: the student. Students ARE our customers, and the service we deliver to those customers will have a direct impact on our school's operation, reputation, and prospects for long-term success.
All Career College Association member institutions should embrace the concept that quality is defined by the student. Students must be completely satisfied, and be treated with respect and honesty. How many schools really do operate by the motto, "The student is always right?" CCA schools have a distinct competitive advantage over two- and four-year traditional colleges and universities: we measure student success in two ways: retention and job placement. Quality must be defined by the student experience.
Some readers may think I'm too simplistic in my thinking, that complete student satisfaction is unrealistic and impossible. However, I maintain that complete student satisfaction - that treating the student like a customer - will lead to higher retention and job placement rates. That's the way it is at Doggone U, LLC, where we constantly strive for excellence with our students. Without students, after all, this school ceases to be.
But how does an institution deliver legendary customer service? The commitment must begin at the top. The director, president, or chief administrator must make student service the number one priority. As a natural consequence of that, all school personnel—faculty, support staff, administrative and clerical—must be trained to embody quality. This is a long, thorough process, and at every step you have to keep one question constantly in mind: Who, exactly, is the career college student? At Doggone U, LLC, the student is not simply an enrollment statistic. He or she is flesh and blood, bone and brain, a real living person with ideas and emotions—an individual who deserves attention and respect. When the student brings us a problem, we don't look upon that person as someone to argue or match wits with, but rather, someone who needs our help. In short, the career college student is the most important person in our school.
"Quality is defined by the student." This idea needs to catch on. It's how TQM can be applied to your school. I certainly don't feel that Doggone U, LLC is compromising standards and professionalism by defining quality through the student. It's empowering the student, and by extension, it is empowering itself.
Educators who sincerely want to foster a quality atmosphere in their learning institutions, and who want to practice quality and not just preach it, would be well advised to follow one simple suggestion: each time you deal with a student, act as if you own the company. Act as though student satisfaction is YOUR responsibility—because it is.
Editor's Note: The above article represents a commonly held perspective that the student is the internal customer. The Classroom Companion Editorial Review Board recognizes that some consider the employer the customer, while still others suggest there are both "internal" and "external" customers. The Editorial Review Board encourages and welcomes a diversity of opinions on this topic.
Steven Tankanow has been practicing massage therapy for 31 years, has been president of The Bancroft School of Massage Therapy for 26 years, and founded Doggone U, LLC in 2003 to teach animal massage.