Are Student Residents Customers?

I recently read an article published by the non-profit Center for American Progress and it really got me thinking. I’ve always had strong feelings about treating our residents as customers. It’s hard to get around the fact that they are customers as they pay to live in housing.  But if the adage “the customer is always right” is true, then we can’t consider residents to be customers.

I think an important part of living in student housing is learning from one’s mistakes, so those of us running the operation need to say “no” sometimes. To this end, my philosophy has been to create a living environment where students receive the highest standard of service for what they pay, as well as to be transparent, collaborative and honest about how and why decisions are made. However, our residents should also be held to the highest standards regarding how they treat their fellow community members, housing staff and the facilities. For example, raising one’s voice toward a receptionist might get faster service in a business, but in student housing it results in a conversation about how to treat others with respect. So, back to the article, which is called Leveraging Service Blueprinting to Rethink Higher Education. The point that most resonated with me is “A service lens puts the customer at the center of improvement and innovation initiatives, considers the customer experience to be a foundation for analyzing and making enhancements, and assumes the customer is a co-creator of value.”  What a wonderful way to look at making improvements to our housing operation!

I want to put a magnifying glass on everything we do, imagine that a student is the one looking through the magnifying glass, then make changes to improve their experience.  It is also important to me that the student is a co-creator of value.  I have always known that without the student being actively engaged, my efforts to improve their experience would not go far.  It feels like these authors understand that there are two sides to the relationship. The article goes on to explain how to use a process they call “blueprinting” to enhance our service delivery for students.  Blueprinting puts that magnifying glass on steps in a process, points of contact with the student, and tangible things that students experience.  I’m still pondering exactly how I might use the authors’ suggestions, but I think this process might be a helpful concept as I think about ways to improve by move in day 2013. What ways might a process like this be most helpful to you?