Creating the student experience in higher education
Service should be more than transactional; it should help create an experience. Many higher education professionals continually think about how to enhance services to students, but what about enhancing the student experience? As Pine and Gilmore (1999) speculate, the step beyond service is experience. But, what does this mean in higher education?
For about the past 30 years, colleges and universities have been thinking about the student experience. In the 1970s, Gardner began the “Freshman Year Experience” movement in an attempt to understand, engage and retain new students . In the 1990s, the same educational pioneer sparked interest in the “Senior Year Experience” . Thus, the concept of experience isn’t foreign to higher education, yet it seems to sit in isolation among specific interest groups. Unlike organizations that are known for creating an experience for customers such as Disney, the student experience at many colleges sits remotely, a la carte.
In 2001, Disney published Be our guest: Perfecting the art of customer service. The book’s authors highlighted the Quality Service Cycle used by the Disney Institute that is comprised of “a service theme, service standards, delivery systems, and integration” (p. 29). In the section titled, The Magic of Service, the authors discuss knowing their customers and identifying a service theme. The next element of the quality service cycle is, The Magic of Cast. Here, the authors highlight the vital role that employees play in assisting customers, while the employer’s main function is supporting and training employees. The Magic of Setting discusses that every interaction a customer has with an organization (including online), impacts their experience with the brand. The next step is, The Magic of Process, which identifies ways to manage workflow and problems. Finally, in The Magic of Integration, each element of the quality service cycle is incorporated to create a comprehensive system.
Service in higher education
Does the Quality Service Cycle apply to higher education? Clearly, colleges and universities can consider and adopt the Quality Service Cycle, which would consist of:
- Gaining a deeper understanding of students
- Identifying a service theme
- Hiring and training faculty and staff who support the service theme
- Examining physical and virtual settings that impact service and experience
- Putting all of the elements together
In dissecting the Quality Service Cycle in relation to a higher education institution, many colleges and universities seek to gain a deeper understanding of their students. In the past several years, many schools have also been examining how environments affect students. The areas that seem to be lacking are identifying a service theme, and hiring and training faculty and staff to support the service theme.
In today’s competitive marketplace, college students are shopping for an institution that fits them academically as well as socially. Although many institutions of higher education are wary of pandering to consumerism, this may be warranted in order to remain viable in today’s marketplace . Colleges and universities should explore concepts such as the Quality Service Cycle and others to maintain or gain a competitive edge.
B. Joseph Pine, I., & Gilmore, J. H. (1999). The experience economy. Boston : Harvard Business School Press.
Gardner, J. N., & Van der Veer, G. (1998). The senior year experience. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Institute, D. (2001). Be our guest: Perfecting the art of customer service. New York: Disney Editions.
Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J. H., & Whitt, E. J. (2005). Student success in college. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
McClellan, G. S., & Barr, M. J. (2000). Planning, managing, and financing facilities and services. In M. J. Barr, & M. K. Desler, The handbook of student affairs administration (pp. 197-215). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Upcraft, M. L., & Gardner, J. N. (1989). The freshman year experience. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.