Wisconsin's Public Liberal Arts College

Guidelines for Student Persistence

Continuous Improvement and Planning Team

Guidelines for Student Persistence

Customer Experience Management: A Concept in the Business World

Broadly defined, in the business world, Customer Experience Management is the process of managing the events and personal interactions that make up a customer’s experience.  By looking outside of itself, an organization gains valuable insight into the customer’s perspective.  This process determines customers’ experience by managing “touch points with all who come in contact with a customer.”  Customer Experience Management is the process that successfully builds brand loyalty and repeat business.

Relational Experience Management (REM): An Emerging Concept in Higher Education

Customer service is not a traditional concept in most higher education institutions.  While faculty may acknowledge there is a place in the higher education for customer service, it is certainly not in the realm of teaching and learning.  Instead, faculty will more readily acknowledge the student experience in higher education and their role in adding value to the student experience by intentionally crafting policies and practices that channel students’ energy to the activities that matter to student learning.

Faculty recognize the effectiveness of “experiential learning” and the role it plays in improving the student academic experience.  Students desire such learning and are even entertained by it. Learning has become more sensory:  it is visual as well as tactile; it is interactive.  The traditional classroom lecture is being replaced with hands-on learning, field study, outside speakers, technology and other interactive means to convey concepts and engage students.

These are types of experiences students today have come to expect and educationally effective colleges and universities have come to recognize that what students do in college matters as much as anything else in terms of their educational success.  Students who participate in collaborative learning activities such as service-learning, coherent first-year programs, peer tutoring and senior capstone projects are more likely to persist and succeed, especially when these programs and practices are well conceived and delivered in an effective, coordinated manner.

Collaborative Learning as REM

Collaborative learning is one example of managing the student experience and the relationships built as a result of these experiences.  In the ways and means described above, it becomes apparent that relational experience management takes shape differently given the faculty perspective on teaching and learning.

What Faculty Members Can Do To Influence Student Persistence

A variety of strategies have been devised to support REM.

A series of briefs providing useful suggestions for promoting student success and persistence can be found at: DEEP Practices Briefs

Faculty should focus attention on:

  • Chickering, A.W. + Kuh, G.D. (2005)  Promoting student success: Creating conditions so every student can learn.  Occasional paper No. 3
  • Kezar, A.J. (2005) Promoting student success:  The importance of shared leadership and collaboration.  Occasional paper No. 4
  • Kinzie, J. (2005) Promoting student success:  What faculty members can do.  Occasional paper No. 6
  • Jacobs, B.A. & Schuh, J.H. (2005)  Promoting student success:  Using financial and other resources to enhance student success.  Occasional paper No. 7
  • Schuh, J.H. + Kuh, G.D. (2005) Promoting student success:  What department chairs can do.  Occasional paper No. 10
  • De Sousa, D.J. (2005) Promoting student success:  What department chairs can do.  Occasional paper No. 11
  • Cambridge, B.L. (2005)  Promoting student success:  What new faculty need to know. Occasional paper No. 12
  • Manning, K. & Kuh, G.D. (2005)  Promoting student success:  Marketing place matter to student success.  Occasional paper No. 12

What the Non-Academic Environment Can Do To Influence Student Persistence

The non-academic environment allows learning, teaching, living, and socializing to flourish.  Time spent outside the classroom is equally critical in ensuring a college or university’s competitive success.  Thus it is not surprising that greater attention is now being focused on the non-academic side of the experiential equation.  For it is in this arena that an institution’s competitive position can most rapidly be transformed and strengthened.  Note some of the efforts to date:

Student Housing Preferences: Residential halls now have suites with private rooms and private bathrooms.  Privatized housing boasts swimming pools and volleyball courts, weight rooms, social spaces, computer labs, and coffee bars.  Theme-based residential halls allow students to live with others who share a common interest.

Appearance: Campus appearance was the second most commonly cited reason by the entering fall 2003 Freshmen class on why they selected their respective institution.  A well-maintained campus, one with inviting greens, clean spaces, secure structures, bright lighting, paved paths, and clear signage represents a tremendous asset with a potentially high return on investment in the form of enrollment growth, higher retention, and increased alumni giving.

Technology: The Internet has made every campus accessible to every potential student.  Such access is necessary in the recruiting of future students as it is in the education of current ones.  Wireless systems remove the traditional walls of learning and create a virtual environment where learning can occur not just outside the classroom, but at the student’s convenience.

Fitness and Athletics: Athletic and wellness facilities are as much a social hub as they are gymnasium.  With such amenities as climbing walls, pools, Jacuzzis, aerobics classes, spa services, and health food, these facilities mirror those found at professionally-managed membership only health clubs.

Dining: Cooking stations that customer-prepare dishes before one’s eyes allow a diner to experience the cooking process.  Individual portions are customized to one’s taste.  Increased choices reflect the international palate of today’s eaters.  Popular, brand-name franchises bring previously off-campus eateries on-campus.  Coffee houses are popular student social spaces.  Convenience stores and prepared foods entice customers on the go.

Entertainment: Outside speakers, cultural events, theatre, and sporting events are just a few of the ways that education entertains.  They entice outsiders to campus and require an institution to present a welcoming, vibrant, safe, and attractive environment.  Such activities are a simple, outward display of an institutions desire and responsibility to be a good community citizen.

However, despite the improvements in these areas, most campuses still lack a service culture that complements the sizeable investment in physical amenities.

Physical improvements may not be sufficient to maintain differentiation and competitive position.  The “build it and they will come” philosophy is easily imitated.  Physical amenities and services, at best, represent a short-term competitive edge.  At worst, they represent a never-ending financial burden as institutions continually seek to outdistance their competition.

Yet, with the addition of a clearly articulated and delivered unique experience, an institution can greatly strengthen its competitive position and maximize its return on invested amenities.  For college and universities, Relational Experience Management (REM) is about creating and maintaining such differentiation.

Relational experience management involves influencing and managing the perception, emotions, and knowledge of your customer--in short, their overall experience.  This process transforms an organization’s culture to proactively create and environment and deliver a positive experience unique to your institution.  Successfully implemented, REM creates customer loyalty and builds institutional pride.

The non-academic environment (administration, campus life, residence food service, grounds, technology, all support service offices, student life, alum, community leaders) may want to focus on the entire collection of DEEP Practice Briefs.

DEEP Practice Briefs

Guidelines for Unit or Department Review
(Academic and Non-Academic)

1.      Purpose
The purpose of unit or department review is to assure the quality of university services and to utilize learning from this essentially developmental process in order to effect improvement.

2.      Guiding Principles for Review
The guiding principles for review fit within the values and principles outlined in Quality at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.  These include:

  • Recognition that quality is the professional responsibility of each individual and work group.
  • A commitment to develop policy so as to assure comparable treatment in all areas of the university, while leaving room for different areas to develop implementation for their particular contexts.
  • A planned and systematic approach to quality including ensuring that the results of monitoring and evaluation are fed back in order to effect improvement.
  • The strategic directions of the university are of central importance for all reviews.
  • Benchmarking leading to improvement is strongly encouraged, as is input from stakeholders.
  • Unit and department reviews consider the effectiveness of policies, planning, processes and procedures, particularly as they are demonstrated through outcomes.  Reviews encourage a focus on outcomes.

3.      Scope of Review
Units and departments provide essential infrastructure, processes, policies and services for staff and students and enable faculty to conduct the core business of the university.  Reviews therefore include:  organizational structure, management, quality assurance and improvement; human and physical resources, including IT; core services; professional and community activities.

Reporting on progress towards key objectives may be structured by using the balanced scorecard perspectives of:

  • Identification of key stakeholders (including internal and external customers) and objectives to meet stakeholders' needs
  • Core services to meet student and staff needs
  • Plans for new services or improvements to existing services
  • Processes to identify, consider and take appropriate action with regard to problems raised by students and staff and other stakeholders
  • Customer relationship (non-academic) relational experience management (academic) processes
  • Benchmarking performance and processes with like services

4.       Unit of Review
Department or unit heads have the responsibility for scheduling periodic reviews.

5.      Review Cycle
Each area of the university's operations is normally reviewed every 3 years although a shorter cycle is discretionary.  Information obtained from routine and more frequent performance feedback and monitoring mechanisms (such as satisfaction surveys or balanced scorecard reports) provides input to reviews. 

Feedback often means seeking evidence of stakeholder's experiences.  Feedback therefore provides data for the evaluation phase of the quality cycle, both in terms of monitoring and review.  However, it is of such crucial importance for a responsive approach to quality, that feedback is elaborated here in its own right.

Stakeholders include direct or internal participants, mainly students and staff, together with those whose contact with the university is indirect or external (eg employers, community groups, government) Lindsay, 1994*.  Sometimes stakeholders are also customers.  Whether or not students are (or are only) customers continues to provide fertile ground for debate (eg Baldwin and James, 2000)** with some discussion identifying a number of interactions where students are customers, clients, citizens and subjects with obligations, among other things (Sharrock, 2000) ***  Certainly in the support services of the university, students and staff are clearly customers and clients, and customer focus is critical as part of a balanced approach in this area.

The point is that stakeholders have legitimate concerns that need to be heard before they can be addressed.  This does not mean that all feedback is uncritically accepted and actioned but that a process for weighing and evaluating feedback needs to be in place.  It does mean that appropriate stakeholders for each of the university's operations need to be identified, together with effective measures to allow their experiences to be expressed. 

* Lindsay, A W (1992) Concepts of Quality in Higher Education.  Journal of Tertiary Education Administration, Vol 14, No. 2, pp 153-163.
** Baldwin, G and James, R (2000)  the Market in Australian Higher Education and the Concept of Student as Informed Customer.  Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, Vol 22, No. 2, pp 139-148.
*** Sharrock, G (2000) Why Students are Not (Just) Customers (and other reflections on Life After George).  Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, Vol 22, No 2, pp 149-164.

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