Customer Service in Higher Education

By October 31, 2015 March 19th, 2019 Evolve Insights

As it appeared in the daily nation of July 14th 2015

by Lucy Kiruthu

Are there some customer service principles that institutions of higher education in Kenya can apply to improve the student experience? Like some of you, I went through the Kenyan public university system for my undergraduate studies. As government sponsored students, we had very few expectations if any.  I do not recall expecting a course outline, particular course text or even information on recommended textbooks. In addition, we did not expect that lecturers would alert us when unavailable for class. What I recall is that we would call off the class ourselves after a lengthy wait. All we expected was to complete our studies within 4 years. A few years after this experience I had an entirely different experience in the USA when going through a Masters program. There was a well outlined course outline with clear learning outcomes and course details. In addition, there was a compulsory course text that we used in class. I do not recall any lecturer ever missing a class what I recall is that we graduated a week after completing the final semester. On return about a decade ago, I tried out a professional course at a local commercial college and quit after 2 lessons. The quality of instruction was really wanting.

I believe many students have had varied experiences at institutions of higher learning.  The gaps in service delivery to students especially at the public institutions are widespread.  Having had the experience as adjunct faculty revealed that these gaps are complex and most of them like in other organizations are deep-rooted in the culture of the organization. Why do universities that teach best practices not apply the practices needed to improve the student experience?  Many public universities lack a clear strategy on the student experience and the service standards are not always well defined making it unlikely for faculty and other staff to hold themselves to high standards. The staff often seem unaware that the students do indeed have expectations common to others customers. Though some may argue that student satisfaction is not an appropriate measure of the quality of higher education; there are some basic requirements. Many students pay fees and expect value for their money. They expect to be kept informed, to be respected, to get quality instructions, to receive their grades on time etc. Is it so difficult for institutions of higher education to be more deliberate about the student experience?

The student experience continues to be an important contributor to the image of institutions of higher education. There is a lot that institutions across the globe have done and institutions in Kenya can do to improve the student experience.  How students feel about the university, years after their experience may impact enrolment. Thinking of the overall student experience at key points of interaction such as the classroom, the library, the canteen etc, use of technology to make it easier for the students, recruiting the right kind of faculty and building their capacity as effective lectures, equipping all staff with basic customer service skills and finally capturing and using student feedback can help such institutions of higher learning improve their interactions with students.

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on or via twitter @kiruthulucy

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