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Three Ways to Build Student Accountability Through Great Customer Service

The EvoLLLution | Three Ways to Build Student Accountability Through Great Customer Service
High-touch customer service, when practiced the right way, can actually foster student accountability rather than bypass it.

The balancing act of customer service and student accountability can be a delicate one. We do think of our students as customers, but if an institution enables students’ bad habits in the name of customer service, it has missed an opportunity to build student accountability, and has also fostered a culture that lacks process (possibly putting it at compliance risk). Yet if the institution holds fast to all policies all the time, the student may not feel cared for and may take their business elsewhere. Done right, customer service won’t weaken student accountability; instead, great service will strengthen it.

The traditional sector seems to have found the service-accountability balance. At the time of enrollment the expectation is set that students are active partners in their education. For example, they self-register within a specified period, maintain a current account balance and abide by stated academic procedures. Anecdotal data indicate that if the student is dissatisfied with an outcome, they don’t necessarily transfer to another institution.

In the non-traditional sector, however, the student profile is different. With a unique demographic mix comes another set of life skills and expectations. Combined with the proprietary business model, customer service is challenged to promote the philosophy of a retailer with the structure of an academic institution. In non-traditional education, institutions seek to satisfy two needs: what is best for the student and what is best for the business.

Assuming student accountability is best for the student, inside the classroom expectations can be made clear in the syllabus and reinforced with ongoing faculty-student interaction. Outside the classroom there are a number of customer service techniques to build this critical success skill. Here are three approaches

1. Reinforce Accountability Behavior

As you address a student issue or complaint, find ways to put the responsibility on the student for follow-up. Brainstorm with the student about what they think they might do next to resolve the issue. If necessary, suggest ways to move forward (whether it is to meet with professor, bring documentation to an administrator, etc.). Make a warm transfer to the student’s next escalation point but step back so the student can self-advocate. Checking back with the student to see if the issue was resolved can strengthen your relationship with the student.

2. Take Charge with Communications

Document and clarify key conversations via email. For example, “Thank you for coming to see me about (concern). As we discussed, your next step is …” This puts a roadmap before the student and clearly reminds the student about what is going on. It is then up to the student to move forward.

3. Be Consistent

Maintain consistent policies and escalation points. Without a significant change to current state, what was unacceptable to do in January should not be acceptable in February. All stakeholders, from enrollment services to faculty, should have access to colleagues who can approve exceptions to policy.


As the student’s personal trainer or navigator, we can provide service that gives students tools in behavior or process to achieve success on their own. This is the level of customer service that is the key to student accountability.

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