Putting customer service at the heart of campus life

20th Dec 2016

In just a few years, customer service has become a priority for UK universities. The increase in tuition fees in 2012, together with the removal of the cap on student intakes, means students are now ‘paying customers’ with higher expectations, while the competition to attract students is fiercer than ever.

No university has been quicker to realise this than London South Bank University (LSBU) – and its response has been to put customer service at the heart of everything it does.

“We are committed to providing the most positive and supportive environment possible so that our students can flourish and put themselves on the path to successful working careers,” says Ian Mehrtens, Chief Operating Officer at LSBU, which has 20,000 students. “Customer service is central to this – we use customer service as a way to stay ahead of the curve.”

The university has been on its customer service journey for a number of years now, but becoming a member of The Institute of Customer Service (ICS) two years ago marked an important step on that journey.

Since joining, the university has delivered customer service training through The Institute to a wide number of staff (through the FirstImpressions and ServiceFocus training programmes) and also received ServiceMark accreditation for four of its divisions, making LSBU the first organisation to achieve ServiceMark accreditation for four areas at the same time.

“Working with The Institute has enabled us to formalise and professionalise our customer service approach,” says Mehrtens. 

Listening to students

That approach has included establishing a Customer Service Steering Group that sets the strategy and vision for customer service across the organisation. For example, all LSBU tutors use their module evaluation questionnaires to ask students for their feedback after each module, and then act on the feedback given to help improve the student experience – a classic example of customer service in action.

Such customer service initiatives, along with the LSBU’s membership of The Institute, have paid off. The university has been seeing higher number of students re-enrolling, lower numbers dropping out of courses, employability rates rising, and demand for its support services increasing. Staff retention rates have also increased.

Meanwhile, in some areas, satisfaction rates among students and staff rose by as much as 25% between the university’s 2014 and 2015 surveys, and LSBU’s score in the National Student Survey also rose last year.

Looking to the future, LSBU plans to roll out further customer service training to even more staff, as well as gain ServiceMark accreditation for more of its functions.

Reflecting on the importance of the university’s ICS membership, Mehrtens reflects: “The Institute has helped us focus all staff on what customer service is, what it means, and how it affects our students’ lives. It’s really been worth it.”

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