Carol Archer | Lessons on customer care in higher education institutions
Almost all of us are frightened, on some level, by the raging pandemic that has hit us. For those of us who made the very challenging and sometimes unpopular decision to send our children off to college, the related concerns are many, especially when the college is in another country.
As fate would have it, at the height of the pandemic, my daughter was accepted to the College of St Rose in Albany, New York, to pursue Forensic Science, which is not taught here in Jamaica. So imagine, if you will, my complete surprise when I received that dreaded phone call on Tuesday, September 15, from the residential representative from my daughter’s university.
The residential representative calmly informed me that my daughter became ill and was being safely transported to Albany Medical Center, a University-based hospital.
Before I could ask if it was coronavirus, he serenely assured me that she would be okay, because the medical staff at the institution were excellent. Within minutes, I was able to speak with my daughter via video call and the attendant physician. Confirming the statement of the college’s residential life representative, the doctor, in the most professional yet soothing manner, established that my daughter did not have COVID-19. Realising that we were oceans apart, the doctor accepted my verbal consent, over the phone, for my daughter to undergo the necessary test to determine the source of her illness. Less than two hours later, I was informed, to my greatest relief, that my daughter was suffering from appendicitis.
During the two-hour wait for the test results, at about 10 in the night, I got another phone call. This time it was from the president of the College of St Rose, Marcia White. Her phone call alleviated my fears and concerns in relation to my daughter’s health scare. As a parent of a college student residing overseas, it is often worrisome, especially now that we are navigating a pandemic, and unable to physically assist with matters as they arise. White’s call was the icing on the cake to make a serious matter less difficult to manage.
The following day at about 7 p.m., White called again to “check up on me” and to give an update on my daughter. Out of curiosity, I asked her if she did this for all her students, and she said yes because her students are most important to her. She went further to tell me that she had just finished a meeting with the ancillary staff where she thanked them for taking care of her students. In my view, White operated above and beyond to provide excellent services, care, and comfort to me as parent, her students and her staff. To me, this was very instructive.
I was particularly moved by White’s act of kindness on the premise that I do not often experience or hear stories about this type of intimate care from executive management of most educational institutions or other organisations. This act is the type of narrative that will help to build a university’s reputation, outside of what is typically the standard. This type of involvement, follow-up and care is what is required in this current environment, where life, as we understood it to be, is no more.
As an academic in Jamaica, I take the experience with the medical staff at Albany Medical Center, President White and her staff at The College of St Rose, as a learning one that I will adopt in my encounters and interactions with students and their parents.
The current global environment calls for a new approach to learning and campus life that should involve implementing ways to quell rising concerns in this new normal. As academic leaders, we are called to operate in a new customer care paradigm – a shift that extends outside of the ‘classroom’ and one that involves the day-to-day lives of our students.
A part of our shaping and teaching young minds is to exemplify the ways in which we can all make a difference in a world that is designed to let us forget the human component of customer care. The pandemic, while frightening, provides the perfect opportunity in which to begin this quest. While our fears are many, so too should be our cares.
We should all be encouraged to take White’s cue, and operate outside of latent requirement by offering actual customer care – with greater emphasis on the ‘care’.
- Carol Archer, PhD is professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy at University of Technology, Jamaica. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org