7 Principles of Great Customer Service

HEAG California, Community Colleges, FL, MA, NY, PA, Technology


As I previously mentioned, customer service is in the eye of the beholder. That means as an employee, you may believe you provided great service to a student but the student may believe differently. Each person involved in an interaction could have a subjectively different view of what happened. However, there are some guidelines that I will provide which will tilt the table in the favor of the college in any dispute about whether or not great service was provided. Here are my 7 principles of providing great service.

1. Greet all students and respond promptly to inquiries

Some companies have what I call a 10/5 rule. Smile at all students within 10 feet of you. Make eye contact and smile. Verbally acknowledge all students within 5 feet of you. “Hi, how are you?” It doesn’t have to be an offer for assistance, but you may also say “can I help you with anything?” The simple act of saying “hello” will make you seem friendly and attentive.

When it comes to electronic means of communication, the parts that don’t involve talking may be more important than what you say. Answer all calls within 3 rings, if possible. Answer all emails within 24 hours (48 hours during busy periods). Start all emails with “Dear” and close with “Sincerely.” We live in a civilized society where greetings and acknowledging people is important to making them feel comfortable. During a customer service transaction, the student should never be the first person to speak.

2. Listen and care

Your employee may be the first person to talk, but the most important part of providing great service is listening to your students. Use active listening techniques. Pay attention to questions being asked without interrupting. Make eye contact whenever possible. Concentrate on trying to help the student not controlling the conversation.

Sometimes a customer service transaction may take a long time. During busy periods, there might be a line of people waiting for you to finish talking with a student. Focus on the person in front of you and not on getting to the next person. Give everyone as much time as they need. If there are too many people, call a teammate for assistance, if possible. For people waiting in line, use 3 people waiting as a benchmark for when help is needed. For phone conversations, if your phone queue is 5 deep, ask for help, depending on your industry and staffing.

3. Be professional, positive, and service oriented

Smile when speaking with students even when you’re talking to someone on the phone. Smiling can change your tone to one that is more pleasant for the student. Say “please” and “thank you!” Ask if you can put someone on hold or transfer them. Don’t just do it without letting them know. It is rude to your teammate and student to cold transfer a call. Exceed the customer’s expectations by providing an efficient and pleasant experience.

4. Provide accurate and complete information

If you don’t know the answer or aren’t totally sure, ask a teammate. Don’t guess! If you have to take a phone number down and get back to someone when you have the right answer, do it. Don’t give out partial or wrong information. Try to anticipate questions that aren’t being asked. Check a student’s file when possible. Nothing will make a student more annoyed than coming back and saying “but I was here and nobody told me that.”

Provide each step the student needs to take. If there are more than 3 steps, summarize them at the end or direct the student to a checklist. Don’t confuse the student by discussing different options and then not reiterating the preferred choice at the end of 5the conversation.

5. Take ownership and follow through

Don’t bounce a student around from person to person or office to office. You get 1 transfer and if you try to transfer someone a second time, they will be annoyed even if you shouldn’t have been transferred the person in the first place because the student’s specific needs are not something you can help with. Offer to contact the correct office for the student. See the problem through from beginning to resolution, whenever possible. Don’t pass the buck!

Manage your student’s expectations about how and when you are going to help them and then meet those expectations. If you say something will take 3 days, do it in 3 days. If it will take 5 days, don’t say it will take 3 days. If you say you will do something by the end of the day and you do it, the student will be happy. If you say you will do the same thing within 3 days and do it, the student will be happy. If you say you will do the same thing by the end of the day and it takes you 3 days, the student will NOT be happy. It isn’t the length of time it will take. It is the expectation to the student of w6hen it will be done that determines whether or not the student was served well.

6. Empower the student to be self-sufficient whenever possible

Educate the student on where the answers can be found so that the student doesn’t have to rely on you every time they have a questions. Utilize the internet to provide the student with links to finding information. Use resources and checklists created by your institution, if appropriate. If you believe the student would be able to service themselves if information readily available was better, tell your supervisor. Tell your marketing department. Give feedback about your website to the appropriate department. You cannot be at the beck and call of every customer 24/7.

7. Ask to close the conversation

If everything seems resolved to you, ask the student if they are happy with the resolution. Ask “does that make sense,” “do you need anything else,” “is there anything else I can help you with” or “is that the resolution you were hoping for?”
You will be surprised by how many more questions you receive and how satisfied a student will be once ALL of the questions are answered. Short of having a student fill out a feedback card or survey after every transaction, this is the only other way you can make sure every student is satisfied.

Feel free to adopt my 7 principles of providing great service for your institution! After all, we are all customers of some other company. How would you want to be treated when you are a customer? Would you want to be treated according to the 7 principles above? I sure do! Good luck and thanks for reading!


If you need assistance surveying your students or want to discuss how to improve your customer service, please contact the Higher Education Assistance Group.

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