Getting the educational customer right

How to seriously know if students are satisfied? How to know if industry is getting the competence that they need? How to know if both of them suddenly find better ways to achieve what they dream of?

There are some industries where tradition customer surveys nearly always fail. They fail mainly because the customers fail of giving us info of value.

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Typical for such situations are markets where customers’ don’t really have experience of being a good customer. It is normally to be seen in the real estate business as well as in the car industry. Most people neither buy more than a few houses or apartments or cars in their life. It means that they don’t really know how to compare. They simply have no serious experience of living in houses or driving cars enough in order to do relevant comparisons. Therefor they have fundamental problems of giving us relevant feedback.

On top of that most of them have no interest in telling their friends about the lousy deal they have done. They already know that their friends then would ask why they, still, live the way they do. Or why they keep their car.

So, to put it short: most customers give bad feedback on customers’ surveys. What else can they do but react to what they got – as compared to reacting to what they could have got, but are not aware of that they could have got.

This is often a reason why suppliers of real estates as well as car salesmen are able to continue acting the same way as yesterday. They simply see no reason for changing the way they act. Most customers surveys will tell that they do rather well – so why should they?

The educational industry has many similarities here. Most students don’t for instance know how to compare their bachelor or masterprogram to the ones they never took. They are just capable of reacting to what they got. On top of that it is most likely that they never in life will take another one.

Here is a reason why so many Alumni-surveys don’t come up with unexpected information. Most of them, either implicitly or explicitly, just inform the managers of a school that there is no reason for rocking the boat. So they don’t.

Students might complain a little bit during the way. Mostly they care about bad administration or non-fun teachers – or maybe that the education given to them lack relevance in skills needed today (like a lack of knowledge on how to use Excel). They gladly give feedback on what they got, but never on what they could have got. Anyway: new students continue coming so why care?

Adding to that there is still a deeply embedded cultural dimension in education. In US there is a “real market”. Parents might even move their children to the other side of US to get good education. But for instance in Europe there is still rare that students move that far. Instead most students hang on to similar schools that their parents went to, or schools that older friends went to. On top of that most European education is still given in a language that the students don’t know. It will take time for European schools agreeing upon using English – or Spanish, or French, or German for that matter.

In this context online-based education might bring fresh air into the system for education. Students start becoming aware of the fact that different suppliers, even global ones, is an option. They also gradually get experience of using different suppliers; simply because lot of online-education is run on individual course level and not on program level. So, students start to become experienced customers. They see differences. They learn what differences can mean.

However: I do still wonder if existing educational actors with strong national – but week global – brands will care. And if reading their last year’s alumni survey: why should they?

What could then be done here if interested not getting trapped? Well, why not do like in many other industries where new ways of doing relevant market surveys have evolved. Why not seriously checking the customers out? What do they do with the service they buy? What else than this service do they buy? What are the real substitutes from the students’ point of view?

If that was done my guess is lot of educational actors would find huge room for improvement available. Maybe that is also what the on-line-actors utilizing the unique possibility of tracking available via the net – never possible in the field of education before – are doing at this moment. It could lead to huge discoveries on how good education could look like and in the long run: create new competitive advantages for an educational actor. So, even in the field of education it is worth getting the customer right.

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