Consumer advocacy in higher ed

Customer driven businesses do not need governmental inspectors, oversight or recourse systems for customer complaints. Enterprises that serve customers discover what to improve that adds value to the exchange which then generates loyalty, buzz and an increased volume of purchases. No oversight committee had to tell to set up product ratings and reviews or secure payment systems. Likewise, customer driven businesses already appear as advocates for the customer. They help buyers get what they want, not what they get told they should desire according to spin-doctored advertising. They help customers to solve personal problems, to get their particular jobs done and to get changes accomplished with less effort. The solutions get delivered to the customer instead of insisting they come to the centralized location. Customer driven businesses are usually two steps ahead of their rivals, proactively upgrading their user interface, customer experience and support system for added help, diagnostics and services.

Most institutions of higher ed is not customer driven. They are either driven by internal performance metrics or quality standards. They show no sign of comprehending what their customers are trying to accomplish, solve, resolve or change. They appear to exploit the captive market for prestigious diplomas that acquire glamour from higher prices. They fail to address the "service issues" like dropping out before graduation, mid winter depression, loss of retention/motivation and the uselessness of course content in job settings. Higher ed appears to need governmental watchdogs, inspectors and audits.

Most consumer protection interventions backfire. Onsite inspectors in banking, airline safety or food production get bribed or lulled into complacency. Most periodic audits in pharmaceutical manufacture, mining and workplace safety cause a flurry of clean-up efforts to pass inspection free of "red flags". The push for consumer advocacy results in a push back from those offenders who do not want to get caught and have no concept of the customers' experience.

Indirect strategies to realize consumer protections prove to be far more effective. Rather than go after the institutions, it works to cultivate sophisticated consumers. By addressing those who are already interested in changes, the intervention encounters open minds, willingness to explore further options and follow through on implementation. The customers can vote with the feet and wallets. They send a message loud and clear to incumbent institutions by changing what they buy and reject. The function as their own advocates in "game-changing" ways. They expose the shortcomings of enterprises that fail to align themselves with customer driven premises. The change comes about without costly governmental interference or inspections.

Government funding of an intervention in consumer advocacy would best be spent helping college applicants and enrolled students become more savvy. When "buyers of diplomas" act more selective, discerning, cautious, and suspicious, pressure will be put on institutions to improve. Whenever customers act with increased self-respect, they get more respect from their product and service providers. When demands for more solutions, support and authentic value get put on the table by the buyers, the enterprise can work a better deal or walk away from the market. It becomes a clear choice for the institution whether to gain or lose ground based on their own response. They really see the opportunity to serve parents, college students, and their eventual employers.

1 comment:

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