Academic journal article Education

Identifying the Needs of Customers in Higher Education

Academic journal article Education

Identifying the Needs of Customers in Higher Education

Article excerpt


According to David Garvin (1984), most definitions of quality were either transcendent, product-based, user-based, manufacturing-based or value based. The transcendent view states that quality is something that is intuitively understood but nearly impossible to communicate. You just know it when you see it (Evans and Lindsay, 1999). The product-based view argues that quality is found in the components and attributes of a product. It implies that the higher the amounts of its characteristics, the higher its quality. The user-based says that if the customer is satisfied, the product has good quality. It is based on the presumption that quality is determined by what a customer wants. This leads to a definition of quality which is fitness for intended use or how well the product performs its intended function. According to the manufacturing-based view, if the product conforms to design specifications, it has good quality. Quality then is defined as the desirable outcome of engineering and manufacturing practice, or conformance to specifications. Lastly, according to the value-based perspective, if the product is perceived as providing good value for the price, it has good quality.

Towards the end of the 1980s, many companies have come to embrace a more customer-driven definition of quality (Evans and Lindsay, 1999). Quality has come to be defined as meeting or exceeding customer expectations. In order to comprehend this definition, one must first understand the meanings of the term 'customer'. Most people think that the customer is the ultimate purchaser of the product or service. These people are more specifically referred to as consumers. But before a product reaches the consumer, it may first flow through a chain of many firms or departments, each of which adds some value to the product. This type of customers may be referred to as external customers. But every employee in a company also has internal customers who receive goods or services from suppliers within the company. Thus, understanding who one's customers are and what their expectations are is key to achieving customer satisfaction.

In higher education, the notion of having customers is foreign to many campuses. Even the suggestion of the term can arouse many emotions, preconceptions, and mis-conceptions (Canic and McCarthy, 2000). Faculty and administrators alike are reluctant to call a student or anyone else a customer (Teeter and Lozier, 1993). They find the commercial flavor distracting and difficult to translate to education. In campuses that do admit they have customers, there is usually a general agreement that businesses, government agencies, and the society at large are customers. That is not generally the case with students. Many faculty members feel threatened by the notion that students are customers of the educational process. The idea that students (customers) are partners in developing and delivering quality education (the product or service) threatens the historic, traditional academic role of faculty as purveyor of knowledge. All too often this perspective is reinforced by administrative actions that tend to put the benefits of the institution before the needs of the student body.

Many educational institutions are very hesitant to consider themselves as customer-driven entities (Lewis and Smith, 1994). Yet one fact has been proven over and over again. Customer-driven organizations are effective because they are fully committed to satisfying, even anticipating customer needs. The future success of colleges and universities will increasingly be determined by how they satisfy their various customers. The successful ones will be those which very clearly identify their mission and the customers they serve. Thus it is very important for colleges and universities to fully identify their different customers and their corresponding needs.


The centrality of the customer is grounded in history and tradition. …

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