Win-Win Approach to Dealing with Difficult Students
One size does not fit all when it comes to working with students and their needs surrounding how to finance and pay for their education. Every student interaction brings unique circumstances, capabilities, and concerns to the table. While in many cases questions are easily answered and issues resolved, other times students or parents are not able to meet institutional requirements or are dissatisfied with the answers they’ve received.
Dealing with difficult customers is not unexpected particularly at the start of a new academic year. Whether it’s financial aid packages that don’t meet expectations, not being allowed to register for classes because of an outstanding balance, getting conflicting information from different offices, or just not being able to reach institutional staff by phone or email, this stressful time of year can impact student retention, outstanding receivables, or just engender bad feelings about the institution.
At a time when quality service is more than an expectation, staff and supervisors face the wrath and ire of many customers. Depending on the time of year and institutional deadlines or organizational structures, these customers are not only students and their parents, but may extend to prospective students, alumni, faculty members, or even colleagues in other institutional offices. With enrollment, financial and workforce pressures on colleges and universities, maintaining service delivery standards and satisfaction can challenge both staff and senior leadership.
To maintain quality service standards, institutions now must also factor in needs related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) that have moved into the forefront of the higher education experience. Treating your students and constituents with a consistent approach should not mean that every experience and interaction is similar. At the same time, it’s important to respect and note how differences in culture, knowledge, and experiences may require different styles and techniques in service delivery and counseling.
That’s why it is important that we “listen to hear” what our customers are saying and how we subsequently respond to their needs. Not only is it critical to be timely and accurate in responding, but it’s also vital that someone owns the customer’s issues and concerns. Too often, failures to listen, understand, and answer these concerns creates escalated conflicts and complaints.
Using every customer interaction to anticipate other questions/concerns and educate students on what to do (and how to do it) can lead to more on-time payments, higher satisfaction levels, reduced complaints, and increased student success.