Check this out: aisle be listening

Supermarkets' consumer-led strategies proposed as a 'model for institutions'. Jack Grove reports

March 8, 2012

Credit: Getty
No gripes: can supermarkets teach universities about customer satisfaction?

Universities should embrace tactics used by supermarkets to demonstrate that they are listening to their students, a leading pollster has said.

Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos Mori, said higher education institutions could copy branding strategies used by Tesco and Sainsbury's, which emphasised how they had listened to their customers and responded to their needs.

Speaking at a conference held by the educational services firm Hobsons on 28 February, he said that when people were asked during surveys which organisations were "on their side" they were more likely to refer to supermarkets than governments.

"That is because [supermarkets] make a point of saying: 'You asked us for this and we gave it to you," he said.

In contrast, half of all students polled by Ipsos Mori felt that universities had not responded to their feedback, Mr Page said.

However, he added that overall student satisfaction levels have remained consistently high, with higher education scores outperforming all other sectors of the economy.

He recommended that institutions should embrace social media as a feedback tool and to enable "two-way communication" with students because traditional methods of complaining were out of date.

"If I am unhappy about something, I don't write a nice letter and wait for a reply. I start broadcasting to my 8,500 followers. Everyone is their own broadcaster, with their own listeners," he said.

Meanwhile, Peter Slee, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Huddersfield, told the conference in London that joining a gym was a good analogy when discussing student-institution relations.

Although gyms - and universities - could provide classes, facilities, staff and guidance at a certain cost, success and happiness with the price paid were ultimately down to the commitment of an individual, Professor Slee said.

"You get out of a service what you put into it. Motivation and commitment to study is the biggest factor in whether students are happy."

The "fundamental benefits" of a university education came from close engagement with a subject, he said, and institutions needed to "make this clear" to students.

Calling for students to "spend less time moaning and more time studying", he added: "There is an unqualified berating of student services that does universities and students a disservice."

Professor Slee also questioned why the government had asked universities to raise their game under higher tuition fees when the sector already had an 83 per cent satisfaction rate.

"If you are going to start beating up the university system, it does not seem that this is the best place to start," he said.

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