There has been continuous increase in the number of people pursuing higher education. This has been contributed to by the changing society that requires one to continuously update and keep up with the education standards. As the demand of education increases, there is an increase in demand for higher education in the face of decreasing government funding (White, 2007, p.67). The decrease in government funding in many countries has resulted to self-sponsorship among most of the students. With the students, being self-sponsored there is need for amore market driven stress on focus on the customers’ needs and in this case, the students are the customers. As the number of students with the objective of going to universities increase so does the application of marketing in the field of higher education (Lomas, 2007, p.456).
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The marketing of university services has necessitated the change in the relationship of the students and the university to have a customer provider relation. The treatment of students as customers has been at an increase due to the increase in number of universities. The increase in number of universities increases competition-necessitating need for customer service among the universities to increase the number of student’s enrollment rate. To establish if the students are customers one has to determine the services provided by universities and the consumers of the products or services provided.
According to Martinez (2013, p.56), education provision can be classified as a service, which can be separated into service delivery and service content. Whereby service, content cannot be negotiated with the students but service deliver is negotiable. Simple the content covered in the classrooms is not determined by the students but the way in which this content is delivered can be negotiable. The customers of the service provided by the universities are students. The service delivered in this case refers to the standard way in which education is applied or impacted on the students. The quality of service is determined by the standards applied in an institution, the equipment’s applied, technology, materials, instructor, and the timing in which this education takes place.
The two types of service provided by the universities attract different consumers. The service content attracts customers that are external to the institution who include private and public employers and the society. The students are described as the service consumers since they are partners with the institutions and are the main consumers of the services provided by universities.
Universities can also be described as service providers since it cannot be classified as service provider since they do not manufacture any of their final products instead they offers good that are not physically visible. Having classified the services provided by universities it could be established that there are several types of consumers of the universities products. The main customers are however, the students who are directly affected by the quality of services provided. Secondly, there are external consumers who are affected by the services provided in a secondary level.
Having established students as consumers then universities should strive to always satisfy customer’s needs. In addition, universities should be improved by comparing them with the service provision industry, as an ever-increasing competition forces to do so. Trends in the universities also draw it closer to customer-oriented service industries. Students want to be involved in the decision making process of the universities more than depending on the market forces, this qualifies the students to be the customers since the articulation of their opinions increases or decreases the royalty and retention rate of the universities customers.
In some countries like UK and Austral, universities senior management and government agencies insist on the need to consider students as the customers. This is evident in Oxford University where the satisfaction of the students is a paramount objective for the institution. This is justified by the fact that the marketing department of the university has students suggestion cites where they collect the needs and wants of the students. This opinion is however, not supported by the academic staff that states that recognition of students as customers decreases the quality of education since the needs of the students are not in all cases right like the expectation in businesses(Lomas, 2007, p.34).
Governments all over the world and particularly the UK government have been seen to put in place mechanisms for assessing the quality of the services provided by universities. This assessment is meant to allow the government to identify areas that need improvement. The government also puts in place measures that drive up the quality of education and provide enough information about the universities that will help students determine on what institution is proper or the best among the many provided. Government makes reforms at universities to change the perception of universities into business –like organizations (Lomas, 2007, p.54).
According to Pittman (p. 342), the relationship between the student and the universities are special unlike most of the service industries. The recognition of universities as service providers, in one way or another the market forces lead into the treatment of the institutions as businesses. The treatment of universities as businesses has been evident in the running of Cambridge university and other leading universities in the UK that engage in marketing strategies aimed at pleasing the students in the universities. This therefore includes the marketing strategies used by businesses. The business focus is the satisfaction or meeting customer needs and similarly universities should focus on meeting the students’ needs to survive in the market.
Students attend universities with different objectives including, pursuit of their person interest, desire to gain qualifications, prepare for academic and research careers and preparation for the world of work. These needs are sufficiently provided by most of the universities however, the students choose the universities that provide these services with a more customer centric culture. The universities are now under pressure to make the students feel as the kings and at the same time not deteriorate their standards of their curriculums or standards. This calls for the universities to differentiate themselves and creating a customer oriented relation with the students to increase the enrollments and retention rate.
Customer Relationship Management Theory
Customer relationship management is an important aspect of any business. It is the process of obtaining, retaining an increase the market share, or customer base of a business. It includes the management of off-line and in-line relationships with consumers. Customer relationship management requires the running of business in a customer centric approach that considers the customers first.
Universities have increased in number necessitating the need of marketing activities that differentiate each university and increase their competitive advantage. The ever-increasing competition levels have brought about changes in the dynamics of the education business particularly in the university level. The customers of universities have continuously been enlightened and choose the best among the universities. This has increased the need and importance of a customer centric culture that strives to understand the customer’s needs. Universities have understood the need to invest in new technologies to allow them to gain advantage in the competition by exploiting their brand value, customer base, and investments in infrastructure in order to increase the number of enrollments, as their direct link to the customer satisfaction and profitability (Martinez, 2013, p.56).
Customer relationship management allows the universities to analyze their consumers at different levels to allow the detection of their needs, preferences, potential areas that require improvement and after this, the universities are able to establish or implement the necessary actions to achieve customer satisfaction. Universities engage in every year orientation for the students to display the facilities in the institutions. This is evident in Manchester University, Liverpool and Cambridge that allow the interested students to view the facilities and from their judgment choose a university that best suits their needs.
Achievement of customer satisfaction is a core objective to many businesses as it increases the competitive advantage and thus increasing profitability of the organization. The increase in number of universities increases the bargaining power of the consumers who in this case are the students. Today students want to enroll in universities with better services, lower fees, good infrastructure, skilled tutors, and access to various services within an institution. This pressures the universities to look for new ways that are going to satisfy these needs and ways to keep the students and the rest of the customers satisfied before any other institution does (West, Ford, & Ibrahim, 2010, pg.89).
According to Bay, Darlenen, Daniel, &Harold (p. 15), students are the purchasers of the service provides and therefore the customers of some of the campus services and the facilities, which are provided at a price. Students have to pay for the education provided at full price in order to benefit. The service provider determines the standards of the service though the services provided at aimed at satisfying the customers. This is similar with the universities who are expected to determine the needs of the customers but at the same time ensure that they satisfy the customer’s needs.
Students can also be seen as clients of the campus facilities such as libraries, administrative services, and computer laboratories. Students could use these services as free of charge but since they are charged this makes the students the clients of the universities. These universities have a responsibility to the students
Total Quality Management
According to total quality, management customers are the people to whom an organization sells its services or products. This makes the students and in some cases the parents, private and public institution, and the government the customers of the universities. TQM model identifies students as stakeholders in educational decisions. They are however, not the only stakeholders and at times, the needs of the students come second to those of the society. Under the TQM, frame work the students create a market force under which the universities have to adopt to survive in the market (White & Naomi, 2007, p. 600).
The TQM model states that quality starts and ends with the customer, this is because of the increased competition in the market that has necessitated the focus on the customer to gain a competitive advantage. According to the concept, the satisfaction of internal customers leads to the satisfaction of the external customers and consequently every customer both the external and internal are satisfied.
The theory states that several factors including, customer expectation, company operations, and the employees responsible for delivering the services to the customer bring about customer satisfaction. The creation of a customer centric culture is of great importance to an organization. This creates satisfaction among the consumers and the customers increasing their royalty and increases the retention rate of customers. Focus on customers increases the advertisement of a product by the word of mouth of the satisfied clients reducing the operation cost and increasing the number of consumers. Concentration on consumers is the best tactic or weapon against competitors since the customers are the final determinants in the existence of an organization (George & David, 2007, p.970).
Universities are businesses that should re-orient the services rendered so to keep the customers satisfied. In the past universities were not treated as businesses since there were countable universities and the number of students were minimal and there were no competition. Currently the market is flooded with universities, which increases the need of the perception of the customer as the king and always right. With the increased number of universities the buyers of universities services are fewer and this increases the need for quality services which is dependent on the extent that an university is able to meet and exceed the customers’ requirements (King, 2001, p.190).
Total quality, management recognizes the student’s perception of quality change as they progress from one stage to another. This allows the institutions to continuously update their services to meet the customers’ needs and expectations in every level, Needs of the customers in universities consist of the minimum necessary human elements that must be rendered to retain the customers in this case the student. If the students’ needs are not met then they are likely to discontinue their education in one university and continue in another that meets its needs.
Universities are defined to be successful if the student enrollment and retention rate is high compared to the rest in the market. Total quality, management programs are also seen to be successful if they facilitate customer retention and enrollment in universities. Needs and want satisfaction in universities is therefore structured towards the basics of performance, providing what the students want and what they are unable to survive without (White & Naomi, 2007, p. 600).
Ways in Which Expectations Can Be Managed and Service Excellence Achieved
Universities can use different mechanisms to improve their service excellence. The first strategy on improving service excellence is the determination of the superior services they offer. The service must identify and target customers segments according to the type of services attributes that they must demand. Universities must identify group or students with similar expectations in terms of what aspects are associated with the excellence in service. The universities should continuously find the proper trade- off between inferior performance for one attribute with superior performance for another (Bay, Darlene, Daniel &Harold, 2001, p.16),
The customers themselves best understand their needs. Expectations can be managed if the service providers are able to understand the needs of the customers. In universities, the students are the main consumers of the services offered. Universities should identify the students’ needs by encouraging feedback on the services provided. This allows the meeting of their needs and consequently increasing the customer royalty and the enrollment rate.
The second strategy is the employee management system that allows ensures that the employees treat the customers are content. Universities should ensure that their employees meet the needs of the customers and have a customer centric culture. In the case of universities the academic personnel should ensure the student’s needs are met and also that the services rendered are of quality (Lomas & Laurie, 2007, p.35)
The third element is benchmarking the service provided and the services provided by other universities. This allows the universities to identify the areas that need improving and the areas that are outstanding. This allows the universities to merge or close up the gap between them and their competitors. Benchmarking also gives new ideas of products or the services that the competitors are offering. This increases the products offered and the quality of service (West, Ford, & Ibrahim, 2010, pg.89).
The fourth element is continuous improvement of the services and products offered by institutions. The continuous improvement of services reduces the chances of products becoming obsolete. University students needs keep changing with periods, change in equipment infrastructure, and the time. This necessitates the universities to update their services continuously so at to increase customer satisfaction and maintain customer royalty.
The last step is being of conscious of bad service delivery. Looking at the past bad experiences allows and institutions to learn what are being done wrong. Continuous review of past mistakes allow the correction of the poor standard services previously provided and introduction of new services that meet the customers need. The last is the implementation of technology to improve customer satisfaction and in meeting the customer needs. The increased perception of students as customers has increased the enrollment in most universities. This is because of the students feeling that their needs are catered for. This has been evident with the increased enrollments in the oxford university.
The focus on customers is a core objective for any business. Universities are classified as service delivery business with the students being the major customers. The identification of the customer needs is a relevant and important factor in the satisfaction of customer needs. In universities and higher education institutions students are classified as customers since they are the purchasers of the services provided by the institutions. Universities are obliged to provide quality services to the students. There has been increased number of universities with time, which has increased the competition among the universities to gain competitive advantage. The increased competition has necessitated the need for a customer centric culture to gain more customers.
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