Two recent stories were shared with me this past week that had me shaking my head at the confusion around which entity was the customer and which was the service provider. One was a for-profit institution that should know better. The other is a non-profit that had better quickly learn better or there may be future issues that reduce their customer base.
The For-Profit Example
This weekend is the administration of the SAT test for those High School Juniors that are considering applying to colleges in the Fall. For many students, this test is anxiety producing in its own right as the results are one of the key determinants in schools evaluating students for admission.
However, there are some students that have additional pressures they confront beyond just the stress of the test. For some students, they struggle with attention deficit disorders or other processing issues that prevent them from completing a timed test as rigorous as the SAT like other students. In those instances, the College Board requires that certain requirements be met (Doctor’s notes, specific requests be submitted, etc.) and sent to them and then they make a determination if that student’s request for accommodations can be met with the administration of a different test or testing situation.
The issue comes to a head though when schools, parents, and students meet and fulfill their requirements, but the College Board does not see fit to meet theirs. Tests that should have been sent to schools ahead of time are not sent. Tracking numbers for shipment of tests have been lost. Customer Service personnel provide contradictory and conflicting information that clearly show that one, some, or all of them are lying or working with the wrong information. In short, they do not recognize that they are a supplier and the student is PAYING them to deliver the test. They mistakenly believe they are the customer and that the schools, parents, and students are to meet their demands with no reciprocity for them to meet their obligations.
This example is a little less clearcut to me. Should a house of worship or a member of the clergy view congregants as customers? If a family pays for a child to be religiously educated by the religious institution, or a member of the clergy is hired to perform a religious ceremony or service; should the discussion be placed into a context of profit and loss implications, customer service, and be viewed as an economic transaction as well as a spiritual one?
A recent conversation I had about a parent’s frustration with the house of worship’s insistence on the child’s participation in a ceremony that the parent deemed less than essential raised these questions. Does the same ire raised at a profit-making venture for failing to meet a customer’s needs also apply to the non-profit arena, and a religious institution as well? Is the congregant, by virtue of paying dues to the institution also a customer in an economic sense, and therefore entitled to the same rights and respect a profit-making business would be expected to provide? Or, is tht relationship different and the expectations are not consistent with the entrepreneurial entity and customer interactions?
In the first example, the business seems to have fallen short of their obligations and their arrogance and incompetence is hard to excuse or tolerate. In the second example, the murkiness of the boundaries of the relationship (at least for the congregant) called into question whether the same expectations apply.
Regardless of what the “official” definition is of customer and whether it applies to congregants paying dues for services rendered (albeit; spiritual, religious, and non-material); it seems that the relationship is viewed as a customer – supplier relationship by dint of the economic transaction. Therefore; it is incumbent upon both entities to:
- Identify “customer” (in the loosest sense) needs
- Provide a suitable solution (while perhaps not competing outright with other houses of worship, and in the testing company example, there is not other viable options accepted by many schools)
- Communicate with the other party constantly (and consistently)
- Make requirements to do “business” (again, loosely recognized clear and upfront for the other party to make informed choices about whether and/or how to interact.
In both instances, the customer was not being viewed as such and it led to resentment and actions against the two institutions that could have been avoided had the two institutions recognized the perspective of the other person and attempted to interact as a supplier would to a customer.