Students are my customers.

Scott Stratten (@unmarketing) was a keynote speaker at the HighEdWeb 2013 conference in Buffalo, New York. If you’ve never seen him, I highly recommend you do. He has a knack for applying spot on common sense to the marketing world and does it in an entertaining way. Scott gave us a lot of great tips and among them was “May I remind you, your students are your customers?” which drew a laugh and head nods.

Scott Stratten


Scott went on to say that if we think of our students as customers, we’ll treat them differently. So I decided to try it.

Prior to working for Norwich University I worked for commercial clients for over 16 years (I still do) and I’m very aware of my role as a service provider. Many of my clients come to me with some form of problem that needs to be solved and they don’t know who to go to. About a third of my clients aren’t the most savvy consumers of technology. They’re uncomfortable with anything online including social media and especially marketing online. They’re often the first to admit they don’t understand why kids spend so much time online or the value of social media. They think in terms of concrete ROI for every thing they do. They want to use social media to market to their customers (they shouldn’t but more on that in another post). So it’s actually easy for me to think of working with students because students are comfortable online, eager to learn, and willing to take risks. Plus they’re very social often using at least two mobile devices at a time to stay connected with friends.

BUT our undergraduate students often come to us with the belief their friends are the only ones that understand them – and the University isn’t their friend. Outside the small circle of faculty they see in class, the University faculty and staff are strangers they share the campus with until they get their degree and can move onto their real life. Not all students feel this way but many do.  So Scott’s words hit home with me but also puzzled me.

So if students are my customers AND they largely ignore me even as I walk around on campus, how can I make their experience here different? What does it look like to treat them as a customer? I decided on two actions I could take: a) let them know I’m paying attention and b) engage them. Here’s what this looks like.

The first thing I did was to setup searches on Tweetdeck to look for tweets that mention Norwich University and a couple of hashtags our students use. I look for tweets that express their excitement and involve the University – like getting accepted. When I see one of these, I reply with a simple congratulations and welcome. The students seem happy that I replied to them. It can be very powerful to the student to see someone at the “University”, aka institution, paid attention and acknowledged a significant milestone in their life.

The second thing I did was to look for ways to involve students in projects I’m working on for the University. This one is still in the works but from what I’m hearing from a dean and faculty members, it could prove to be very rewarding to the students and to me.

I love to work with students. The biggest reason is they’re bright, eager to learn (when something interests them), and willing to challenge old ways of thinking – which is good for me and the University. I’ll write more on this subject as my experiment unfolds.