Understanding College Student Satisfaction*

Colleges and universities are facing greater competition for students and other resources from a variety of areas, and one of the responses to this increased competition has been a greater appreciation of marketing concepts by colleges and universities, with a special focus on customer satisfaction. Many of us are familiar with some of the benefits of satisfied customers, including repeat purchases, higher spending, positive word of mouth and customer loyalty.  Similarly, in the educational setting, satisfied students should be more likely to remain at the institution and help increase retention rates and may also equate to students being more inspired and motivated to more actively participate in the educational process. While there has been some debate as to whether students are in fact the customers of higher education, given that students make a variety of consumerist decisions in the higher education setting, researchers have generally concluded that students are in fact customers. Students also often perceive themselves as ‘customers’ of higher education, and in marketing, we know that perception is reality. Assuming that students are in fact customers of higher education, it is important to better understand their role in the university setting and examine how this affects their overall satisfaction. We will do this by extending key service and marketing concepts that relate to regular customer satisfaction in a retail or service purchase and apply them to the higher education context.

It has been suggested that in higher education, students’ active participation is required for success. Meaning, it is not enough for them to simply ‘show up to class.’  In the retail and service environment, the result of co-participation of the customer and organization in the production process is referred to as co-production.   In a college setting, co-production occurs when students become partners in the educational experience. They may participate in a variety of areas including curriculum development, teaching a class, conducting research with a professor or mentoring other students.  Co-producing activities often lead to feelings of involvement, which is usually a good thing in marketing.  On the other hand, students' active roles in the educational process can also lead some students to feelings of entitlement, leading some students to expect special treatment, and think that they are special and deserve certain things.  Many a professor, including the author of this blog can provide tales of student’s requesting higher grades because of the time and effort they have put in or because of the consequences of lower grades.  If we view today’s college students as customers that are co-producing in the education process, it is reasonable to expect that this may result in feelings of entitlement which in turn, may affect their satisfaction. 

Understanding the relationship between co-production, entitlement, and satisfaction can help to provide guidance to relevant college and university stakeholders. For example, many colleges and universities currently offer new student orientation programs.  Care should be taken to make sure that the orientation programs place emphasis on the student’s role in the co-production process and sets clear expectations.  Colleges and universities should also offer training to those individuals participating in the educational process (i.e., instructors, support staff) to better understand the role of the student.

What do you think? Does the link between co-production, entitlement and satisfaction seem reasonable?  What other factors could affect student satisfaction?  Is student entitlement a good thing or bad thing? How do you feel about students co-producing?  What else can colleges and universities do to facilitate customer satisfaction in a way that preserves the integrity of the institution?

*This blog is based on a doctoral dissertation by Deborah Sisson entitled ‘Role of student entitlement and co-production on satisfaction.’ Her committee consists of Dr. Suri Weisfeld-Spolter (chair), Dr. John Riggs (reader) and Dr. Yuliya Yurova (methodologist).

Student Satisfaction Survey (Developed by Clayton State University).

Sara Weisfeld-Spolter, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Marketing, H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship, Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Weisfield-Spolter can be reached at sw887@nova.edu; http://www.business.nova.edu/faculty.cfm/sw887

A new name has cropped up on holiday shopping lists: Me!

Even with the challenges of today’s lagging economy, recent research suggests that consumers are spending more than $500 billion in gifts, with gifting representing 10% of the total retail market and self-gifting projected to be the highest yet with participation from 59% of shoppers. Gift giving occurs in all societies and is a social exchange process involving a giver and a receiver.  There are now many instances, especially in the United States where the giver and receiver of the gift are the same person (self-gift).

Self-Gifts are defined as 1) personally symbolic self-communication through (2) special indulgences that tend to be (3) premeditated and (4) highly context bound.  This definition helps to differentiate self-gifts from other personal acquisitions.  Self-gifts are a means to communicate with one’s self and, in particular, to influence one’s self-definition and self-esteem.  There is also an aspect of specialness to self-gifting, referring to the notion that self-gifts often have special meanings for consumers as compared to common, every day, self-directed purchases.  They can be any product, but they constitute a form of indulgence, making them different from a regular personal acquisition.  Self-gifts also tend to be premeditated and are typically not spontaneous purchases. They tend to be done to reward oneself after a great accomplishment or to cheer oneself up after a disappointment, but can also occur under other contexts such as birthdays, anniversaries and holidays.

Many companies are now capitalizing on our self-gift propensities in their promotions and advertising messages. For example, J.Crew recently created a "Gift yourself" section on its website, along with the text “To: you, From: you.”  The diamond industry has also caught onto the new “me” mood, with slogans like “Your left hand says ‘we,’ you’re right hand says ‘me’,” urging women to buy diamonds for themselves.  And slogans such as "You deserve a break today” (McDonald’s) and “The perfect little thank-me” (Andes candies) present indulgences as personal rewards.

Do you think this is an effective approach?

Do you engage in Self-Gift behavior?

When was the last time you bought yourself a special gift?

What did you buy?

Can you think of other companies that use self-gifting appeals in their messages?

P.S. To read more on the social-phenomenon of “gift-giving” visit the following article titled “Impact of Giving on Self and Impact of Self on Giving” by Dr. Suri Weisfeld-Spolter and colleagues Dr. Cindy B. Rippe and Dr. Stephen Gould: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mar.20760/abstract

Suri Weisfeld-Spolter, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Marketing and Chair of Doctoral Programs in the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship, Nova Southeastern University. She can be reached at sw887@nova.edu

Are Multichannel Consumers Around the World Similar?

The advent of the Internet has spurred a technological evolution that is transforming retail worldwide through rapidly emerging channels.  Social media, mobile devices with location-based applications and reality-based technologies create a “showroom without walls” that distorts traditional distinctions between online and offline channels.  One of the responses to this technological innovation has been a global proliferation of the multichannel consumer (MCC), a more knowledgeable consumer who gains information about the product by surfing and switching between channels such as brick and mortar stores, Websites, mobile devices and other emerging shopping outlets.  Recent research has suggested that more than eighty percent of United States consumers research online before they buy a product in a retail store and it has been reported that seventy-eight percent use two or more channels to research an item before making a purchase.  This type of consumer, who shops in more than one channel including brick and mortar stores, catalogs, Websites, or any other emerging channel, has been labeled the multichannel consumer (MCC).   MCCs are not limited to the United States, and in fact, have been studied as a growing global phenomenon with a recent survey comparing responses from over 11,000 MCCs from 11 different countries (Pwc, 2012).  However, it is still uncertain if MCCs are part of a converging or diverging global consumer culture. 

Specifically, it is unclear if MCCs across nations are converging in perceptions and sharing a uniformity in consumer experiences and purchase decisions, or if MCCs are diverging whereby national cultures cause a dissimilarity.  On the one hand, we know that culture affects consumer behavior and cultural biases influence the consumer purchasing evaluation process.  On the other hand, proponents for a convergent global consumer culture report that the diffusion of technology, especially the Internet creates a more homogenous environment.  Likewise, it is a diffusion of technology and the Internet that has surged the MCC.

What do you think?

Do you consider yourself to be a MCC?

Are MCC’s homogenous (similar) around the world or does their culture affect what they value?

Do they make purchase decisions in the same manner? 

Are salespeople influential in their decision making?

Would it be a mistake for marketers to treat them in the same manner?

What other factors may need to be taken into consideration?

[*This blog is based on a research paper co-authored by Suri Weisfeld-Spolter, PhD; Yuliya Yurova, PhD;  and Cindy Rippe, DBA, currently under review at International Marketing Review]

Suri Weisfeld-Spolter, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Marketing and Chair of Doctoral Programs in the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship, Nova Southeastern University. She can be reached at sw887@nova.edu