Service and the Hospitable Registrar

Customer service in a highly regulated environment like a university can be tricky. We have all heard the phrase, “The customer is always right” and cringed. How can this be when students ask for impossible things? Here are some of the more out-there questions that I or people in my office have been asked over the years:

  • I’m not happy with my grade point average and I’d like you to increase it for me please.
  • I didn’t know there would be final exams and I’ve already booked my flight. What can you do for me?
  • I haven’t completed all of the courses for my degree, but I’m pretty sure I can still graduate, right?
  • I failed a few courses, but I should be able to choose the courses I want on my transcript, shouldn’t I?

True stories.

We all know that the customer is not always right. It’s unfortunate that this phrase became the mantra of customer service because it has never been true. And how could it be when students are not yet experts in how universities work?

An unfortunate consequence of following a mantra that we know isn’t true is that we can slip into a cynical mood. How easy it is to think, “This customer is a moron! But I have to treat him as though he is a king because we can’t afford to lose a paying customer.” And then, around the water cooler, stories are shared that mock customers who are obviously idiots. And soon we mock our own organization for catering to such obvious fools (what a foolish place to work!). And then the next obvious fool shows up at our front desk… sigh…

That isn’t a culture that is going to help!

I have spent the last 6 months reading and researching the concept of hospitality as a service model, and I like it much better. I watched a video interview of Danny Meyer as he described his frustration with the idea that the customer is always right in his restaurant. He introduced me to the idea that hospitality is not about being right or wrong, but rather about creating a feeling. Does the client feel cared for? Do they feel that you listened and you are interested in them and their circumstance?

Think about it from your own personal life. If someone is hospitable enough to invite you to their home for a meal, what does that tell you about your relationship? They trust you enough to open their door and let you in. Presumably they spent time preparing the meal and set the table in such a way as to create an atmosphere because they care about you. They showed interest in you. When this happens how does it make you feel?

Is that how you expect to feel when you deal with the Registrar’s Office? Perhaps considering ourselves to be gracious hosts will help us avoid the right-versus-wrong office culture and instead help us treat those who engage with our services like they are as important enough to make them a nice meal.

When I posed this idea to the people in my office, I received this very thoughtful response from Andrea:

“It’s remembering to have grace when you’re asked the same question over and over and over again. I have people tell me all the time that they don’t bother remembering because they know they can just ask me. So then you have to find the balance between trying to train them to learn the things they need to know, and answering with grace so they still feel like they’re getting good customer service.”

What suggestions do you have for me about how the hospitality model of customer service could be helpful? How can we “set the table”, so to speak in our customer relations? Please leave a comment with your suggestions!


4 thoughts on “Service and the Hospitable Registrar

  1. Loved reading some of the questions, they brought back fond (and maybe some not so fond) memories! At times you wanted to pull out your hair, at other times you were glad to have a chance to help someone navigate the many mysterious rules and regulations that we, in PSI’s live and breathe.


  2. Great article! I am the Registrar of a professional regulatory organization and we face similar customer service challenges. The hospitality model is exactly what we are trying to implement – we can’t always say yes, but we do our best to ensure applicants and members feel supported.


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