Graduate Management News

August 2014

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Are Students Customers and Should We Care about the Experiences They Have?

From the session presented by Douglas Olsen, PhD, associate professor, Department of Marketing & Center for Services Leadership, W. P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University at the 2014 GMAC Annual Conference.

Rebecca Baer

In this session, Dr. Doug Olsen demonstrated a process to improve the “customer” experience. Some might argue that students are not customers, but Olsen offered that the customer experience cannot be taken for granted and that improving processes may help programs achieve higher levels of retention and satisfaction. Great service can be a differentiator in a competitive market. 

Olsen introduced the process of “Service Blueprinting” as a tool to help programs accomplish a higher level of service. He cited Ostrom, Bitner, and Burkhard’s October 2011 article, titled “Leveraging Service Blueprinting to Rethink Higher Education,” and also referenced Valerie Zeithaml’s work as he introduced the “Five Major Contributors to the Service Experience” as knowledge, empathy, reliability, speed of response, and tangibles (classroom, time of class, audio/visual, chairs/tables, temperature, technology, etc.). 

The process of Service Blueprinting is a focused and intentional plan. It requires a program to examine, step-by-step, the processes in which students or prospective students have to navigate. At each step, stage, or touch point the customer is making an evaluation of service. A team comprised of both front-line and support staff maps their processes while asking the following questions to identify internal and external troubles: “What metrics exist to measure?”, “Where are the pain points?”, and “Where are the bottle necks?” The team should also examine what physical evidence exists at each stage (website, emails, brochures, class room setting). The team is also charged with identifying stages where processes can be improved and identifying what might be in the way behind the scenes that can be changed to provide exceptional service. 

Olsen encourages those participating in Service Blueprinting to keep in mind that each experience a student has in the chain is a “moment of truth”. The process will identify where the good moments are and where is extra effort needed. He also suggested that approaching the situation from a “Disney Perspective” is beneficial. That is, while the average Disney guest comes across 84 cast members, it takes only one bad interaction to ruin an entire experience. 

Olsen showed how Service Blueprinting has been used successfully by Arizona State University in parking services, University of Chicago in transportation, and by University of Colorado Denver in multiple student services offices. 


Rebecca L. Baer is the director of MBA and Certificate Programs at the Miller College of Business, Ball State University.