Customer Service

A recent report, first published in The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE, July 24) and then picked up elsewhere, indicates a university is taking lessons from a grocery store.

In customer service.

The CHE story identified a spokeswoman from the upstate New York grocer Wegmans as an invited speaker at American University (Washington, D.C.).

With absolutely no doubt or any qualification, Wegmans has the very best employee training of any organization. Indeed, any comparison with its home-base (Rochester, NY) grocery competitor, Tops, can only conclude that the competition hires the people Wegmans rejects.

Wegmans epitomizes the old-fashioned but little practiced expression, “The customer is always right.”

A trip to Wegmans with a complaint and the matter is settled so quickly and so satisfactorily as to make one’s head explode.

The Wegmans Customer Service representatives take care of any complaint so quickly, one doesn’t have time to become angry. They won’t let you. They’re faster than is your anger.

No matter what the problem – including those resulting from customer confusion or outright stupidity – it’s resolved in under a minute.

Wegmans perhaps thinks: if it costs us a dollar to resolve this problem and make a customer happy, who cares? Buying a customer for life at that rate is cheap.

And, as a result, they’ve built up an extraordinarily loyal clientele. Indeed, people referred to “my” Wegmans long, long before the personalization became popular (and goofy) to the point of cliché.

All of this admirable. After all, grocery stores operate on about a two percent profit margin. (That’s for the groceries; the margin for a chaise lounge purchased at a grocery store approaches three digits.)

Now, the CHE news report indicates, colleges and universities can learn a thing or two about customer service from operations such as Wegmans.

Can they?

At a university or a college, who is the customer?


If so, then at the university the customer is almost always wrong or doesn’t know. The correction and the education is why they’re attending.

As one comedian once quipped, “I don’t go to the hospital to visit healthy people.”

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