The University Steve Jobs would have built?

I’m shamelessly ripping off the title, from a piece on by Carmine Gallo, author of “The Apple Experience, secrets to building insanely great customer loyalty”.

apple exp



Gallo writes in his short article about work he did with Walnut Hill Medical Centre in Dallas, and this was what grabbed my attention:

“Enhancing the patient experience has now become an increasingly important goal for virtually all the hospitals in the country. They are all waking up to the fact that the quality of their customer experience will impact their bottom line,” according to Dr. Rich Guerra at Walnut Hill.

Replace patient with student, and hospital with university, then this applies to us too. This is not to say that universities also have to worry about other relationships, such as with research collaborators, funding councils, central and local government and other stakeholders, but for a teaching led institution like ours, then we know that student experience (and importantly success) is critical to us.

Gallo has three parts to his book: inspiring your internal customer; serving your external customer and setting the stage. There’s something in all of these that could be of value to a university embarking on significant change and campus developments.

In the article, Gallo refers to 7 principles from the “Steve Jobs playbook”:

  • Look outside your industry for inspiration.
  • Start with the right vision.
  • Hire people with an aptitude for service.
  • Greet customers with a warm welcome.
  • Train every employee to deliver steps of service every time.
  • Design spaces to make people feel better.
  • Leverage mobile technology.

Would it really be that difficult to apply this to a university setting? After all hospitals and universities have many similarities – we transform lives; we employ a lot of clever people; we employ large numbers of service and back office staff to make the place work; we want our clients (I’m not going to write customers) to succeed and have a good experience.

Look outside your industry for inspiration

So often universities look to each other to decide what to do next, hence a set of research , learning and teaching and student experience strategies that are interchangeable between institutions. Could we identify better examples of managing student experience in the tourism industry or healthcare sector?

Start with the right vision

This must be a no-brainer, but having a simple vision that everyone can sign up to is the starting point of getting your staff, your internal customer, onto the right page. Our VC’s blog last week, talking about importance of league tables, is an example of this.

Hire people with an aptitude for service

We know we need to employ staff with these skills in our services, but do we consider it enough when recruiting academic staff? As well as wanting to recruit great academics, we need to make sure that they are able to deliver the right educational experience to students.

Greet customers with a warm welcome

Yes, I know this is right out of the Apple Store manual, but again, why wouldn’t we do this? I have to say that at Open Days and at moving in weekend, we are actually really good at this.

Train every employee to deliver steps of service every time

Again, a bit retail orientated, but if we are recruiting to offer good service to create a good student experience, are we doing enough to make sure everyone knows what it is they need to do?

Design spaces to make people feel better.

Ok,  for us it won;t be “feel better”, but it will be “learn better”. As we enter a period of deciding what our campus should look like mean there is an opportunity for a discussion on building the kind of spaces that support learning.And my view is that this does not mean more lecture theatres. The open space in Brindley seems to have a lot of learning going on whenever I am in there, and we need to learn, again from other industries, what might be the best way of shaping and using our space.

Leverage Mobile Technology

I’ve written before, in my blog post about digifest14, on how the future of digital is going to be huge, and that it’s about more than having an iPad.Linking to the point above about spaces through, we need to consider how we will use technology, and importantly be able to react and use new technologies, to support learning. This isn’t about minor changes such as having BlackBoard Mobile, this is about all of us being able to use technology to deliver education in a different way

So, some initial thoughts, based on one article and a quick skim through Gallo’s book. There is a danger of being sucked into the Apple fanboy view of the world, worshipping at the altar of Jobs, but there are soem good ideas in this that I will return to in my next installment of “We can be better than this”.