Higher Education is catching on to what industry has had to painfully learn: Service is the new differentiator. As products and service become more ubiquitous, the customer experience is becoming the battleground for attracting and retaining customers as well as building brands and value. This is no different with Higher Education, there are many institutions offering the same classes; public, private, on-line, in a variety of environments, but those that provide a superior customer experience will be the winners.

James Tien, the dean of Engineering at the University of Miami, has noted an 80-20 shift. Two decades ago, 80% of engineering students were going into manufacturing jobs; now that number is reversed with 80% of jobs in service. IBM has survived and prospered by shifting to a service-led growth model. They offer solutions, not just code and hardware. Higher Education needs to change its paradigm from a disseminator of data, to a service model focused on the student experience, as a way of creating value for all stakeholders.

Service can be defined as the application of knowledge for the benefit of others. That places education clearly in the domain of a service industry. Economists point out that innovation in service in our current economy often yields greater returns than other forms of innovation. Just look at Apple and its ability to make technology friendly by bringing services like music and books to their customers that created enormous value.

Those institutions that recognize that by providing superior service to their varied stakeholders (students, parents, staff, faculty, alumni, businesses, and communities) will not only improve the true product they are delivering, but they will improve their own retention rates, rankings, and image with all the stakeholders. This is a true win-win.