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Sam Boonin is the vice president of products at Zendesk, a software company that collects online inquiries from customers and turns them into support tickets. Zendesk’s software is used by more than 30,000 companies and institutions, from Sony and Adobe to Twitter and Groupon. And so Boonin decided to sift through the customer satisfaction surveys to see which industries are doing the best job in solving customer problems.

Educational institutions topped the list for the past two quarters and the sector has been in the top three since Zendesk started the survey. “We were surprised that education did come out so high,” Boonin told me by phone.

Universities dominate the 1000 educational institutions in Zendesk’s customer base, but tutoring services and entire school districts are also among them. A typical online inquiry might be a University of Michigan student asking,“Where’s my transcript?” About a fifth of the end-users agree to fill out a customer satisfaction survey afterward, answering whether they were happy with the online service that they received. Education gets the most yeses.

Boonin suspects that people have such low expectations for customer service in education that they’re pleasantly surprised when they can accomplish the smallest things online. “Wow, you actually answered my facilities request. I can find out where my son’s transcript is,” explained Boonin.

By contrast, in the telecom industry, which ranks poorly in customer satisfaction, people are primarily lodging complaints online. In education, the inquiries are more favors than complaints. And the big complaints that people have in education, e.g. “Why doesn’t my university degree help me get me a job?”, are unlikely to be lodged online.

“I’m noticing a desire to treat students as customers. They (the universities) want to start to measure this,” said Boonin.

When I was a fellow at Columbia Business School a few years back, I was noticing the same customer satisfaction mentality among the administration and faculty. When I originally went to grad school in the mid-nineties, no one cared about pleasing students. I wonder, if pandering to students, because they’re paying so much for their degrees, produces good educational outcomes.

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