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Academic advising, as a service, is seen as a means of differentiating degree programs. Special consideration for service marketing and service quality dimensions are applied to the academic advising process. In short, marketing educators are called on to recognize the importance of quality academic advising in recruiting and retaining students.

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  1. 1. SERVICE QUALITY AND ACADEMIC ADVISING: PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH Page 1 of 9 SERVICE QUALITY AND ACADEMIC ADVISING: PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH Peggy O. Shields, University of Southern Indiana ABSTRACT Academic advising, as a service, is seen as a means of differentiating degree programs. Special consideration for service marketing and service quality dimensions are applied to the academic advising process. In short, marketing educators are called on to recognize the importance of quality academic advising in recruiting and retaining students. INTRODUCTION Uncertain enrollments have caused many degree programs to compete for students' tuition dollars. To sustain our programs and protect enrollments we, as marketing educators, need to market our degrees. Fortunately, marketing educators should possess the knowledge and skills necessary to develop strategies to attract students to our offerings. An often overlooked avenue to satisfy students needs and wants, and to maximize consumer satisfaction, is the academic advising process. Good advising affects the career decisions and educational aspirations of students (Winston, Enders and Miller 1982). However, in many cases academic advising is not taken seriously by faculty members. Administration often neither recognizes nor rewards good advising. Studies indicate that a majority of institutions have no formal recognition/reward system for advisors and most do not consider advising effectiveness in making promotion/tenure decisions (Crockett and Levitz 1984). The need is present to take a proactive role in the academic advising process, or else marketing programs could lose majors to other academic programs. Applying the concepts of service quality to academic advising for marketing students/advisees is advocated. As marketing faculty we straddle the line between the discipline we teach and the instructional role we play as teachers. Marketing educators can therefore benefit from both arenas in which we practice. An important lesson can be learned from marketing practitioners who recognize that good service enhances an institution's ability to attract new customers and makes it easier to do business with existing customers (Sonnenberg 1989). From another angle, researchers in academic advising stress qualities familiar to marketers, as exemplified by the following: "Effectiveness and efficiency of advising systems should be measured by how well students' needs are met and the quality of their educational experiences" (Winston, Miller, Ender and Grites 1984, P. 15). Given these considerations, the basic premises of this paper are therefore the following: - Advising is a service provided to students file://C:WINDOWSDesktop1995SWMA95sma166.htm 5/24/04
  2. 2. SERVICE QUALITY AND ACADEMIC ADVISING: PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH Page 2 of 9 - Marketing educators are service providers - Services can be marketed (Kotler and Levy 1969) Service quality can be measured and defined by standard attributes (Parasuraman, Berry and - Zeithaml 1991) - The service quality of academic advising can therefore be defined and measured - Effective academic advising by faculty can by used to increase enrollments and retention Thus defined, the role of an academic advisor will be examined. Advising as a service and the characteristics which necessitate special marketing considerations are examined. Service quality attributes applied to the academic advising process will also be addressed. THE ROLE OF AN ACADEMIC ADVISOR At some universities advising is not a faculty function. Advising may be performed by centers and/or specialists. However, interaction between faculty and students can serve to foster a binding relationship between the student and the institution (Frost 1991). The fact remains that effective advising can be an asset to both the university and the student. It can be viewed as a marketing tool. A consumer oriented student-advisor relationship can be an enduring form of product/service differentiation. Exactly what is involved in the role of academic advisor? At a minimum, the role of an advisor is to convey, supervise and enforce the policies of the institution. Some commonly assumed roles are that as adult, expert, teacher, friend, judge, authority or rubber stamp (Kramer and Gardner 1977). Too often an academic advisor, because of lack of rewards and time pressures to accomplish other tasks, relies on that last role and rubber stamps whatever the student desires, rightly or wrongly. Little thought or time may be allocated to an individual advisee. Ideally, the roles each advisor assumes should be predetermined and the related tasks, responsibilities and resources defined. In essence, " advisors, faculty members provide specialized information and assistance relative to systematic academic progress" (Kramer and Gardner 1977, P. 15). From the advisee's viewpoint, an advisor should provide technical information and illumination into the entire educational experience. The faculty advisor is an important source of information for the advisee. The typical business curriculum necessitates that an academic advisor be knowledgeable about university-wide issues. Beyond core business courses and marketing-specific courses, the marketing student will likely be required to take a variety of general education courses as mandated by the university and/or degree program. A marketing student's advisor must therefore be capable of explaining requirements the student will experience campus wide. Each institution and each advisor will develop unique advising roles. Academic advising will need to be scrutinized as a function and the participants determined to have similar expectations before satisfaction will be achieved. ADVISING AS A SERVICE file://C:WINDOWSDesktop1995SWMA95sma166.htm 5/24/04
  3. 3. SERVICE QUALITY AND ACADEMIC ADVISING: PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH Page 3 of 9 Basic tenets of marketing, and specifically the marketing of services, can provide insights for improving advising effectiveness. Advising as an exchange process and the four special considerations for the marketing of services will be addressed. In the advising process the product, or service, being offered for exchange is intangible. The advisee enters into this exchange in search of advice, and information. In exchange, the student enrolls in coursework at the institution and pays tuition. In the long run, contented advisees could lead to increased enrollment and job security for the faculty advisor. Unfortunately, other than "psychic income", the advisor may feel that he/she is not getting anything directly from the advisor/advisee exchange process. It is generally recognized that there are four elements that are unique to the marketing of services. These four elements are intangibility, inseparability, variability/inconsistency, and perishability/inventory. Each of these elements or characteristics will subsequently be related to academic advising as a service. The advising process is almost a pure service with very few related tangibles. Service marketers should attempt to make their offerings tangible to the consumer (Levitt 1981). For example, an advisor can do this by showing the advisee the progress they are making on an advising form. Ideally an advisee will feel that the advising service is inseparable from a particular advisor. Advising is a person-to-person process and the advisor represents the institution to the advisee, therefore a relationship between the two should develop. Hopefully, this relationship will be based on a sense of trust and respect. Because of the nature of the process, and the number of interactions and variety of individual circumstances involved, the advising process will produce great variabilities and inconsistencies from one experience to the next. Horror stories about inadequate and incorrect academic advising are not uncommon. Some advisors take the task very seriously and are dedicated to the student's well being and make every effort to be conscientious. Others might intentionally provide poor levels of service so that the student seeks advise elsewhere. The same advisor may also provide a wide range of service quality between advising experiences because of on time constraints and other pending obligations, or information mortality. Advising services can not be stored therefore they are a perishable inventory. An advisor's time is what is being offered, as well as the provided academic advice. The advisor's time is valuable and probably severely restricted. Unfortunately students are not likely to spread their need for advising conveniently throughout the semester. They will most likely desire attention beyond what traditional office hours provide when registration and other significant events approach. Scheduling becomes key. SERVICE QUALITY The marketing literature has recently witnessed a multitude of research on service quality. In a multistage research effort Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry have given careful consideration to file://C:WINDOWSDesktop1995SWMA95sma166.htm 5/24/04
  4. 4. SERVICE QUALITY AND ACADEMIC ADVISING: PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH Page 4 of 9 the topic (ie. Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry 1985, Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry 1988, Parasuraman, Berry and Zeithaml 1991, Parasuraman, Berry and Zeithaml 1991, Zeithaml, Berry and Parasuraman 1993, and Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry 1994). In their research Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry have identified five dimensions used by consumers to determine service quality. These dimensions have been operationalized in a scale (SERVQUAL) that has been revised and validated in the aforementioned research. Originally ten dimensions of service quality were identified and were later collapsed into the following five dimensions for SERVQUAL: Tangibles: Physical facilities, equipment, and appearance of personnel Reliability: Ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately Responsiveness: Willingness to help customers and provide prompt service Assurance: Knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to inspire trust and confidence Empathy: Caring, individualized attention the firm provides its customers (Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry 1988, P. 23) SERVQUAL is not without critics. Teas (1993) questions the validity of the "perceptions-minus- expectations" perceived nature of the SERVQUAL model. Carman (1990) expressed concerns over aspects of the SERVQUAL instrument. Other researchers have also criticized the conceptionalizations employed by Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry (Cronin and Taylor 1992 and Cronin and Taylor 1994). These concerns have lead Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry to defend their conclusions and offer future research directions to add to the body of knowledge concerning service quality assessment (Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry 1994). Regardless of the controversy in the literature, the concept of service quality is important to marketing practitioners (ie. Sherden 1988, Sonnenberg 1989, Cina 1990, Berry, Zeithaml and Parasuraman 1990, and Shycon 1992). In a highly competitive environment the practicing marketer recognizes service quality as a new frontier of competition. The concepts provided by Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry and the dimensions addressed in SERVQUAL have implications for research in specific applications. Some of these applications have, and can in the future, benefit the work in academic research. Looking to provide a framework in which to improve teaching excellence Allen and Davis (1991) applied the five dimensions identified in SERVQUAL in a study involving MBA students and alumni. SERVQUAL has also been used to assess the service quality provided at a business school placement center (Carman 1990). THE SERVICE QUALITY OF ACADEMIC ADVISING file://C:WINDOWSDesktop1995SWMA95sma166.htm 5/24/04
  5. 5. SERVICE QUALITY AND ACADEMIC ADVISING: PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH Page 5 of 9 By applying research on service quality to the academic advising process, marketing educators can improve the service provided to the new and continuing student. Insight into the role of the advisor and the expectations of the student can benefit the academic advising process. An interesting exercise into the nature of service quality and academic advising involves applying the dimensions of service quality identified in SERVQUAL to the academic advising relationship. Asking students to perform this task can be very insightful. Each of the five SERVQUAL attributes will be examined here within the context of academic advising service. Because of the nature of the service under investigation, it was considered fruitful to also examine three other dimensions identified in Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry's original model (1985), namely access, communication and understanding. Tangibles The tangibles in the academic advising process involve more than just the appearance of the advisor and the support staff, although this may be an important factor in an advisee's assessment of the quality of the service provided. The credibility of the advisor may very well be affected by the demeanor and appearance of the advisor and his/her work space (Bitner 1990). Will an advisor, and support staff, in professional attire offer the perception of higher levels of service quality to the advisee? Other tangibles include a comfortable physical facility and appropriate up-to-date equipment. The advisee would appreciate a place to sit. The advising environment should be perceived as nonthreatening, at a minimum. Computers can also make the advising process more efficient and/or increase the perception of service quality. Each institution will be unique in many other tangibles inherent in the academic advising process. Regardless of what ancillary materials are employed in the advising process they should be user friendly. University catalogs, schedules of classes and advising sheets should be available and easy to interpret, while also appearing official and credible. Reliability Whether the promised advising service is performed dependably and accurately is of interest to the customer. A dependable advisor is one who keeps appointments and is trustworthy. An advisee wants to feel as if he/she is in good hands and all his/her advising needs are being considered. Advisors are providing advice and suggestions for the student. The student is trusting the advisor to be accurate in the advice they are offering. This requires efficient record keeping. The advisor also needs to be aware of degree requirements, prerequisites and other potential pitfalls. Responsiveness Expectations will be a key issue when considering the responsiveness of the academic advisor. A file://C:WINDOWSDesktop1995SWMA95sma166.htm 5/24/04
  6. 6. SERVICE QUALITY AND ACADEMIC ADVISING: PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH Page 6 of 9 conscientious advisor will be more than just a signature to the advisee and will provide helpful advice. Prompt service may also be an expectation, however the definition of 'prompt' may need to be jointly determined by the advisor and the advisee. Assurance The essence of this dimension makes it critical for the assessment of the service quality of academic advising. The title "advisor" implies that the individual is worthy of being solicited for their opinions. Therefore, an advisor should possess more knowledge than the advisee. An advisor should be knowledgeable about the degree program and various processes within the institution. Ideally, an advisor should be able to answer such questions as, "What subject matter is involved in this course?", "Why is this course in the program?", and "With this degree what jobs will I be qualified for after graduation?". When it comes to courtesy, faculty often forget that students are customers. Not only does the advisor need to be perceived as courteous, but all the personal contacts in the advising process, which may be several, must also be gracious. A sense of trust and confidence is essential in the advisor/advisee relationship. The advisee should feel as if their best interest is being considered and that any problems that they may have will be taken care of by the advisor. Confidentiality of the advisee's progress and/or problems will be expected also. Empathy An advisee would like to believe that their advisor cares about them as an individual. Individualized attention should be devoted to the advisee. Concern about an advisee and their progress, or lack of, should be expressed. To recognize an advisee by name and to remember their situation would help improve the service quality perceived by that advisee. Access Access is one of the three dimensions from the original ten that was collapsed into the assurance and empathy dimensions. However the three additional dimensions detailed here are felt to have special implications for this topic and are thus included. Advisors that are not accessible to the advisee are not utilized and the opportunity to increase service quality is lost. Hours convenient to the customer are advisable. A convenient location is also desirable. The ability to access the advisor easily by phone would be perceived positively by the advisee. No one likes to be kept waiting for service, including advisees. Communication The communication dimension entails, "....keeping customers informed in language they can understand and listening to them" (Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry 1985, p.47). Freshmen and students new to the institution may need to be addressed differently than continuing students. Those less sophisticated to the institution's procedures may need detailed and simplified explanations. file://C:WINDOWSDesktop1995SWMA95sma166.htm 5/24/04
  7. 7. SERVICE QUALITY AND ACADEMIC ADVISING: PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH Page 7 of 9 The benefits of the program should be explained as compared to the cost, or personal investment. The advising service should be explained and the benefits of utilizing the service detailed. Understanding/Knowing the Customer The practice of effective marketing is predicated on satisfying consumers' needs and wants. A service provider should be able to identify a specific customer's needs and requirements. Considering most academic advisors, and all marketing educators, were students once themselves, identifying the needs of the advisee should not be a difficult task. The advisees' needs, collectively, should be considered when designing the advising process for the institution and the degree program. Additionally, an advisor should attempt to determine the individual needs of a particular advisee and to respond to those needs. CONCLUSIONS Each advising encounter should not be considered as an individual transaction, but as a step in a long-term relationship with the marketing student. The institution and the degree program will benefit from this type of philosophy. When it comes to practicing what we preach, marketing practitioners recognize, "....the critical importance of service quality to the company's future must be accurately communicated to employees" (Sonnenberg 1989, p. 57). Everyone from top administrators, who must send the right message, to advisors and staff members must be trained to this philosophy of service quality. For this process to be effective monitoring and rewarding become key ingredients. In order to have academic advising become a tool to differentiate a degree program, rewards must become evident to the advisors and we must move beyond rhetoric, or lip service. Limitations must also be recognized, such as the number of students assigned to each advisor and the time available for advising. As marketing educators, if we practice as advisors what we preach in the classroom about the importance of service quality we should be able to attract and maintain the number and quality of students we desire. In short, advisees should be treated as customers, or long-term assets. The adaptation of service quality research and methodology to advising issues would prove to be insightful and fruitful work benefiting both the researcher and the student. REFERENCES Allen, Jeff and Duane Davis (1991), "Searching for Excellence in Marketing Education: The Relationship Between Service Quality and Three Outcome Variables," Journal of Marketing Education, (Spring), 47-55. Berry, Leonard L., Valarie A. Zeithaml and A. Parasuraman (1990). "Five Imperatives for Improving Service Quality," Sloan Management Review, (Summer), 29-38. Bitner, Mary Jo (1990), "Evaluating Service Encounters: The Effects of Physical Surroundings and Employee Responses," Journal of Marketing, Vol. 54, 69-82. file://C:WINDOWSDesktop1995SWMA95sma166.htm 5/24/04
  8. 8. SERVICE QUALITY AND ACADEMIC ADVISING: PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH Page 8 of 9 Carman, James M. (1990), "Consumer Perceptions of Service Quality: An Assessment of the SERVQUAL Dimensions," Journal of Retailing, V. 66, No. 1, 33-55. Cina, Craig (1990), "Five Steps to Service Excellence," Journal of Services Marketing, V. 4, No. 2, 39-47. Crockett, David S. and Randi S. Levitz (1984), "Current Advising Practices in Colleges and Universities," in Developmental Academic Advising edited by Roger B. Winston, Theodore K. Miller, Steven C. C. Ender and Thomas J. Grites, Jossey- Bass Publishers: San Francisco, P. 35- 63. Cronin, J. Joseph and Steven A. Taylor (1992), "Measuring Service Quality: A Reexamination and Extension," Journal of Marketing, V. 56, No. 3, 55-68. _________ (1994), "SERVPERF Versus SERVQUAL: Reconciling Performance-Based and Perception-Minus- Expectations Measurement of Service Quality," Journal of Marketing, V. 58, No. 1, 125-131. Frost, Susan H. (1991), Academic Advising for Student Success, ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 3, The George Washington University: Washington, D. C.. Kramer, Howard C. and Robert E. Gardner (1977), Advising by Faculty, National Education Association: Washington, D. C.. Kotler, Philip and S. J. Levy (1969), "Broadening the Concept of Marketing," Journal of Marketing, V. 33, NO. 1, 10-15. Levitt, Theodore (1981), "Marketing Intangible Products and Product Intangibles," Harvard Business Review, (May-June), 968-979. Parasuraman, A., Valarie A. Zeithaml and Leonard L. Berry (1985), "A Conceptual Model of Service Quality and Its Implications for Future Research," Journal of Marketing, V.49, No. 3, 41-50. _________ (1988),"SERVQUAL: A Multiple-item Scale for Measuring Consumer Perceptions of Service Quality," Journal of Retailing, V.64, No. 1, 12-40. _________ (1991a), "Understanding Customer Expectations of Service," Sloan Management Review, Spring, 39-48. _________ (1991 b), "Refinement and Reassessment of the SERVQUAL Scale," Journal of Retailing, V. 67, No. 4, 420-450. _________ (1994), "Reassessment of Expectations as a Comparison Standard in Measuring Service Quality: Implications for Further Research," Journal of Marketing, V. 58, No. 1, 111- 124. file://C:WINDOWSDesktop1995SWMA95sma166.htm 5/24/04
  9. 9. SERVICE QUALITY AND ACADEMIC ADVISING: PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH Page 9 of 9 Sherden, William A. (1988), "Gaining the Service Quality Advantage," The Journal of Business Strategy, March/April, 45-48. Shycon, Harvey N. (1992), "Improved Customer Service: Measuring the Payoff," The Journal of Business Strategy, January/Febuary, 13-17. Sonnenberg, Frank K. (1989), "Service Quality: Forethought, Not Afterthought," The Journal of Business Strategy, Sept/Oct, 54-57. Teas, R. Kenneth (1993), "Expectations, Performance Evaluation, and Consumers' Perceptions of Quality," Journal of' Marketing, V. 57, No.3, 18-34. Winston, Roger B., Steven C. Enders and Theodore K . Miller (1982), Developmental Approaches to Academic Advising, Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers: San Francisco. Winston, Roger B., Theodore K. Miller, Steven C. Enders and Thomas J. Grites (1984), Developmental Academic Advising, Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco. Zeithaml, Valarie A., Leonard L. Berry and A. Parasuraman (1993), "The Nature and Determinants of Customer Expectations of Service," Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, V. 21, No. 1, 1-12. file://C:WINDOWSDesktop1995SWMA95sma166.htm 5/24/04