Be a Partner, Not a Customer

At the business school where I work, we talk a lot about partnerships.  Students are not viewed as customers to be served. Providing service means one person gives and the other receives. The service provider- in this case an advisor, professor or administrator- fulfills an obligation to the recipient: the student.

Service-based relationships are fake. The “customer is always right” attitude doesn’t work in (non-profit) higher education. Sometimes students, faculty and staff aren’t right and discussing the reasons why is how we learn. Service-based relationships do not hold people accountable for their actions or their future because service is focused on ensuring happiness or satisfaction in the present, not on challenging others to be better.

On the other hand, partnerships mean people spend time getting to know one another in order to build a relationship filled with trust. They respect one another and are honest with each other. They work together toward a common goal. Partners, as our Associate Dean says, “go the extra mile”. The staff I work with go above and beyond to assist students in developing their brands, and setting and achieving their career goals.

But, we expect students to do the same – to go above and beyond. Here are some ways to do so:

  • Go to class and be engaged.
  • Visit professors during office hours and get to know them as people.
  • Prepare thoughtful and well-researched questions before meeting with a career or academic advisor.
  • Be involved on campus and follow through with promises.
  • Give administrators and advisors feedback and constructive criticism.
  • Take responsibility for maximizing your college experience by holding both yourself and your partners accountable.

By doing these things- by being an engaged and active participant- you contribute to a school or college brand that revolves around meaningful, helpful relationships where giving more than is expected happens consistently. More importantly, it builds your own brand by challenging you to grow, develop your skills, and become better at whatever it is you want to do in life. It enables those who are there to help you get to know you as a person, not just as a customer with whom they will have a short-lived interaction.

Do not settle for a college experience in which you are served just enough to satisfy your basic expectations. Demand more. Demand that people go above and beyond. But, be ready to challenge yourself to do the same.


Kelly is a career advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she assists undergraduate business students with all aspects of their career development. Kelly received her masters degree in Higher Education/Student Personnel Administration from New York University, and her bachelors degree from UW-Madison, where she majored in Political Science and Women’s Studies. Connect with Kelly on Twitter, LinkedIn or BrazenCareerist.

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