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Principal aims in Aberdeen

Raising young people's awareness of customer care standards keeps service providers on their toes and at the same time acts as a powerful recruitment tool for a range of occupations. Judy Mackie reports

Aberdeen College principal Rae Angus welcomes the Customer Care Aware campaign. "Whether it's in education or other areas of business activity, it's important that the customer is made aware that his or her expectations should be satisfied. And if we satisfy the customer, we go a long way to improving the economic and social conditions of Grampian," he says.

Customer care is not a new concept to the college, which in 1994 became the first further education college in Scotland to receive the Charter Mark award for service excellence. Its Clients' Charter sets out to students, trainees and employers details of its commitment to customer care, including: * A customer care team, information centre and guidance and counselling service.

* Clear identification of staff.

* All courses taught in line with the requirements of the Scottish Quality Management System.

* Prompt replies to written correspondence and telephone calls.

* Prompt payment of accounts.

* A suggestions comments scheme.

* A formal complaints procedure.

* Regular client satisfaction surveys.

Rae Angus is aware that many of these commitments are not traditionally associated with colleges, or any other type of educational establishment for that matter. "Formerly, the student was not seen as a customer. Teachers and lecturers were in a very strong position of authority; they would teach the student and the student would be grateful for the fact that they had been taught.

"I left school at 15, totally disillusioned with being treated like that, and I suspect quite a large proportion of the population felt the same. I resolved that when I had anything to do with it, I would try to put the student and the employer into the centre as much as possible - make them the subject, rather than the object, of what a college is all about. Customer care is an attempt to make our professional relationships, as well as our course delivery, more student-centred."

While students and employers have seen the college's relentless shift towards improved customer care as a natural progression - mirroring, the principal believes, the rise in customer-care standards throughout the rest of society - the staff has had to undergo a more significant cultural change.

"Every employee of the college now receives training in customer care, " he says. "The staff has been excellent, really responsive. But initially there was quite a bit of work that had to be done. For the most part, the lecturers had seen their job as primarily one of teaching. Customer care is more than that, however. It is all-encompassing and goes far beyond the traditional teacher-student relationship."

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