Key Issues to Address in Applying Best Practices for Service Quality in Telematic Learning at the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education

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Commonwealth of Learning (COL)

PCF2 // The active role played by Telematic Learning Systems (TLS) in the education of off-campus students in South Africa is a strategic thrust to make tertiary education accessible to all the people of South Africa. As a result, the accessibility of quality tertiary education via contact-overdistance learning programmes requires new paradigms and approaches from the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education (PU for CHE), one of which is the approach to customer service in delivering quality service to the students. // In order to supply the ultimate learning value to students, the concept of customer service is becoming increasingly important. Customer service should not be regarded as a surrogate for academic excellence but it certainly enhances the value gained through distance learning on a tertiary level. TLS is a support department that delivers and administrates all the degree and diploma programmes developed by the academic departments at the PU for CHE and has adopted a strong customer aligned approach as a strategic thrust and students are treated as valued clients of the university. Continuous customer satisfaction research is conducted and this paper reports on the results of one such a research project. // This paper reports on the service levels of telematic students as experienced during their first semester of the 2002 academic year. The analysis employed a customer service index for all functional areas of service delivery as well as an analysis of the five service dimensions (as suggested by research from Parasuraman, Zeithaml & Berry (1985)) of the service encounter. In addition, a managerial approach is followed where the focus of service quality improvement aims to apply the best practices on the identified communalities of service quality. This focused approach thus aims service quality management to be specific to the communal problematics, rather than a more generic approach of general service improvement. // Six customer service principles were identified from the literature research while the results showed that in most of these areas, customers experience a satisfactory service encounter at TLS. Two areas showed unfavourable service levels, namely: study centre visits and the Student accounts. The analysis on the five service dimensions showed that all the dimensions are satisfactory but need more attention to derive at excellent service levels. The other dimensions showed favourable indices. The result of the Cronbach Alpha coefficient as the reliability test on the data set is favourable (α > 0.85). The results could thus be regarded as reliable and usable in managerial application. // The results are of significant value, firstly, to the PU for CHE that attempts to improve the service quality to students. The PU for CHE now has a better understanding of its customer service levels and should be able to focus managerial energy in these areas. Secondly, students should gain from efficiently trained front-line staff who is educated in clients’ expectations of service levels. Thirdly, other researchers in service quality could use the results as a measure for future research since it provides a frame of reference to them. //

South Africa