Students as Customers: Doing It Like Apple Does It

Do you think of your students as customers? Do you study your customers in your classroom, attempt to understand their needs, and then set out to actually meet those needs through authentic learning? This is exactly what Apple does with its customers.

Photo by bfishadow on Flickr
Photo by bfishadow on Flickr


A Wonderful Customer Experience

This is not a post about the virtues or vices of the Apple corporation or its former CEO, Steven Jobs. Though I may not emulate Jobs on every front, what has impressed me was the way he knew his customers and anticipated their “needs.” The book, The Ultimate Question 2.0, discusses how Apple studied its customers and used its retail stores to provide an amazing experience for its followers. It states,

Apple’s mission was not to make money but to enrich the lives of customers and employees. The stores would be places for people to gather and learn, not just to buy. They would be designed to encourage an ongoing relationship with customers, not merely a one-off purchase transaction. The delighted customers …would tell their friends and colleagues about their wonderful experience at the store.

Students as Customers

A few phrases caught my attention: “ongoing relationship,” “delighted customers,” and “wonderful experience.” Now, allow me to build a mental bridge for you and make a connection to our teaching opportunities. Our students are our customers who have needs. How much do we study this current Generation iY group who is very distinct and carries the influence of its culture into our classrooms?

I like what author Dan Pink has said about teaching: “We need to prepare kids for their future, not our past.” And for that to happen, I must be intentional in studying this generation that comes into my classroom everyday. I find it concerning when I hear teachers comment that this generation just does not get it and that they do not want to learn. Yes, this generation comes with its baggage but so did my generation and so did yours. The key is to be able to meet them where they most effectively can be met.

Effectively Understanding Your Customers

So how can this happen? Hear are some ideas to consider:

  • Specifically study what makes this generation tick. An excellent resource for this is Tim Elmore’s Generation iY book. In depth and practical, this text will give you both theory and practice for how to best influence this generation sitting in our classrooms.
  • Subscribe to a frequent blog or podcast to be able to get a “snack” each day/week that will give you some practical ideas to try in the classroom to better know your customers. Again, Tim Elmore’s blog would be a wonderful help as you can subscribe to it and have a quick read. Another great resource is The Teaching Professor blog by Maryellen Weimer.
  • Intentionally make your class more interactive with more ownership. As you can, include them in some class decisions or ask them to contribute to a process or goal. Ask for their thoughts. It is quite easy to understand your customers: just ask them what they think.

Understanding the needs of your class-customers can be an overlooked topic of being a master teacher. But taking the time to study and appreciate the nuances and distinctives of this generation will only increase the ability to relate to your students and have influence in their lives. Isn’t our teaching supposed to be about their success anyhow?

Community Input: So what are you intentionally doing in your classroom to understand your customers?

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2 thoughts on “Students as Customers: Doing It Like Apple Does It

  1. Good thoughts!

    I am always amused when I hear someone speak of the younger generation as “not getting it.” Whose responsibility is it whether or not they “get it?” If you as an educator somehow think “you got it,” then I’m sure you have to admit someone gave it to you. And in that respect, we are the givers – or suppliers, if you will, and they are the receivers, consumers – customers.

    Education is an economic progress every bit as much as it is an academic one, but the beautiful thing about Apple is their understanding of the social aspect of the consumer-supplier relationship. Marginal benefit must exceed marginal cost for someone to make a purchase. You can make a good product, or teach a good lesson, but until the consumer/pupil knows they need it, all you have is your product – no business – no learning – just a product.

    As an educator, I seek to foster an environment that is engaging and challenging. I have found Socratic methods to be incredibly useful for this. Open ended questions that lead the students to those “aha” moments are incredibly powerful. But what those questions are can make all the difference in the world. During my 3-hour acting work-shops, I always take a solid 15-30 minutes just to ask my students about their lives. (evaluate the consumer, as it were)

    The reason this is key, I believe, is because in sales we speak of “probing questions.” These are open-ended questions that lead the consumer to relaying valuable information to the sales person so that he can approach the potential client “on his/her own turf” as it were. For instance, if I was selling you cable services, I might ask “what types of programming do you enjoy” rather than “how much money do spend on tv services each month.” The later seems invasive and pushy, while the former is casual and prompts the customer’s valuable feedback. As educators, we need to get on the learner’s “own turf” before we can ever hope to connect them to ours. In that sense, we need to “get it” far more than our pupils do.

    • Bravo on those comments, Johnathan. I would totally agree and believe you have some good insights into that important customer relationship. Thank you for your thoughts on this topic. Treating our students as valued customers has a ton of benefits that directly give back into the classroom environment…and relationships.

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