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Keeping the "customer" happy

Posted by Christopher Shea  July 15, 2008 01:49 PM

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Ice cream is just the beginning

Does the idea of treating college students like customers -- striving never to disrupt their sense of contentment -- give you the willies? Then welcome to your nightmare: High Point University, profiled this month in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

This "once-sleepy institution in the hills of North Carolina" is now evidently thrumming with vitality, thanks to the efforts of its president, Nido R. Qubein, a Lebanese-born High Point alumnus and author of the books "How to Get Whatever You Want" and "Close Like a Pro: Selling Strategies for Success."

Among Qubein's innovations since arriving three years ago are an ice-cream truck that circles the campus, dispensing free treats (500 choices!); valet parking; a concierge (who will handle your dry cleaning); and the hiring of a "director of WOW!," whose sole mission is to keep up the spirits of the university's charges.

Does that not sound sufficiently coddling? On every student's birthday, he or she gets a birthday card and balloons from the president, plus a Starbucks gift certificate -- plus a slice of cake and a "Happy Birthday" serenade, should he or she set foot in the cafeteria. (The staff gets an alert via the student's i.d. card.) Birthdays aside, the administration likes to surprise students with random gifts and snacks; careful records are kept of each student's preferences on this crucial front.

The Chronicle reports that Mr. Qubein, who is also chairman of the board of the Great Harvest Bread Company, has raised $100 million for the school by tapping his wealthy acquaintances and the new money has permitted significant expansion of the campus's facilities. The president regularly fends off recruiting feelers from other colleges.

One puzzling detail: President Feelgood has decreed that classical music be piped onto the campus's main lawn. Note to the director of WOW!: you might want to focus-group that one.

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