Customer Service: The Neglected Aspect of Tutoring

I am a new member of the BSU Writing Center team and have only been observing the goings on for a few weeks. As a person who has in the past made his living from listening, helping and serving, I cannot help but write about a topic of which I believe I have ample knowledge: customer service.

Now, I know you’re thinking I must be nuts but follow me on this for a moment. We are, as “tutors”, providing a service. In order to prove our services worthy and necessary, we must be willing to provide the best possible service to our “customers” as we can. That is just good business.

So, as consultants, how do we practice customer service? Break down the process you use in your own center. A prospect (customer) walks in and what are they seeking? Guidance? Can we call that your “product”? So they want the best possible product for their “money” (in this case let’s say time is money.) The prospect is hoping for a good grade on their writing; which, we can look at as a “return on their investment”. Now granted, we do not guarantee a good grade but we can offer the best guidance possible to point the prospect in that direction.

Now think like a customer for a moment. If you walk into a place and you are about to plunk down some serious cash, what would you expect from the representatives? Quick attention? Warm friendly greetings? Honest and helpful guidance? Me too. So how do we provide those things?

First, whether there are eight of you in the center or you are by yourself, be quick to acknowledge their presence. If this is their first time in the center, they are probably nervous. We as humans tend to be at our most vulnerable when we are asking for help. Greet the prospect with a smile and friendliness. If you scowl at them like they are bothering you, more than likely they will feel this and not get that initial “warm fuzzy” to set them at ease. If a group of consultants are chatting when a person walks in, stop the conversation and all should be respectful of that person’s presence. I would suggest only one person from the group address the prospect directly though, as too many voices coming at a person at once could confuse them and make the situation tense.

If the person has an appointment, the assigned consultant should address the writer, introduce himself or herself and begin dialogue with the prospect. I like to tell my staff at my business, imagine this person is walking into your home. How would you make a guest in your home comfortable?

If the prospect does not have an appointment and there is an available consultant, that consultant should be willing to help the person. If an appointment needs to be made, explain the circumstances and walk that person through setting an appointment.

If for some reason, they are early or they must wait for their consultant to help them, offer them a place to sit and prepare their notes or questions. Maybe you can offer them some refreshment if it is available. No one likes to feel awkward just standing around with no clue as to what they should do until someone can help them. Who wants to look lost?

Least of all, do not just ignore the person! Consultants just jumping back into the conversation they were having may make the person feel left out or ignored. We want them to trust us. After all, they came to us for help.

When you are the consultant helping the prospect, be mindful that they may not have the technical jargon of writing that you do. Be patient and willing to explain concepts or words they may not understand. How many of you can explain a participle and why you don’t necessarily want it hanging out for the world to see? Imagine the confusion you first felt when your teacher first tried to explain parts of speech or what a FANBOY is.

In some cases, you may even ask them to repeat back to you in their own words the concepts you are explaining. This helps them understand it better and lets you know whether or not they grasp it.

EYE CONTACT! I can’t stress it enough. Look at them and let them know you are listening. On that note, ACTIVELY LISTEN! This is their time not yours, avoid distractions and getting off topic. Sometimes, they will try to pull you off topic but while they should drive the session, you should keep it on track.

When the session is over, offer words of encouragement. Be willing to answer final questions (provided it doesn’t cut into your next appointment’s time.) Restate what the goals were for the session and ask them if they feel you met them. If they require further help, help them set up another appointment. Maybe even with yourself if you have developed a rapport or comfort level.

Look. We are not here to become everyone’s friend, confidant or psychoanalyst, but we are here to help. We have all struggled with our writing in the past, so be mindful; be respectful; and most importantly- be helpful! Good customer service ensures continued business. Sometimes, your best advocates are your former prospects. But on the same note, remember, they can also be your biggest opponents!


  1. Rob,
    It was refreshing reading your post. It reminded me how important it is to keep that "good customer service" attitude in the center. I truly do want to help people and make them feel comfortable when they are in the center, but I know I've been guilty of becoming lazy. I've tried so hard to "fit in" with the other consultants that I know my customer service has suffered. I am usually that guy you were talking about who feels awkward and doesn't know what to do--yikes! I don't want anyone to feel like that on my watch! Your guidance has encouraged me to step it back up.


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