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Cobus Oosthuizen, dean of Milpark Business School. Picture: Supplied
Cobus Oosthuizen, dean of Milpark Business School. Picture: Supplied

Can business schools teach clients to stop treating their customers like trash? If there’s one thing that riles Milpark Business School dean Cobus Oosthuizen, it’s the way so many companies blame Covid for their lousy customer service.

That service was already disintegrating as companies chose to distance themselves deliberately from personal contact with the buyers of their goods and services. Instead, to save themselves time and money, they forced customers to interact online or by phone, usually to customers’ great frustration.

The situation has grown immeasurably worse in the past two years, says Oosthuizen. “Everyone uses Covid as an excuse, but it’s not true,” he says. “It’s as if the spirit of the age is one of selfishness. You can’t talk to a human, so no-one takes responsibility.

“If you have a complaint or want to renew or alter an account, it’s like climbing a mountain. It’s not the pandemic’s fault, it’s the lackadaisical, don’t-bother-me attitude of the company. They want your custom but not the bother of dealing with you.”It’s not an attitude that Milpark, or the business school sector at large, can afford, Oosthuizen says. If businesses don’t deliver what they promise, clients take their corporate budgets elsewhere.

Those clients are very demanding. In an age of chaos – think Covid, riots, floods, electricity and water rationing, soaring inflation, war and a breakdown in supply chains – they need the best in guidance and leadership training.

“As management educators, we are challenged to crack the code of how best to help companies build their people and leaders so they can find their way through this maze,” says Oosthuizen.

The school, part of the Milpark Education group, is also finding its way into the future. The group's new CEO, Andrew Horsfall, has undertaken a review of its constituent parts, including Milpark.

The school is still the only SA non-university institution to have its MBA internationally accredited by the UK-based Association of MBAs (Amba). Oosthuizen says there is a “very strong appreciation” within the group of Milpark’s role in the business education sector.

That doesn’t mean it is immune to change. For example, Oosthuizen asks, in which part of the market should it concentrate resources? Milpark’s premium pricing has put it in competition with top university schools – what Oosthuizen calls “the big guys” – with their greater infrastructure and resources.

Perhaps there’s an argument for the school to move down a peg, to find its own niche. “Price sensitivity is becoming an issue,” Oosthuizen says. “Maybe we should be making education more affordable.”

Unlike some schools, which opened their campuses months ago, Milpark’s is still closed to students. Some executive education takes place at clients’ premises, otherwise the school operates wholly online. Will it remain that way permanently? “We have a very strong online competence, but we are still looking at various teaching options,” says Oosthuizen. “No final decision has been taken.”

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