There are many distinctions between education and consumer industries. But, an ever-changing marketplace and educational landscape is redefining how K-12 district leaders approach their work.
An article from K12 Insight offers one explanation to the trend, calling out the rise of competition as a result of school choice. Parent satisfaction also matters – a national survey from Rice University found that 43 percent of public school parents felt ‘very satisfied’ with their child’s school, and a deeper dive found that their overall satisfaction had a strong link with a school’s engagement with parents and the community.
According to communications officer at California’s Kings Canyon Unified School District, Renee Delport, customer service has an interesting place in education. “While the concept and idea of applying customer service in schools may spark skepticism in some, the core features of customer service are what matters.”
Customer service in schools isn’t necessarily about providing quick support for a product or service question, but rather providing an environment where students and their families and faculty feel cared for.
Delport believes wholeheartedly that districts need to provide “exceptional, welcoming environments for parents, students and faculty, whether that’s termed as customer service or something else.”
A Forbes article builds on the idea of customer service in education, calling out that the most important difference is that you’re not simply trying to ‘serve customers’, you’re trying to build students into responsible scholars and citizens.
Here are some quick tips on how to effectively include customer service in your district or school:
#1 Streamline the experience
In today’s age of accessibility, parents, students and faculty members are going to expect your district to be organized and reachable.
Not every parent has the luxury of visiting their student’s school in-person. Luckily, technology can help them remain involved.
“Since we use a combination of different communication tools, we can reach parents even if they can’t be at their child’s school in-person,” said Yelitza Peña, director of community relations at Franklin-McKinley School District in California. “Our parents can still be involved at home and be active participants in their student’s education.”
Just as technology helps customer service representatives bridge cultural or language barriers, it can offer the same benefit to school districts.
“Thanks to tools such as Peachjar, we can send communications in our families’ preferred language. We want to make sure that everyone has equal access to opportunities,” Peña said.
Sending regular communications via email, digital flyers, social media and phone are a great way to streamline the school experience and ensure that every message is being received.
#2 Remain agile
Everybody knows the dreadful feeling of being put on-hold. Apply this idea to your district and school sites. Anticipate questions, and have answers ready. It’s important to let students and their families know that they are being heard and are respected. Remaining agile and training staff to be able to think well on their toes can make all the difference when interacting with stakeholders.
#3 Source ‘customer’ feedback
You’ve seen it before, the ‘please take our survey’ note on the bottom of a receipt or an email, promising a reward if you fill out a quick five-minute questionnaire. In business, customer feedback is the most valuable currency.
“We take feedback pretty seriously, and have a Thought Exchange initiative where questions, thoughts and feedback can be submitted anonymously,” said Shawna Currie, director of communications at Victoria ISD in Texas. “This is a fantastic way for us to find out what we’re doing well and what may need improving, and to translate that into actionable plans.”
When it comes to sourcing the feedback of your district, parents, students, and faculty are all fair game. If you truly want to offer an exceptional experience, you’ll need to know what your ‘customers’ are feeling, and use that feedback to identify your district’s strengths and opportunities.
#4 Pair customer service with school culture
As Delport mentioned, customer service in schools is all about providing an exceptional, welcoming environment that’s built to support students academically and personally, which in turn, can lead to a positive school culture.
According to ASCD InService, a positive and supportive school culture can positively impact student achievement, teacher effectiveness and retention, community support and student enrollment.
“Every day we try to start out the day with something positive, sending news that recognizes accomplishments by students and staff, we want to celebrate our district,” said Currie.
Whether you decide to call it customer service, supporting your school community or something else, it’s clear that there’s something to be learned by organizations who do customer service well – and we believe that’s worth investing in.