“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou
We don’t always think about customer service at your school when you embark upon ways to improve your student enrollment, but it can make a huge difference in both your attraction of new students and retaining your existing ones.
Think about how parents are shaping their perception and opinion of your school. The first way that comes to mind is how their child is relating their experience of attending your school. Anyone who has ever sat down over dinner with their children and asked “how did school go today”, can tell you that most children are not the best at expressing their experience. As parents, we are often happy to get an answer that includes more than just the word “fine”.
Since the student is often not the best conduit for information about the school, it is critical that when the parent interacts with the school, that those experiences are positive ones. You may be delivering a great experience to the student; engaging lessons, a warm social environment, etc., but if the parent has a poor experience when they interact with you, it is magnified because that is generally their only frame of reference.
The standard precepts of good customer service in business can apply to a school. Good customer service makes the recipient feel heard, understood, and important. Customers (parents) want a simple process for contacting you, and an empathetic ear who responds quickly with recommendations and solutions.
Here is how to institute this kind of customer service at your school.
Create a comprehensive (FAQ) for your website
A great customer service system begins with a great FAQ (frequently asked questions) on your website. Ideally, a FAQ should address most parent’s questions and concerns upfront, removing the need for any human interaction. This saves your administration the time it would have normally taken to handle these questions individually.
Remember that the millennial generation (your typical parent) expects to be able to answer the majority of their questions using the internet. Generally, they will only call if they have tried and failed to find the answer online. And at that point, they are frustrated that you are making their life difficult!
To create a great FAQ, begin by asking your colleagues and your parent ambassadors to compile a list of the most commonly asked questions. Expand your list by reviewing feedback forms, parent satisfaction surveys, and notes from parent-teacher conferences or other school events. When you’ve collected as many questions as you can publish them on your school website along with their solutions.
Next, take a look at your website to understand what parts of the website seem to have the highest traffic. If you are like most schools, you will find that items like the lunch menu attract the most views. Make sure that the information that your parents are most often seeking is easy to find (3 clicks or less) on your website.
Instill a customer service mindset in your staff
This may be challenging at first because most schools don’t view their parents as “customers.” However, in this era of school choice, parents can and will leave your school if they feel their concerns are not being heard, or if they perceive that you are not treating them well.
The front office staff should appreciate that they’re often the first and sometimes only people with whom a visitor interacts. From their phone manners to their ability to warmly welcome visitors to the school, these interactions can impact how others perceive your institution.
For your instructional staff, a simple alignment on how quickly a parental email should be returned goes a long way in providing good customer service. Establishing a 24-hour response time to parental communications helps to minimize angry calls to the principal, and if the issue requires more than 24 hours to solve, always acknowledge you received the message and are working on solving it.
And advertise your response time! Let parents know that they’re in good hands and their concerns (if they have them) will be addressed in a timely manner.
Never argue on social media
Social media is not the place to resolve disagreements. The medium doesn’t lend itself to nuance, and we have all seen how quickly a simple disagreement can devolve into an expletive-laden comment war. If a parent leaves a complaint on one of your social media channels, respond in a very polite and helpful tone. Acknowledge their complaint and offer to call them or meet in person to discuss. Never argue the merits (or lack thereof) on social media.
If a user becomes volatile and complaints turn to harassment, consider banning or blocking them. You can block someone from your Facebook page, or report them for abuse. Just like the school it represents, a school’s social media page should be a place of polite discourse and information exchange; not a platform for bullying and cruelty.
Help your customers escalate properly
People with issues or complaints often expect instant escalation. For schools, this usually means that they expect to speak with the principal. As we all know, principals are pulled in a thousand different directions every day. I have yet to see a true study on the subject, but anecdotally, my principal friends tell me that they receive over 120 emails a day! They could have a full- time job just responding to emails.
Helping parents and other stakeholders understand that not everything needs to be directed to the principal eases those communication burdens. If you have assistant principals, deans, department heads, or other school leaders who can handle this communication, encourage people to contact them first. If they still need the principal, you can engage, but often times they just want their problem solved quickly and correctly, and not necessarily by the principal.
Ask your constituents for feedback
Bill Gates famously said that an unhappy customer is the best source of learning. As a school that takes service seriously, make it a priority to give parents and other stakeholders the opportunity to tell you how you’re doing via a yearly satisfaction survey.
I’ve had schools tell me that they don’t want to conduct a survey because they’re afraid of what people will say. I can sympathize, but I also know that understanding and acknowledging your parents’ issues is the only way you can improve your school. I always tell clients that feedback is a gift. Even negative feedback can provide a source of learning and a way to improve.
Once you conduct a survey, it is crucial that you release the survey results. I know this can be challenging if the results are bad, but remaining transparent while outlining your plans to fix the issues can accomplish a number of things:
- It makes your parents feel like they have a voice
- It reassures them that you’re taking their feedback about the school seriously
- It gives them confidence that their issues are going to be addressed
People have a tremendous capacity for patience and forgiveness if they feel that you’re working to fix their problem.
- Improving customer service at your school helps maximize your retention and your enrollment
- Creating a comprehensive FAQ will allow you to save time by minimizing the number of human interactions
- Instill a customer service mindset in your staff by emphasizing positive interactions and achieving a 24-hour response time
- Rather than argue on social media, politely address the complaint and offer to connect one-on-one to discuss
- Help parents and other stakeholders understand that not everything must be addressed by the principal, and steer them to other school leaders when they have questions or complaints
- Translate feedback obtained through yearly satisfaction surveys into actionable improvements, and always release the survey results to foster trust and forgiveness