Here are five ways you can improve customer service at your school.
“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 in a school when we embark upon ways to improve student enrollment, but it can make a huge difference in both your attraction of new students and retention of your existing ones.
Think about the things that shape how parents and guardians perceive your school. The first thing 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 aren’t the best at expressing their experience. As parents, we’re often happy to get an answer that is more than just the infamous one-word reply: “Fine.”
Since the student is often not the best conduit for information about the school, it’s critical that when the parent interacts with the school, their experiences are positive ones.
You may be delivering a great experience to the student — engaging lessons, a warm social environment, etc. — but if the family member has a poor school customer service experience, that negative experience magnifies because it’s 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.
A school’s customers (that is, your parents and guardians) want two primary things when they have a question or complaint:
- A simple process for contacting you
- An empathetic ear who responds quickly with a solution
To improve your school customer service, here are five effective ideas you can begin to implement today.
School Customer Service Tip #1: Create a Comprehensive FAQ for Your Website
A great school customer service system begins with a great frequently asked questions (FAQ) section on your website. Ideally, an FAQ should address most parents’ questions and concerns up-front, removing the need for any human interaction.
This saves your administration the time it would normally take to handle those questions day in and day out for each family who emails, calls, or shows up at your front office.
Remember that the millennial generation (by and large, this age group will be 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 by that point, they are frustrated you’re making their life difficult!
How to Make a Great School FAQ
To create a great FAQ, ask your colleagues and parent ambassadors to compile a list of the most common questions people have about schools overall and your school in particular.
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 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 the information your families are most often seeking is easy to find (three clicks or less) on your school website.
School Customer Service Tip #2: Instill a Customer Service Mindset in Your Staff
This may be challenging at first because most schools don’t view their parents as “customers.” This is especially true for customer service in public schools. 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 you are not treating them well.
Many examples of good customer service in schools begin and end in your reception area.
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 minimize angry calls to the principal. If the issue requires more than 24 hours to solve, always acknowledge you received the message and are working on solving it.
Also, once you establish your response time, advertise it!
Let parents know they’re in good hands and their concerns will be addressed in a timely manner.
School Customer Service Tip #3: 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 polite and helpful tone. Acknowledge their complaint, and offer to call them or extend an invitation for an in-person meeting to discuss. Never argue about your school and staff on social media.
If a user becomes volatile and their complaints turn into harassment, consider banning or blocking them. You can block someone from your Facebook page, or report them for abuse. Alternatively, you can hide their comments.
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.
School Customer Service Tip #4: Help Your Customers Escalate Properly
People with issues or complaints often expect instant escalation. For schools, this usually means that parents expect to speak with the principal.
As you know all too well, 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 they receive over 120 emails a day!
They could have a full-time job just responding to emails.
Helping parents, guardians, 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 staff and school leaders who can handle this communication, encourage people to contact them first.
If they still need the principal, you can engage. But oftentimes, they just want their problem solved quickly and correctly — and not necessarily by the principal.
School Customer Service Tip #5: Ask Your Families for Feedback
Bill Gates famously said that an unhappy customer is the best source of learning.
If you’re going to take school customer 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 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’s crucial you release the survey results. I know this can be challenging if the results are bad.
However, 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 you’re taking their feedback about the school seriously
- It gives them confidence their issues will be addressed
People have a tremendous capacity for patience and forgiveness if they feel you’re working to fix their problem.
School Customer Service Takeaways
- Improving school customer service helps maximize your retention and your enrollment.
- Creating a comprehensive FAQ saves you 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.
- Instead of arguing 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. Steer them to other school leaders when they have questions or complaints.
- Translate feedback obtained through yearly satisfaction surveys into actionable improvements. Always release the survey results to foster trust and forgiveness.
SchoolMint can help you identify areas for improvement with your school’s customer service. Through our strategic marketing services, we offer a secret shopper service.
This service will help you learn where you can improve, what you’re doing right, and the difference great school customer service can make with attracting and retaining families.
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