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The Link Between Customer Service and District Success

Author: Veronica Sopher/Thursday, June 15, 2023/Categories: News

The Link Between Customer Service and District Success

As a veteran school communications professional, I have seen firsthand the impact of poor customer service within school districts and how it threatens the financial health and culture of a district. 

For too long, we took for granted that families would simply show up. We expected children to arrive with their tiny backpacks in kindergarten and to stay through 12th grade. And we believed that as long as we did a good job with our students in the classroom, everything else would fall into place. We were naive. 

But, the reality is parents have choices — from homeschooling and charter schools to virtual academies and the district next door — and the pandemic has only reinforced the fact that parents will seek out other options if they are not happy with their school district. 

The major deciding factor: how people are left feeling after interactions with their school districts. A recent report by K12 Insight found the more times parents had to contact their school district, the less positively they perceived the courteousness of the conversations they had. 

The threshold for putting up with poor customer service has changed. We are playing a new game, and a lot of districts have not yet identified that one of the core levers in maintaining market share in their community is excellent customer service.

As you’re looking to improve how families experience your district, here are three steps your district can follow to take customer service from a bullet point in its strategic plan to a districtwide core value: 

1. Make sure families know where to go for information. 

One-third of parents report not knowing where to go when they have a question or need support. Imagine a school district with 30,000 students — that means approximately 10,000 parents wouldn’t know where to go or whom to contact when they have a question or service need.

When parents don’t know where to go when they have questions, comments or concerns, we know they are having to cycle through several school staff just to get a single answer. Naturally, this leads to frustrated families and significant administrative overhead. All of the resulting misdirected emails or misplaced phone calls pressure school staff to dedicate valuable time and attention to reroute these inbound communications to the correct resource.

To get ahead of this, it’s essential to create a central location on your district’s website for getting information. This could look like creating a landing page populated with topics related to your district and school sites along with topics that are top of mind for your school community. Automated solutions for education websites — like Let’s Talk, an all-in-one customer service and intelligence platform — make it easy for school districts to create a central location for gathering questions and feedback while ensuring every inquiry gets to the right department. 

2. Equip staff at every level with customer service professional development. 

Too often, the staff answering phones and welcoming visitors do not understand the fact that families nationwide are exercising school choice or the challenges of managing budgets during times of declining enrollment.

Customer service needs to be a priority at every level — from the school board to the classroom. Your central office staff may understand why customer service matters, but it is essential a customer-centric culture becomes embedded districtwide. Reminding staff that simple actions like smiling and greeting people with kindness makes a difference in fostering a culture of positivity and warmth across your district. It’s also important to equip staff with customer service-focused professional development so they are prepared for potentially frustrating situations and have the opportunity to practice handling every interaction with confidence and empathy.

3. Embrace automation. 

The number of parents preferring automated responses is expected to grow as more and more people who grew up as digital natives are now becoming parents with children in schools. In fact, at least 43% of parents indicated they are open to receiving automated responses to their questions or concerns.

Putting systems in place for automation — like chatbot technology — will not only make it easier for your families to get answers, but it will give your staff more time back in their day. Additionally, automation helps prevent the misrouting of communications or parents misidentifying the right source for information.

The biggest impact we have is through improving customer service districtwide. By doing so, we ensure our schools remain competitive and provide the best possible education for our students. When districts take customer service from an aspirational goal to a core value and executed strategy, families choose to stay in their district and recommend it to their neighbors and friends — which builds a strong path forward for district success. 


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