"New Media" Counselor

Most “NSPRA” districts know it’s imperative to find innovative ways to use new media tools and build informative, appealing Web sites. A recent NSPRA Counselor article includes specific examples of districts doing just that. For just one example, visit the “Heard It Through the Grapevine” blog established by the Shenendehowa School District. NSPRA members can access the entire Counselor article at NSPRA's Member Resources page (log-in required).

A Memorable Keynote for Back To School 2008

For the Dallas Independent School District communications team, which includes NSPRA members Loretta Simon and Sharon Sumner and TSPRA member Jon Dahlander, a "mystery keynote speaker" for 2008 spurred a phenomenal response that illustrated the power of new media. Through blogs, postings, and YouTube, what started as a local inspiration featuring fifth-grader Dalton Sherman reached across North America and around the world. View the video posting and read more here.

NSPRA is the go-to resource for professional communicators working in school communication and public relations. With nearly 2,000 members across North America, we know what you do and the demands you face each day. As a member, you'll find resources to help you get the job done, such as this article from our member's only archive.

Karen KleinzSensational Customer Service -
Savvy Schools Finding Ways to Make It Work

By Karen H. Kleinz, APR 

The future is clear: With all kinds of viable school choice options emerging, schools must find ways to become more customer service “savvy.” To succeed, schools must pay attention to how they are perceived by all of their “customers” — students, parents, and taxpayers — everyone who plays a role in supporting public education.

Customer-Friendly Schools Are Crucial

Good customer service now is as critical to schools as it is to businesses. As Buddy Price, director of community services for Lexington School District #5 in Ballentine, S.C., explains, “Ten years ago I conducted my first customer service workshop and the group of principals sitting in the room looked at me like I was crazy when I used the word ‘customer’ in a school setting. Today, if you do not have a customer-friendly school you are making even steeper the climb toward accountability goals.”

According to Jackie Price, NSPRA past president and assistant superintendent of administrative services for Capistrano Unified School District in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., “To gain and maintain strong customer support, we must excel at the business of teaching and learning, make sure our current and potential customers know that, court our customers by anticipating and complying with their needs and desires whenever possible, and look at ways we can be doing an even better job in the future. No responsible enterprise in the world today does anything less if it plans on being in business tomorrow. Therefore, a commitment to quality customer service must permeate every aspect of the organization.”

One of the challenges to customer service in schools is defining school “customers.” In the business world, a customer is someone who purchases a product or service. But this definition often doesn’t work as well for schools. School customers include everyone in the community schools serve — students, parents, taxpayers, business, government.

Become the School of Choice

Customer service does in fact play an important role in our schools. Let’s face it: We all want to be treated with respect and in a friendly manner. This is the core of effective customer service. As more and more families shop for schools, first impressions are often the most critical. A friendly voice on the phone, a warm welcome in the school office, and a pleasing aesthetic environment all help a new family make a positive connection with your school.

Long a proponent of the importance of customer service standards in schools, Jim Cummings, APR, director of public relations for Peoria (Ariz.) Unified School District says, “As often as not, a parent’s decision on where to enroll their child comes down to one thing: how they were treated when they visited your schools. Setting high customer service standards and training your staff to meet them is just another way to make sure parents continue to make public schools their schools of choice.”

Example: When prospective parents visit your schools, you want them to see and understand why they are great places for their children. Offer parents tours of the schools, allow them to observe classrooms, and provide them with opportunities to talk to teachers and other staff. Share test scores and other assessment data that show how students in your schools perform academically. Help parents by offering the “research” they need to decide on a school for their child.

Commit to Sensational Service

Effective customer service often includes eliminating irritations and distractions.

Examples: When a parent’s phone call goes unreturned. When the grass in front of the school goes unmowed. When a visitor is treated with impatience. South Carolina’s highly successful Red Carpet Schools recognition program has substantially raised awareness of the importance of providing family-friendly environments in schools across the state.

Over the past three years, approximately one-third of the state’s schools have applied for the program, which was developed by the South Carolina DepartmeNSPRA veteran Mary Anne Byrd, “In today’s world, where school choice is ever increasing, providing good customer service is no longer an option — it’s a must. It’s not an add-on activity that happens every other Friday, but a daily method of professional and courteous interaction with parents, students, fellow employees and visitors. When it’s done right — with proper training and an ongoing focus on high quality — it lays the groundwork for greater involvement from parents and community volunteers.”

Fellow South Carolinian Buddy Price agrees, and says “Every school and district should have customer service staff development activities as a major part of their public relations plan, and those efforts should be evaluated regularly.” He also notes that all but one of the schools in his district has been named a Red Carpet School, a point of pride for his community.

Boosting Customer Service Savvy

Simply demanding good service won’t guarantee it. Employees will need some basic training and support. Foster better service by helping employees to understand the power in:

  • Following up with people. Help the staff recognize the value in simply following up a few days after a contact — to make sure the individual has no other questions and feels good about an outcome.
  • Caring about people. Make sure it’s easy for people to find the people who can help. Is contact info on signs, letterhead, e-mails, web sites, voice-mail greetings, and publications clear and easy to follow?
  • Surprising people. Send occasional personal notes or article clippings to parents and others to share good news. Don’t let communications always focus on the negative.
  • Meeting people. Don’t let technology build walls between schools and people. Strong personal relationships, built on looking people in the eye, still are the keystones upon which successful communication is built.

(This article was originall published in the March 2004 issue of NSPRA's Network. It is based on the NSPRA resource Unlocking Sensational Service: Tools for Tapping the People Power in Your Schools. This CD-ROM includes outlines, handouts, a PowerPoint presentation and more — all geared toward delivering customized customer service training in schools. Order, or call 301-519-0496 to place an order by phone.)