Exceptional customer experience fosters a stronger school culture
Q&A with Suhail Farooqui is CEO at K12 Insight.
As an emerging trend in K12, it may not be obvious how customer experience and school or student success come together. Can you explain this?
While schools have traditionally been measured by a combination of test scores, graduation rates, discipline and attendance, emerging evidence demonstrates that the perception—really, the overall brand—of your school or school district is closely tied to the “customer experience,” or that feeling that students, parents, teachers and staff get when they engage with you. These interactions happen around the clock—from community members who call you or show up at your doors, to those who send emails or post to social media. The strength of your brand determines whether your community will support your next bond measure, or choose out of your schools. A strong brand helps you recruit and retain motivated, high-quality teachers. And it gives students the comfort and confidence to seek help when they see a classmate in need, or spot a potential safety risk. The stakes are immeasurably high, which is why the most innovative school leaders are embracing customer experience as a priority for their schools.
How can district leaders use a commitment to exceptional customer experience to foster a stronger culture and climate in their schools?
Schools excel at flipping the classroom; I like to think about customer experience in terms of flipping your communication. Where our schools have tremendous outbound communication, they often struggle on the inbound side of the house. A focus on customer experience makes it easy for people with a question, comment or concern to reach the right person at exactly the right time. It enables you to respond quickly, which lets people know that you’re listening and that you care. It ensures that every answer you provide is courteous, accurate and complete. And it offers training and behavior-modification for your team, so that you aren’t simply answering questions, but using every engagement as an opportunity to win people over. Out of every 100 interactions, there might be one that rises to the level of a crisis. You need a system that helps you flag that interaction for immediate intervention. Imagine you had a dashboard, where you could clearly see how parents feel about the quality of the engagements they have with your schools. What if parents could rate their experiences in real-time? Would that information help you improve? All of this us critical to establishing a strong culture and climate, and creating a school environment that students, parents, teachers and staff can support, and one that they can trust.
What are some immediate benefits for schools providing this type of service?
Those of us who know the amazing work teachers and school leaders do in their schools every day often scratch our heads at all the negative headlines about our schools and school leaders. But it’s hardly a mystery. If you focus only on building a good educational product but fail to explicitly address the customer experience, this is the outcome you might expect. For Americans to love public education, superintendents and principals need to become intentional about the customer experiences their organizations provide.
Looking ahead, how can customer service be used to meet the changing demands of students and faculty?
Not only are the needs of today’s students and families and faculty different than they were twenty years ago, they change faster too. A good customer experience solution helps ensure your school is district stays in front of those trends. Among my most memorable reads of 2018 was David Hutchens’ Outlearning the Wolves. Hutchens challenges teams to question things that they’ve come to believe about themselves and their adversaries. Rapid change in expectations is the adversary of today’s school leaders. That, and the lie that says our schools are failing. The reason I love the book so much is it shows you the way out by changing the way we think and the questions we ask. Do public schools have a future or will charters, vouchers and homeschooling systematically defund them? Does the teaching profession have a future in America? Can we help students struggling with social-emotional challenges before they hurt themselves and others? If you lose sleep over any of these issues, you owe it to yourself to see how the answer is within your reach. It simply requires a more intentional approach to many of the things you’re already doing.