I think a lot about ‘customer satisfaction’ and how to achieve it. ‘Customers’ is sometimes seen as an ugly word in Education, so let me put in this caveat: In this article I am going to mean Parent every time I write Customer.
Why is Customer Satisfaction important?
Apart from the obvious benefits, parent satisfaction leads to engaged parents. Engaged parents allow, among other things, ease of implementing innovative practices (less resistance), lowers costs (parent volunteers replace part-time hired help) and improves student learning (interest in schoolwork and showing up at PTAs) and
How can Parent Satisfaction be increased? Here are 10 Tips from experience.
The Key to the 10 Tips: The over-arching insight is this- most parents are emotionally involved with their children and take their schooling (if not their school) very seriously. Respond to parents and their queries/feedback/suggestions humanely, patiently, emotionally without diluting the professional requirements of your role as an Educator.
1. Know Thyself: Who am I ?
For Principals and Administrators looking to create Wow! in their schools, the first step is to define clearly “what the school is” and “what the school wants to be.”
This means understanding the DNA of your school (private/public, residential/day, progressive/traditional, academe-focussed/big on curriculars etc), its current culture and then what the vision for this school is.
This will then lead an understanding of how resources can be utilised and provide directionality to your actions that make you customer focussed.
The second step is to Know the Customer. During my first 2 months as Principal, we did a small survey (10 questions with mostly demographic and economic data) and were surprised by our results. We had been sending out circulars in English to parents- the data revealed that 93% spoke Hindi or Punjabi at home. This meant that most had greater familiarity with another language, and in all probability several were not comfortable with English.
Talk about a wake up call! We also discovered that most of our children came from joint families (where grandparents stayed with parents). We had been doing little to involve the grandparent (who held considerable authority) in the decision making and was an important ‘customer.’ Our orientation quickly changed.
If you are setting up a new school, you may choose to set-up a school looking at the population you will be serving. If you have a school up-and-running, this will tell you whether you need to educate your existing customers on your ‘philosophy’ or ‘brand’ of education or else it will signal that you are riding the wrong horse and you need to look at a different customer profile in the future when you admit new students.
2. Explain what Customer Service means: Once you have determined who your customer is and what your school wants to be, make sure that your team is geared to deliver. You have to tell them what great customer service means, let them know that customer service starts the moment the parent enters the school (and even outside) and encompasses both the classroom and everything outside it (in equal measure), provide them with examples of exceptional service.
Most teachers and staff-members at the school I headed, had not experienced WOW! as Customers. We took a team of teachers ,administrators and support staff (including gardeners, cleaners and a security-guard) to the Radisson. We paid attention to how the hotel greeted its guests, how the floor shone with wax, the manicured hedges, the clear signage and the alacrity of purpose in restaurant employees. Later, when the staff enjoyed their Rs. 120 (US$ 3) coffees and balked at the prices (compared to the monthly tuition fee of Rs. 800 (US$ 20), they were shown the co-relation between great customer service and the ability of an establishment to command a premium. This was connected to our school and the possibility of heightened innovation and resources at our disposal if we similarly wowed our guests.
3. Focus on the Small Things: During the administrative formalities in the days before I took over as head of school, I encountered long hold times when I called the school and on some ocassions, had to call a couple of times before someone answered the phone. One of the first things I did after I took over implementing a 3-ring policy. The School telephone had to be answered within 3 rings. If it wasn’t, it would be diverted to a voice mailbox (that was checked every half hour during school hours). I was maniacal about this. I know I have been hopping mad if I have been put on hold by call-centre manned telecom companies- it would be criminal to keep an anxious parent checking in on his child on hold for so long. This policy ensured that every individual calling the school received prompt service at his first touchpoint with the school.
There are several “small things” that go a long way- sending a small note to check on an convalescent child, ensuring that refreshments and light reading is available to visitors, ensuring every visitor is met by a member of staff as he enters the school and is guided to his destination etc.
Talk about these at staff meetings. Make sure transgressions are pointed out. Make it a big deal.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Tipping Point, talks of the Broken Windows Theory. Robberies tend to be higher in streets where there are broken windows. These streets are perceived as ‘easy.’ I reckon that the same is true of schools- wrappers lying around, broken (even chipped) furniture signal an indisciplined school (and may even cause indiscipline) and may affect how a prospective parent views you.
4. Speak to your Staff constantly: Your staff-members are your listening posts. They speak to parents and the community in greater numbers than you do and probably enjoy a closer rapport with most parents as well. Use them to gain feedback, formal and informal about how the school could improve.
If I was told I was allowed to speak to only one person in a school, I would speak to the receptionist (the lady who receives parents at schools and also their phone calls). If you don’t speak to your receptionist, I recommend you start doing the same. As someone who handles parents everyday, she probably knows of (even if she doesn’t understand) the many complaints, apprehensions and anxieties that they have.
5. Speak to your Customers: While I would be vary of allowing parents to have a say on every decision the school takes, I feel parent representation on school boards, PTAs and the like are great ways to listen to what parents have to say. Then we go further.
We started a Parent-School Partnership Dialogue where 10 Parent Representatives (from parents on one Yeargroup) met and discussed a pre-determined agenda once a month with me and two teachers who dealt with that yeargroup. This was a fantastic success- the parental cohort self-corrected its parental enthusiasm, shared their concerns and suggestions, listened to what the teachers had to say on matters ranging from trip planning and discipline to curriculum and parent-school communication. Parents were allowed to raise any issue they wanted, nothing was taboo (although the veto option was mine- never had to use it). The members understood that these meetings were for sharing ideas and brainstorming and that decisions would rest with the school. Minutes of these meetings were circulated to all parents.
These meetings helped build confidence in the school- we were a school that cared.
Make sure your parents have several ways of communicating with the school and that every parent knows of all possible ways. Research has shown that very few people want to complain/recommend/suggest improvement and you want to make sure you make it easy for those who want to.
All these are very important for the customer knows what he wants better than anyone else does.
Think about these tips and share some of your own! Also, do come back for the Final 5 Tips tomorrow!