The K-12 environment has changed dramatically in the last decade — accelerated by the pandemic and the waterfall of changes that followed.
School stakeholders, especially parents, have high expectations for service. They want Amazon-level customer care and lightning-fast responses, and schools have no choice but to meet these rising expectations.
Options for families have expanded — with school choice programs, charter schools, virtual schools, and homeschooling — making top-notch customer service more important than ever. The districts that maintain enrollment, staff retention, and funding have one thing in common: They deliver a superior customer experience.
To get started, here are eight secrets to developing a customer service mindset in your school district.
1. Listen to your community
True listening is more than simply hearing your stakeholders. Active listening requires you to approach each interaction with the intention of learning. Focus on the person speaking and ask as many clarifying questions as needed. Remember: your discussions with stakeholders can offer clues that lead you to district-wide success.
2. Engage and empower stakeholders
Equity is a critical aspect of engagement. Your stakeholders speak different languages, have varying access to devices and connectivity, and have a range of needs. Ensuring you have the proper tools — like translation services and texting — allow you to interact with all members of your school community.
3. Be transparent
Trust can only be developed through transparency and openness. Communication with stakeholders must be honest. If you’ve made a mistake, admit to it. When there is something to celebrate, be vocal. Your stakeholders are invested in your district’s success and affected by its shortcomings, so share as many aspects as possible.
4. Communicate with empathy
Your entire community wants what is best for students. Communicate with empathy by listening, understanding your stakeholders’ expectations, communicating the facts, and courageously addressing fears to restore and strengthen trust with stakeholders. Empathy will also help you manage key issues and crises that arise throughout the year.
5. Develop trust
Trust takes time and is best built by helping stakeholders feel heard and understand their input helps shape district decisions. Build trust with your stakeholders through two-way communications. Be sure to often share how you’re incorporating their feedback to support districtwide success.
6. Build relationships
Every interaction in your district is an opportunity to build a relationship. Engaging, listening, and building trust will all lead to positive and productive relationships, which are required for a culture of customer service. A listening tour is one way you can practice approachability and transparency while building genuine relationships in your district.
7. Anticipate needs — then act
Continuing to nurture good relationships will help you anticipate stakeholder needs and reactions while making progress on district goals. Using data collected through conversations with stakeholders and listening to concerns to be better equipped to anticipate the needs of your school community.
8. Keep an open line of communication
Your door — and inbox — should always be open to stakeholders with concerns. Listening is not a one-time or passive activity, and exceptional customer service demands an always-on capability.