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The 4 essential elements of an exceptional K-12 customer experience

What is good customer service?

When K12 Insight kicked off the research for the inaugural State of K-12 Customer Experience Report, one of our main goals was to concretely define exceptional customer service in the context of K-12 schools. 

We quickly found that every school leader has his or her own particular conception of what a quality customer experience should look like, based on the values, philosophy, and specific challenges of their schools. 

For Lesley Bruinton, public relations coordinator at Tuscaloosa City Schools in Alabama, quality customer service is all about relationships:

“Exceptional customer service is really about building relationships and making sure we’re having relationships with our families to support student achievement, engagement, and success. Our efforts have to include methods and strategies that make parents feel comfortable, welcomed, invited, and included.” 

Dr. Curtis Jones, superintendent at Bibb County School District in Georgia, focuses on the importance of building trust with students, parents, and other stakeholders:

“Trust is important because parents send their children to us every day. If parents don’t trust the school, they are going to have doubts. Sometimes it’s just a feeling a parent gets, or the tone of someone’s voice at the school, or the words a staff member chooses, but at the end of the day there needs to be an authentic exchange to build trust.”

As part of our research for the State of K-12 Customer Experience Report, we surveyed more than 500 school leaders across the country who all had their own unique definitions of what a quality school experience looks like. But, no matter the philosophy, our research revealed four key elements that every customer service plan should include in order to succeed. 

As you work to create a strong customer experience in your school or district, ask yourself whether your strategy includes each of these elements–and what you can do to improve on each of these factors.

1. Accessible two-way communication

Across the board, participating school leaders expressed a desire for improved communication between (and within) different levels of the school community. Participants repeatedly mentioned the importance of transparency and stressed that a school district’s ability to listen to its community—including parents, students, staff, and community members—was critical to providing an exceptional customer experience. 

School leaders also said it was imperative that school districts give community members multiple avenues, or “channels,” to engage the district. Respondents said that teachers and staff should exude a personal and welcoming attitude when meeting face-to-face with parents and others in school.

2. Resources, with a focus on timeliness

School leaders pointed to resources as a key factor in school customer service quality. Among the most valuable resources cited by survey respondents: time and technology. School district leaders said that responding to community members in a timely fashion was essential to their ability to provide high-quality customer service. School leaders routinely noted that responding to community questions and concerns during the busiest times of the year—back to school, graduation, etc.—can prove especially challenging. That’s where the application of technology and other tools can help.

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3. Only authentic engagement

Exceptional customer service cannot happen in a vacuum, said survey respondents. All stakeholders—be it parents, students, staff, or community members—must have access to the same level of engagement and attention. School leaders also said that responding to one-off questions or concerns does not qualify as “engagement.” Rather, they said, engagement needs to be “positive, direct, and continuous.” When consistently achieved, school leaders said effective community engagement promotes transparency and builds trust, further fueling a culture of exceptional school customer service. 

4. Supportive environment and training

The student learning environment was a shared concern among the school leaders we talked to. Participating school leaders said that an exceptional customer experience culture hinges on schools’ ability to provide a safe and secure learning environment that’s inclusive of all students and staff and has “clean and orderly facilities.” In addition, participants said the school environment should feel open and “welcoming,” and teachers and staff should receive training about how to engage parents and students better inside and outside of school. 

Want to see how your school district’s customer experience stacks up against our national data? Take our quick self-assessment.