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Adopting a Customer Service Culture in School Districts: How and Why

Adopting a customer service mindset — and backing it up with a functional customer service and intelligence platform — will build trust capital, improve family and community engagement, generate public support for key initiatives, and foster a positive school environment.
2 mins

What is customer service in education?

The customer service approach to education means recognizing that excellent teaching and learning is no longer enough to keep families satisfied and enrolled in your district.

School districts move through four phases on the journey to superior customer service, ranging from Reactive (characterized by dissatisfied parents and siloed communications) to Customer-centric (the “gold standard” of K-12 customer service where every interaction is intentional and all decisions are driven by customer service metrics).

Why does customer service matter to K-12 schools? 

Seemingly disconnected issues, like enrollment declines, failed bond proposals, reputational issues, internal complaints about “unreasonable” parents, or a lack of trust in school administrators can be symptoms of a bigger underlying issue: poor customer service in your schools.

Until recently, school districts were not faced with the daunting task of managing thousands of emails, social media posts and other inquiries — all expected to be quickly and accurately answered. Today, a parent can email all school board members and the superintendent while sitting in a car line to pick up their student from school.

With these new expectations and realities, school districts must begin to consider the impact customer service is having on enrollment and districtwide satisfaction — and it all starts with communications systems.

More than 25% of parents report that they either “distrust or feel neutral about their school district.” This trust deficit is pushing parents to  shop for other options, and the era of school choice is giving them a big marketplace!

Poor customer service is the number one reason parents cite for exercising school choice.

Losing just five to 10 students in a school can cause a budget shortage equivalent to one full-time teacher’s salary. And, in any district, losing 100 to 150 students could quickly cause a budget shortage of over $1 million dollars, depending on the per-student funding allocation.

Parents who are most likely to consider switching school districts are contacting their school or school district more frequently than those who are not considering switching schools.

Adopting a customer-centric culture in school districts

As you embark on the customer service journey in your district, take a moment to reflect on the current state of customer service. To guide you on your reflection, we’ve pulled together a few questions. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, it’s likely time for your district to implement a new customer service strategy

  • Do you know how many people contact your schools every day? 
  • Do you know the average response time? 
  • If your stakeholders could rate how they were left feeling after an interaction with your district on a 10-point scale, how would they rate you? And are you comfortable with that rating? 
  • Have you ever done a secret shopping/undercover boss exercise, putting yourself in the shoes of a parent?

See how your school district is doing

Curious where your district is on the journey to improving customer service? Take a short quiz to find out which customer service phase you’re in.

Take our customer service assessment quiz

Our team at K12 Insight has over a decade of experience helping school districts implement intentional customer service strategies. Ready to learn more about improving customer service and all the ways in can improve your district? Request a consult.

By Dan Wittich
Originally published June 27, 2023 Last updated February 5, 2024