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How muddled accountability and increased security vulnerability affect school IT leaders

Here's how IT is taking the lead on delivering superior experiences.

It became an article of faith, as universal adoption of digital communication channels took root, that “Everyone owns customer service.” 

Dialogue with stakeholders (or “customers”) could happen anywhere, anytime and with virtually any member of a brand or organization. In school systems, teachers, bus drivers, clerical staff, and administrators are in effect considered school district brand ambassadors (for better or worse…too often, worse). Not only would leadership need to be concerned with who is serving as “the voice” of the organization, but also how they were doing so: Would opening the lines of communication, however well intended, also open security holes and data vulnerabilities? 

The other problem with the notion that everyone owns customer service is that, if “everyone” is supposed to “own” it, that means that nobody does in practice. That ambiguity around accountability can foster deflection, avoidance, and blame shifting. It also results in a disappointing or, worse, a damaging customer experience and relationships.

Perhaps most frustrating of all: In an effort to facilitate conversations with stakeholders, too many schools and districts are at the same time inviting dangerous risks in terms of network security and data vulnerability. We have seen that the mere presence of a listed email address on a school’s website, for example, is an opportunity for hackers, spammers, phishers, and all sorts of black-hat individuals and “robots” to try and breach a system, identify a vulnerability, or advance some other nefarious objective.

Repeatedly our spam filters and vigilant staff catch and stop many bad faith emails designed to extract important data or entrap users in scams. 

As IT leaders have discovered in recent years, the ownership of customer service is expanding, broadening, and becoming more consequential than ever before. As schools increasingly adopt a customer service mentality, more and more of the customer service onus is being placed on technology and the professionals who oversee it.

For educators and administrators, the stakes have never been higher. And the “customer” has never been more engaged. Parents, families and other interested stakeholders demand dialogue. They expect transparency and accountability. We have all been conditioned to expect immediacy of response, thanks to social media, messaging apps, and the expectation of 24/7 communication.

While there may be no escaping a new reality in which every potential touchpoint with a parent, student, or community member presents either an opportunity or exposure for open, two-way dialogue, every interaction also presents an opportunity to build a relationship and create trust. 

To do so, we must:

  • Streamline customer service
  • Decrease complexity (both for our internal teams and the external audiences seeking our assistance)
  • Increase response rates
  • Reverse the decentralization trend 

…all of which will:

  • Remove ambiguity
  • Create less work for everyone
  • Close data vulnerabilities
  • Eliminate confusion among those we most need to create collaboration and trust with — our “customers”

At Ithaca City School District, we use Let’s Talk to deliver fast, effective, and engaging service to our district’s stakeholders. 

The unified inbox streamlines our communications processes and integrates with our data sources. Doing this will allow us to take emails off our website and provide a single point of contact that uses workflows to automatically flag conversations for the right person. Parents no longer have to search for who to contact to solve their issue or wait for a response because they contacted the wrong person. It also provides a much more secure experience for everyone in our district. 

Superior customer experiences demand accountability and confidence, and Let’s Talk allows us to deliver that to families, teachers, staff, students, and other community members.        

Download our latest white paper to learn how school IT leaders can minimize security risks while improving the customer experience. 

Zach Lind
By Zach Lind
Originally published March 11, 2022 Last updated October 25, 2022