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Podcast: Unveiling the 2019 State of K-12 Customer Experience Report

In an era of increased competition and shifting enrollments, quality academics are as critical as ever to school success–but they’re hardly the only factor that matters.

Trust, and the feeling that parents, students, staff and others get when they engage with your schools, is equally critical. At K12 Insight, we refer to the sum of these engagements as the school customer experience.

While there’s plenty of research about the impact of academics and school climate and safety on school and student success, little credible research has emerged about the impact of customer service and community engagement on school success–until now. 

This summer, the team at K12 Insight embarked on a first-of-its-kind research project. We asked school leaders from around the country to tell us about their priorities, strategies, and pitfalls in the quest to build trust with their communities.

The result is the inaugural State of K-12 Customer Experience Report. Not only does it include the findings from our research, it also includes key recommendations–as well as example standards–for establishing a culture of exceptional customer experience in your schools.

In this exclusive podcast, the report’s lead researcher, Dr. Shelby McIntosh, outlines its key findings and talks about where we go from here. Take a listen–and sign up to receive the full report at k12cxreport.org.


TODD KOMINIAK: This is the TrustED Podcast. I’m managing editor Todd Kominiak.

DR. SHELBY MCINTOSH: So the first question is “why?” Why would we embark on a project like this?

TODD KOMINIAK: This is Dr. Shelby McIntosh, lead researcher on the 2019 State of K-12 Customer Experience Report, a first-of-its-kind study on the quality of customer experience and community engagement in America’s K-12 public schools, developed with support from  NSPRA (the National School Public Relations Association), and NSBA (the National School Boards Association).   

Dr. McIntosh, who is also Vice President of Client Success at K12 Insight, says there were several factors that led to this research.

MCINTOSH: A couple of years we came across this statistic that really highlighted the gap in parent satisfaction. Something like 34 percent of parents in public schools were satisfied with the community engagement in their child’s school compared to 47 percent of parents who have kids in charter schools. And really, right around the same time, we started to hear our school district clients start to use the term customer service more frequently. Really, up to this point before this movement, school communication was mostly outbound communication. How well do share information? How well do we push out flyers and notifications to parents? In some cases, emergency notifications. That has really evolved into a much more dynamic, comprehensive view of the customer experience. 

KOMINIAK: For Corey Murray, Senior Director of Strategy and Engagement at K12 Insight, the State of K-12 Customer Experience Report fills a much-needed gap in critical education research. 

COREY MURRAY: We got 500 plus responses from school leaders on this survey. These were superintendents, communication leaders, school board members, staff, teachers who we talked to–and all the research that we analyzed really helped us understand how K-12 school leaders feel about the quality of customer service and community engagement that they’re offering and really look at where the gaps and are where they need to improve.

We did not feel like this was the type of research that was out there–and we thought that we could leverage our capabilities as a research organization and as someone who serves K-12 schools to really tell that story. 

KOMINIAK: Perhaps the biggest finding of the report is the high priority school leaders place on building trust in their districts. 

MCINTOSH: So, in terms of major findings that came out of this work, one thing came initially loud and clear and that is: Building community trust is hands down the most strategic initiative to those who responded to our survey, in addition to engaging external stakeholders and communication with internal stakeholders. Those were very clearly the biggest priorities. 

What we saw fall at the lower end of that list were things like effective crisis communication and preventing PR crises. Really, the takeaway we have from that is that it’s all about relationships. School districts–and those who work in school districts–realize that if they can focus on building really strong relationships, then things like crisis communication and PR crises become less important to them or less needed to them.

KOMINIAK: The report also identified a huge gap between how important school leaders feel customer experience is to district success and how confident they were in their ability to actually deliver that level of engagement.

MCINTOSH: We asked school district staff members who responded to the survey about a number of different strategic initiatives and how important each one of them was to them as well how confident they felt in their district’s ability to achieve those strategic initiatives. When we asked specifically about customer service, 76 percent said that high-quality customer service was very important to them and their district. In fact, when we expand to say how many of them said it was somewhat important, 90 percent said it was at least somewhat important.

But then, when we asked them how confident they were to help their district improve this area, only 45 percent said that they were very confident. So, that gap there really stuck out to us as something that is super important to these folks, but so few of them feel empowered or capable to really help their district improve in that area.

KOMINIAK: The research also found that most school districts did not have robust systems for tracking or measuring the level of customer experience they were providing.

MCINTOSH: We asked the survey participants about the strategies they were using to improve customer experience. And what we found was that they were often relying on school culture and climate surveys to measure the quality of service and look for opportunities to improve upon that. And there’s nothing wrong with surveys–we love surveys. 

We do a lot of especially school climate surveys with our clients at K12 Insight, but they’re for a specific purpose. They are a snapshot in time. They’re more like–if you think in curriculum and instruction terms–they’re more of a summative assessment, rather than an interim assessment. And when we look at something like customer experience which is so dynamic and so ongoing and so in real time, I think you need more of an interim assessment there. More of an interim evaluation or indicator of how you’re doing. We didn’t see a lot of our survey participants saying they were using things like secret shopping and family exit interviews and technology to really help them measure this in real time, which stood out to us as a potential missed opportunity.  …potential missed opportunity.

MURRAY: What’s great is this information comes at a really critical time for a lot of school leaders and we think that this information will go a long way in helping school leaders improve the quality of education in their schools.

KOMINIAK: To access the full State of K-12 Customer Experience Report including additional findings and recommendations, visit k12cxreport.org.