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There’s a right and wrong way to handle community feedback

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”

That’s Bill Gates talking about K12 teachers in a 2013 TED talk. But isn’t just teachers who benefit from feedback. Gates’ wisdom applies to administrators and central offices too.

No matter where in the school system you work, feedback is essential to your success. Honest conversations help you make adjustments and better serve the needs of students and parents.

But not all feedback is created equal.

As schools lose students and families to other educational alternatives, there is intense pressure to improve the educational experience, both in the classroom and outside of it, through things like customer service. It isn’t enough to simply ask for feedback from parents and staff, writes author and customer service consultant Micah Solomon in Forbes. These days, you have to seek it out.

So how do you ensure the feedback you gather is comprehensive, timely and, above all, helpful?

The only option that works
When it comes feedback, you really only have three options, says Solomon.

  1. Ignore it: Self-explanatory and, also, out of the question.
  2. Reward the squeaky wheel: Pay attention only to the loudest feedback. It’s an option, albeit an incredibly short-sighted one.
  3. Gather, analyze, and react to all feedback. Ambitious? Sure. But it’s really your only choice.

“Consider all customer inputs before extracting what’s important,” Solomon writes. “Whether it’s important because it falls into the fires-to-put out/squeaky wheel category or in a more subtle, longer-term-trend-in the-making/dog-that-didn’t-bark sort of way.”

Support is key
To make feedback work, you need systems in place to support it, says Solomon.

When administrators at the Rockford Public Schools in Illinois decided to make customer service a priority, they started by looking for a way to engage the entire community.

They launched a 24-7 online listening station. The technology, called Let’s Talk!, makes it possible to invite community feedback through the district website while also monitoring and responding to conversations on social media and in other places in the community.

In each case, a staff member is automatically assigned to respond to the inquiry, ensuring that everyone receives a response—no matter what.

It’s all part of CIO Earl Dotson, Jr.’s overarching philosophy: “Do what you say you’re going to do, and hold people accountable,” says Dotson. “Be diligent about making sure people respond to inquiries within the prescribed time.”

In the end, it’s about serving and exceeding expectations. In the age of instant gratification, your community wants and demands fast, accurate responses to questions and concerns. If you fail to deliver, parents and students might decide they’d be better served elsewhere. And you know what that means.

Looking for a few ways to improve customer service in your district? Want to hear more from Solomon and other school customer service experts? Download the School Leader’s Definitive Guide to Quality Customer Service and commit to the need for smarter feedback today.