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Caring for Schools: Bridging the Gap Between Intent and Perception

People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. 

That might sound like just a cute bumper sticker about life, but the sentiment is just as true when it comes to customer service in school districts. Your school community needs to know that you care—especially now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and an outcry for racial justice. 

3 reasons to focus on school customer service now—and how to tap into your team’s potential. 

By showing families, teachers, staff, and other stakeholders that you care, you build strong, trusting relationships and prove to your customers that they are valued members of your school community. 

Doing this successfully requires teachers, frontline staff, and administrators to tap into critical “soft skills” (what I like to call essential skills) like compassion and empathy, which don’t always come naturally in customer service settings and may not be leveraged effectively or consistently. Not to mention how we think we’re showing care may not actually be doing that—and could have the opposite effect on our customers. 

Below, I’ve shared 6 practical strategies to help school districts authentically and consistently show their customers that they care.


  1. Actively listen to your customer. 

One of the most important things you can do right now is to listen. Whether you’re a teacher, school principal, or district administrator, your customers want to know that they’ve been heard and understood. (I should know: I’ve served in all three capacities in my career.)

Really pay attention to what your customer is saying (and, if in person, what their body language might be saying), withhold judgment, and avoid assumptions. Just listen without interrupting and, if needed, ask clarifying questions to give the customer a chance to elaborate and allow yourself to fully understand the situation before trying to resolve it. 

It might be helpful to think of yourself as a guide in these conversations. You’re not there to take the lead but to listen and respond with understanding, compassion, and care. 


  1. Validate your customer’s feelings.

We all want to feel understood. Active listening is an important first step, but validating your customer’s feelings helps show that you understand and care. 

When I was a teacher and building principal, I spent a lot of time ensuring parents and caregivers were apprised of any issues and listening to any concerns they may have. I always made sure to tell them that I understood why they were upset or felt the way they did and that I was happy to help them. And let me tell you, that step right there was the gateway into some of the most productive conversations I’ve had with families. 

By validating your customer’s feelings, you create a safe space for them to open up—which helps you understand and address the root of their questions or concerns.


  1. Keep the temperature down in conversations. 

From time to time, you are going to have a conversation with an angry parent or even a frustrated employee. 

With stress and other emotions running high, these interactions are increasingly difficult to navigate—let alone resolve. Staying calm (and not taking anything they say personally) helps you focus on what the customer is saying, which puts you in the best position to understand and resolve the situation. 

    • Don’t be dismissive.
      If a parent or other customer is coming to you with a question or concern, it’s something of great importance to them. And, in today’s climate, these conversations are often sensitive in nature. Even if something seems trivial to you, make sure your customer knows their issue is a real concern to you and that you respond with sensitivity and care.
    • Don’t further provoke them.
      I don’t know any good customer service staff members that intentionally provoke customers. What I have seen, though, are customers coming to the conversation with misinformation or maybe even misguided assumptions only to be told they’re wrong. Even if they are wrong (hey, it happens—they’re prone to human error too), your role is to educate—not argue.
    • Don’t take their words or anger personally.
      I know this one is sometimes easier said than done, but it’s important to keep in mind that angry customers aren’t actually upset with you as a person. They’re often frustrated at the situation, which sometimes results in misplaced emotions. Do your best to set your feelings aside and focus on the facts of the situation. Your calm demeanor will help keep the conversation from escalating.  


  1. Personalize your service. 

Each interaction you have with customers is unique and should be treated as such. 

The biggest mistake I see teachers and staff make here is using boilerplate language when responding to customers. Even if your team is consistently fielding similar questions (or feeling burdened by the volume of inbound communications), don’t resort to using generic messaging as your response. 

Instead, use templates or responses to FAQs to help ensure you’re providing consistent and accurate information and personalize from there to ensure you’ve completely addressed the specific question or issue that has been raised. It takes an extra 30 seconds to address your customer by name or reference information from a past experience with them to show that you care about the person (not just the transaction).


  1. Seize the opportunity to create a positive experience.

Going above and beyond the call of duty when interacting with a customer is an easy way to show you care and to leave a lasting positive impression. 

When I was a school principal, I made a point to greet every substitute teacher (or “guest teacher,” as I liked to call them) in my building by name and give them a handwritten thank you note (along with some personalized building swag) to really make sure they felt welcome and appreciated. Similarly, as a teacher, I made sure guest teachers in my classroom had a clean mug to get some coffee or tea in the lounge, a map with key locations (copy machine, restroom, lounge, etc.) clearly labeled, and a menu of that day’s staff lunch options. 

There are many other ways to do this (even in virtual settings). For example, you can walk customers through your website to show them how to find a registration form (instead of just sending them a link) so they know where to go in the future or follow up with your customer after an interaction to make sure everything went as expected (think: after a school tour or appointment or if they were transferred to another staff member during the initial interaction). 

You can imagine how these seemingly little things add up and can make someone feel truly special. 


  1. Train and support your teachers and staff.

In order to provide quality customer service, your employees need to feel supported and empowered. 

Above all else, this starts by making their social-emotional health a top priority. If we aren’t taking care of ourselves, we are not empowered to take care of others. Make sure your staff knows this and that your actions back up your promise to prioritize their mental health. 

The other part of this is to understand that essential school customer service skills (like empathy, compassion, and caring) aren’t something staff members are inherently good at—especially in a professional setting. 

Just like any other skill, essential customer service skills require intentional training and practice. Our virtual customer service workshops (designed specifically for school districts) create a safe space for employees to learn about these critical skills, ask questions, and practice what they’ve learned. Each interactive course focuses on one key skill (like empathy or building rapport), providing your team with the resources and practice needed to make every customer interaction memorable for all the right reasons.  


This isn’t a comprehensive list, nor a prescription that magically makes your team experts at showing empathy amid the many challenges of today. But I do hope it serves as a foundation for larger conversations with your team about the service you provide and helps you build strong, trusting relationships internally and externally. And, if you have questions, you can reach me at christine.wells@k12insight.com. Feel free to reach out any time. 

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