Why Customer Service for Schools Matters

Customer service for K-12 schools is an intentional approach for facilitating communication listening, gathering feedback, and building relationships with customers throughout an entire school district.
In This Guide:
In this guide, we’ll be diving deep into customer service for K-12 and why it matters for your school district. By the end, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge you need to bring an intentional customer service strategy to your district.
Section 1


Why Customer Service for Schools Matters within the K-12 Education Ecosystem

Student enrollment declines. Transportation departments with a negative reputation. Community gossip about angry staff. Internal whispers about “unreasonable” parents. A lack of trust in school leaders.

These seemingly isolated or independent problems can be symptoms of a bigger underlying issue: poor customer service for schools, especially within K-12 school districts. 

Customer service has typically been a priority for other organizations — especially those in the business sector. This emerging expectation for customer service leaves school districts vulnerable because it hasn’t traditionally been expected that schools take a customer-centric approach to communications with their communities. 

Until now. 

Today, many district leaders are deeply concerned about maintaining enrollment, especially as school choice becomes a mandate in nearly every part of the country. 

Fortunately, there is a path forward. 

Building a culture of customer service in your district is key to increasing parent satisfaction and keeping families enrolled. We are now in a new era of education that requires school districts to deliver superior customer service to their school communities at every touchpoint — whether it’s when they call their school’s office or they’re interacting with a bus driver. 

There is an enormous opportunity for school districts to improve the overall satisfaction of internal and external customers. By leveraging customer service, your district can reduce staff and student attrition, raise stakeholder satisfaction scores, and build positive board-administration relationships. 


Section 2

What is customer service for K-12? 

What is customer service for schools?

For decades, school districts haven’t needed a customer service strategy.

Because students simply attended the school nearest to their homes, districts focused on outbound communications to their families to share necessary information. 

But today, families have choices — and high expectations — meaning school districts need processes or systems in place to ensure an easy way for families to contact them with questions, concerns, and feedback. 

With increased competition, it’s essential school districts provide high-quality customer service to its customers — which includes anyone who interacts with their district — to make sure they leave each experience feeling satisfied. 

School and district administrators around the country are making customer service a top priority in their strategic plans — especially since customer service in schools can mitigate the loss of students by making sure every family is well served. 

K-12 school and district administrators across the nation are adopting a customer service mindset to build trust capital, improve family and community engagement, generate public support for key initiatives, and foster a positive school environment.

By taking a data-driven approach to customer service in schools, you get a single source of truth for community priorities, which provides better context for decision-making than anecdotes shared by siloed staff and board members, misguided media coverage, or viral tweets.

In the era of misinformation and distrust, it’s never been more important to implement an intentional customer service strategy.

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Learn how the increasing expectation of customer service in K-12 education will impact your schools and how you can execute a customer service strategy districtwide that ensures parent satisfaction and differentiates your district in today's competitive environment.

Section 3

Four questions to ask about your district's customer service

Four Key Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering the State of Customer Service in Your District

As you consider the current state of customer service in your district and how it impacts your district’s success, here are four key questions to ask yourself:

1. How do we know our district is truly serving families, teachers, and staff well?

As a school or district administrator, you may hear anecdotes about positive and negative experiences from your customers — in passing in the hallways, through emails sent to your overflowing inbox, or during public comment at board meetings. You may have a gut instinct about how things are going in your district, but you likely don’t have the data to back up your story. 

Superior customer service is not about one school or one department. With many school campuses and departments, the public perception of your district’s customer service is only as good as the weakest link in the chain.

To help deliver and measure the customer experience, you need a systematic approach for customer service — which includes equipping your staff with a districtwide unified inbox where every interaction is cataloged and analyzed.

The system must support automated routing and workflows so questions and concerns always reach the correct staff member in any department or school — no matter what channel customers use to reach out. 

With a feedback loop allowing customers to rate every interaction, this system becomes a single source of truth that provides rigorous data to you to understand the quality of service provided districtwide. 

This helps: 

  • Ensure strong alignment between administrators and board members to drive governance by data rather than anecdotes 
  • Identify areas in which additional training or support is needed
  • Minimize the potential for reputational crises by driving consistent messaging on polarizing and complex issues

2. What if we’re wrong about the quality of our district’s customer service?

Customer service is more important than ever for school districts — especially as options for families expand through school choice programs, charter schools, and virtual schools. And the quality of its customer service is the most important factor behind a district’s brand, according to a study presented by Austin Independent School District in 2017. 

Our research has found school districts that are not delivering positive experiences are more likely to lose students, jeopardizing their budgets. 

You need a comprehensive system for customer service to help you: 

  • Understand and measure the customer experience districtwide
  • Identify problems before they become crises
  • Reduce staff turnover and student attrition 
  • Build and improve community support and engagement

3. What is the status quo on customer service costing us?

The tools you’re currently using for customer service are likely outdated, inefficient, and costly. Many “crises” with districts begin as mishandled customer inquiries that are not rectified in a timely manner because of these aging tools and systems. 

Many districts lack a clear and consistent way for parents, teachers, staff, and students to get help. And customers struggle with a tangled web of department-specific channels and processes.

On the back end, this increases communications overhead and takes away precious time from supporting student success. 

If this sounds like the state of customer service for schools in your district, you’re not alone. Implementing an intentional customer service strategy can help:

  • Free up staff time through automation, data integration, workflows, and enhanced collaboration
  • Provide direct savings by consolidating multiple department-level systems 
  • Improve culture with well-defined, uniform standards of service and support, creating a consistent experience for every customer and ensuring fewer adverse headlines

4. What is preventing your district from adopting customer service?

Change can be difficult, and it’s likely you’ve felt “new initiative fatigue” when presented with options that may save time and reduce overall costs. But, past initiatives may have gotten in the way — you might even have some deep scar tissue from prior projects gone awry. 

There may never be a “perfect” time to adopt a new initiative that requires time and financial resources. Many large urban school systems that similarly hesitated about this journey at first have presented case studies about the impact of their transformation once they started. 

School districts across the country have experienced a positive impact after adopting a customer service strategy, including:  

  • Enhanced board and community trust and support
  • Increased productivity and morale
  • Improved equity and access
  • Reduced teacher and staff turnover and student attrition
  • Automated and simplified communications
  • Clarity and better decisions based on access to customer data

Section 4

Why does customer service matter for K-12?

Why does customer service matter for K-12?

Now that we’ve explored the definition of customer service for K-12, let’s take a closer look at how it’s helped school districts nationwide build trust and create positive experiences that lead to satisfied families and increased engagement — both internally and externally. 

Keeping families in a competitive school choice environment 

School districts around the country face fierce competition from neighboring school districts, virtual schools, private and charter schools, and homeschooling. 

Parents also have high expectations for the customer service they receive from their school or district — and a lot of other options if those expectations aren’t met. 

Fort Wayne Community Schools in Indiana — located in one of the most competitive education markets in the nation — has found customer service to be critical to its success. 

“With the highly competitive market in Indiana, we need to provide excellent customer service and be responsive to parents, otherwise families will walk away,” said Krista Stockman, Public Information Officer at Fort Wayne Community Schools.

Listening and providing superior experiences for families can often keep parents from pursuing alternative options.

“The customer service we offer makes parents feel more committed to us. They recognize that we care about their concerns,” Stockman said.

Making enrollment a breeze

The back-to-school season is a busy time of year for enrollment, and many districts bring on extra support staff to handle the influx of incoming questions from new, returning, and existing families.

Corpus Christi Independent School District in Texas has implemented a districtwide approach to customer service ensuring frontline staff — especially those who handle the majority of enrollment inquiries — are equipped with the skills needed to provide superior experiences to every family. 

“When frontline staff have all the tools they need to start establishing relationships and maintaining trust, your district community stays strong — and it’s more likely those families will establish lasting ties to the school and district,” said Leanne Libby, APR, Chief Communications Officer at Corpus Christi ISD. 

Additionally, Corpus Christi ISD has used texting and other customer service approaches to enrollment to handle the influx of inquiries. 

Build community buy-in for rezoning efforts

Getting stakeholder buy-in on crucial decisions like bond proposals, levies, and rezoning efforts requires time, listening, and proactive communication.

Implementing an intentional approach for customer service gives every stakeholder a voice and makes it easy to gather valuable feedback. 

Flagler Schools in Florida set a goal to offer a place where families could ask questions and provide feedback 24/7 about the rezoning process happening in their district — especially during and after community listening sessions. 

“As we entered the 2021-2022 school year, my team and I knew rezoning was inevitable in 2022-2023,” said Jason Wheeler, Coordinator of Communications at Flagler Schools. “Collectively, we realized this project would require open, consistent communication between the district and our community for it to be a success.” 

Section 5

Adopting a culture of customer service 

Adopting a culture of customer service for schools

As you embark on the journey to bring customer service to your district, take a moment to reflect on customer service for K-12 and what it looks like in your district. 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 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?

Our team at K12 Insight brings expertise in helping school districts implement intentional customer service strategies. If you’re ready to learn more about customer service for K-12 and how it can help your district, request a consult

Schedule your district’s workshop Contact us to learn how customer service will impact your district
Customer service in K-12 is no longer a “nice to have.” Discover how you can develop a culture of customer service in your school district that will help you avoid costly student attrition, create time-saving processes, build trust, and strengthen relationships districtwide.