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3 customer service benchmarks every school district should watch

Data by itself is meaningless. If you really want to know how your district is performing relative to its customer service, you need to compare your performance against other school districts and year over year, against your own performance. Here’s how to do that.

Quick question: 

Say you survey parents and ask, “How safe do you feel sending your kids to school on one of our busses?”

Of the parents who respond back, 65 percent agree or strongly agree with the statement that the process by which their child gets transported to and from school is safe. 

Would you celebrate those findings, or be concerned? Before you answer, you should know that this is not a trick question. It depends. And while that might seem like a disappointing answer at first, I’m here to convince you that it’s not.

If you’re a superintendent or school district leader, your evaluation of this data should consider, at minimum, two factors:  

  1. What parents in peer districts would say in answer to that same question, and
  2. How that compares to previous years (aka is confidence in your district’s transportation department, trending up or down?)

Say you examined similar data from a neighboring school or district, with which you routinely compete for students. If 75 percent of parents in that school or district responded positively to the same question about busses, and you’re sitting at 65 percent, that’s not a good look. If, on the other hand, the same comparison revealed that the neighbor district in question was at 55 percent, you’d feel a little better about your trajectory, knowing you’ve still got some work to push those numbers higher.

After helping school districts with culture and climate surveys for more than a decade, I learned that, on the average survey about transportation somewhere in the range of two-thirds of parents typically say that busses are safe. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the other third feels that busses or unsafe, or that you’re on the verge of catastrophe. It simply means that your risk for this is no higher or lower on average than other districts.

That’s why having a benchmark is essential to draw meaningful context and determine whether to provide the area in question with additional resources and oversight, or not. By themselves, the numbers mean little, absent a reliable system by which to compare yourself against one or more of your peers.

Or… against yourself

In addition to peer data, you’ll also want to collect year-over-year data to benchmark against yourself. 

Consider our sample question about bus safety:  If you’re at 65 percent parent satisfaction this year and last year you were at 55 percent, that’s a gain worth celebrating. If, on the other hand, parent confidence declined by 10 percent, year-over-year, you ought to worry. 

When it comes to measuring benchmarks, such as parent and community satisfaction, the story is not so much about where you are, as it is where you’re going. This is especially true when managing large complex systems like school districts.

What’s true and important for a culture and climate survey becomes even more true and important in the context of your school or district’s customer service efforts. This is the inflection point, where the data you’ve collected stands to make the most immediate difference in the eyes’ of parents and others in your community.

How do you do this?

Over the last seven years, our team has helped more than 500 school districts implement a highly intentional approach to customer service.

Two things make it highly intentional:

  1. The metrics.
    Also known as the rigor with which we conduct and measure this work. Looking at and measuring feedback like overall response time, customer satisfaction and feedback score.
  2. The impact.
    Within two years of this journey, you should be able to take the output from this work to your CFO to demonstrate time-savings and efficiencies in nearly every department.

Right now, let’s focus on the metrics, and what lends them meaning.

The three metrics you need to know to get started are:

#1 Customer interactions

Did you know that, for every thousand students in your district, roughly 450 customer service interactions take place every day? Said differently, a 10,000-student district conducts more than 4,500 daily customer service interactions. I am not saying that you can increase or decrease the number of those interactions. I think that is determined by several factors, including where your school district is and what’s going on that day. But the average is roughly 450 interactions for every thousand students. 

That is truly happening.

What you can control is how many of those conversations take place inside a system that gives you a clear line of sight, improves response times and leads to a satisfactory resolution, with a clear dashboard of your overall performance.

By now, most every school superintendent or leader has a means for learning about important customer service interactions. The problem is that, by the time these interactions hit your desk, it’s often too late.

Problems tend to come to you in the form of overly emotional anecdotes through a process of escalation. By the time they reach you, they’ve likely already hit social media or the local papers. You’re learning about them after parents and oftentimes at the same time as board and cabinet members. This kind of approach immediately puts you on the defensive.

When the perception of your district and its relationships with the community suffers, so does the capacity of your staff and leadership team. When this happens, promising programs stall out, or get back-burnered. You spend precious time putting out fires instead of building momentum for strategic priorities. Hard-fought bonds and levies fail. The list goes on. 

Of those 450 interactions, only a small portion of them will rise to the level of a potential crisis for you or your district. But the ones that do will cost you, both in terms of time and reputation. By getting visibility into these interactions early, and often, you can potentially save your team, and yourself,  a tremendous amount of pain and headache. (See the chart below.)

#2 Customer rating or feedback score

The second key metric that an intentional focus on customer service gives you visibility into is feedback score. Here, parents and other stakeholders are asked to rate the quality of their experience in engaging with your district.

One superintendent I spoke with called this engagement “the point of sale.” Don’t think of it like a survey, or something that comes days or weeks after the fact. But a rating. Something to gauge an immediate response, or emotional reaction, to your service. At K12 Insight, we use a five-point scale, similar to what you might see on Amazon or Zappos. The information helps our district partners benchmark the quality of those interactions. The more data they collect at the point of sale, the better frame of reference they have. When they hit a critical mass of responses, they can start to make informed decisions about how to engage their stakeholders moving forward, whether it’s in parent meetings or something as simple as answering phone calls, or responding to email. If your district typically receives a feedback score of 3.5, you might set a goal to get that average score up to 4.5 in a year, and develop a tactical plan to help do that.

And it’s not just for external customer service. 

Say your district has a morale problem and is losing teachers. You might look at how quickly your internal HR team responds to questions from staff and if those response times have an impact on overall job satisfaction. If the answer is yes, you can work to improve staff engagement through a commitment to stronger internal customer service and improved response times (see #3 below) or higher feedback scores.

#3 Customer response time

The final metric to consider when developing your benchmark dashboard is overall response time. This is the amount of time it takes for your school or district to initially acknowledge a question or concern, and the amount of time it takes to eventually reach a resolution. Sometimes this happens in the same step. More often, it requires more than one interaction. Because schools aren’t open 24/7, the clock needs to take into consideration school day hours, weekends, and holiday schedules. Different questions or concerns will likely also have different levels of priority. For instance, safety concerns would rate higher than run-of-the-mill questions about cell phone policies or dress codes.

To determine the right response time for your district, consult the benchmarks. How are districts similar to yours performing? If you keep year-over-year data, what was your average response time last year? Can you improve on that? Have you? Or, are you backsliding?

The evidence is clear: the faster your district responds with accurate information, the higher the feedback rating it’s likely to receive. Of course, speed isn’t the only factor. It’s important to provide the right information and to close the loop. Use customer service data and benchmarks from similar districts to frame a baseline and build your service framework up from there. 

Bring it all together

If you’ve read this far, it’s safe to assume you’re serious about measuring the impact of your district’s customer service efforts. Having these three metrics on a dashboard alongside data from your peers gives you the visibility and the oxygen that you need to to define a standard for excellent service in your school district and helps you gauge where and when to allocate resources and political capital as you strive to compete in the increasingly competitive landscape of public education.  

About the Author

Suhail Farooqui
Suhail is founder and CEO of K12 Insight. Reach him at suhail.farooqui@k12insight.com.

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