Stick to the plan. When it comes to K-12 leadership, that’s often easier said than done.
Every few years, school district leaders undertake the development of a strategic plan that outlines key goals and strategies for their district over the next 3-5 years.
Strategic plans are frameworks for district leadership–with most K-12 leaders understanding that unforeseen challenges will inevitably shift some of the strategies outlined in their plan.
According to former K-12 superintendent Dr. Gerald Dawkins, what shouldn’t happen–but all-too-often does–is that strategic plans are written to simply meet district requirements and are then quickly forgotten:
“One of the most important pieces of advice I give new school district leaders is don’t turn your strategic plan into another shelf document. In my travels to schools across the country, I’ve seen too many strategic plans shoved in an administrator’s desk drawer or collecting dust on a shelf. I suspect it’s because these plans were developed to meet requirements, rather than to help set a vision for the future.”
As Dr. Dawkins points out, K-12 strategic plans–when done correctly, and seriously–set an overall vision for a district moving forward and clearly illustrate the priorities of district leadership.
So, what are school leaders including in their strategic plans? Our latest research found that improving the K-12 customer experience is an emerging priority for many school leaders.
Prioritizing customer experience
K12 Insight’s recently-released State of K-12 Customer Experience Report is the first-ever national study to examine the impact of quality of community engagement and the customer experience on K-12 education.
What’s clear from our research is that school district leaders see building trust (90%) and engaging external stakeholders (81%) as vital priorities. But only half of the school leaders we surveyed expressed confidence in their ability to deliver on these priorities.
When we posed the question “How can districts improve K-12 customer service?” to school leaders, one of the most consistent responses was to bake customer service and the customer experience into the district’s strategic plan.
From the report:
“Many school leaders pointed to their district strategic plan as an area critical for customer experience inclusion and improvement. When customer service is prioritized in the planning process, they said, it becomes easier to implement elsewhere. Respondents suggested that both internal and external stakeholders should be included in the development of district strategic plans and said such documents are critical to prepare school districts for a changing future.”
Given this feedback, it’s clearly not a coincidence that many of the school districts excelling at improving the school customer experience have made customer service a key part of their strategic plans.
Customer service is personal at El Paso ISD
When Juan Cabrera became superintendent of El Paso Independent School District in Texas, one of his first priorities was to register his daughters for classes. He was turned away by all three schools he visited.
“I walked into each school and asked to speak with the principal,” recalls Cabrera, whose district serves 58,000 students. “At each school, I was told the principal is busy and doesn’t see walk-in visitors.”
Cabrera never told the school staff he was the district superintendent because, to him, it wasn’t relevant. He simply wrote his name down, gave it to the school staff, and asked that the principal call him.
“At all three schools, before I got to my car the principal came out, asking me to come back in and meet,” says Cabrera. “I found that very disconcerting because everyone should be treated with the same amount of respect and attention—from the superintendent to current and prospective parents regardless of who they are.”
Knowing that a poor customer experience would lead to bigger problems down the road—from a lack of community trust to poor teacher and staff morale—Cabrera wrote a focus on customer service into the district’s strategic plan.
To solidify a culture of customer experience in their schools, El Paso ISD partnered with K12 Insight for a new, innovative form of professional development training on school customer service.
Rather than traditional, “sit and get” professional development sessions, K12 Insight’s workshops aim to create a team mentality around customer experience by encouraging participants to move around the room, ask important questions, and work together.
While implementing a customer experience culture doesn’t happen overnight, Melissa Martinez, El Paso’s chief communications officer says she can already see signs of progress.
“We’ve seen the change already,” she says. Staff used to push back on scheduling campus visits for potential families, but since the training, “it’s a much more welcoming environment. Everybody understands now that we want to have that sense of open-door policy.”
A competitive advantage at The School District of Osceola County
Customer service is a critical element of the School District of Osceola County, Florida’s ambitious three-year strategic plan. According to Public Information Officer Dana Schafer, providing an exceptional customer experience is a competitive advantage for schools.
“We realized that we’re not the only game in town,” she says. “Parents and families have options. If they don’t feel like your schools are listening, that they care, they’ll go someplace else.”
With this in mind, the district’s strategic plan called for school leaders to:
- “Communicate the value that education and education professionals add to the Osceola community,” and
- “Engage community stakeholders to build understanding of the importance of education in our community’s future.”
For Osceola, it wasn’t enough to merely communicate better; administrators wanted to provide a better overall experience for parents, students, and staff. To support its plan, district leaders set rigorous standards aligned to four key pillars of service:
- Courtesy and respect
To help track progress along these standards, the district adopted Let’s Talk!, K12 Insight’s cloud-based K-12 customer experience platform.
Through a special button and tab on the district website, parents, students, staff, and other community members can ask questions and share comments directly with administrators. On the backend, each inquiry is instantly routed to the correct staff member or team to issue a reply. The system also tracks response times and allows customers to issue feedback scores, rating the quality of each interaction.
“In the past, we could say ‘in this area of customer experience we think things are better in the district,’ but Let’s Talk! has provided some accountability and data that we needed to show we were moving the needle,” explains Schafer.
Since including a focus on customer experience in their strategic plan, Osceola’s average response time to community inquiries is less than one day. The district has also made progress in student performance, moving its school grade from a C to B and seeing continuous improvement in its graduation rate, which reached 89.2 percent for the class of 2018.
Want to compare your district’s customer experience strategy to other districts across the country? Take our quick assessment below. We’ll compare your findings to our national data and follow-up with customized recommendations to improve customer service in your district.