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Report: Here’s what’s missing from K-12 professional development

K-12 customer experience professional development

“Practice makes perfect.” Sure, it’s a cliche. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Why do our favorite college football teams practice every day of the week in preparation for Saturday? Why do our favorite musicians continue to practice their scales–and take lessons–even after filling arenas? Why are K-12 educators required to student teach before taking over a classroom of their own?

It’s because practice and training are the best ways to prepare for the real thing–whether it’s a game, or a concert, or a critical class lesson.

I like to say, “K-12 schools aren’t businesses, but they are in the business of kids.” Faced with the prospect of increased competition, many school leaders are looking to improve the experiences they provide students, parents, and others who interact with their schools in order to build trust–and loyalty.

K12 Insight recently released a first-of-its-kind study on this very topic: the 2019 State of K-12 Customer Experience Report. Our team surveyed more than 500 school leaders, including superintendents, department heads, school board members, and building principals, about their priorities when it comes to K-12 customer service.

By far, the biggest takeaway: An overwhelming majority of K-12 school leaders told us their No. 1 strategic priority was building trust with parents, students, teachers, and staff. But more than half said they needed more resources and training to actually do this.

Training breeds confidence

A deeper dive into the findings surfaces another insight: School leaders who reported using a combination of customer service training and technology to improve the customer experience in their districts felt more confident in their ability to build trust with their stakeholders.

Think of a football team that doesn’t know the rules of the game, hasn’t developed any plays, and hasn’t worked out regularly. That team is probably not going to play with confidence come gameday.

The same goes for your school staff. If they haven’t been trained on the importance of exceptional customer service, haven’t been taught strategies for improving that experience, and haven’t practiced key daily interactions, can they really be expected to provide exceptional customer service when stakeholders call on the phone or walk through the schoolhouse doors?

This is why one of the key recommendations from the State of K-12 Customer Experience Report is for school leaders to focus on training and professional development. 

Not all professional development is equal

While our research shows that K-12 leaders clearly see the importance of customer service in their schools, they also recognize that there aren’t a lot of options for effective professional development, specifically tied to the K-12 experience.

To fill this gap, many school leaders have turned to training programs designed for other industries–think hotels, theme parks, and retail.

As Lesley Bruinton, coordinator of public relations at Tuscaloosa City Schools (Ala.) and president-elect at the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), said in a recent webinar:

“When you look at what’s out there, people are gaining their viewpoints and their ideas on customer service as it relates to other service-type organizations–whether it’s hotels or restaurants and other experiences that they’ve had. I think it’s really important to define your customer service culture in your school system and not necessarily take another organization’s culture and try to layer on top of this culture. There are some things that are uniquely different between a school system and hotels. They’re not going to be able to provide that type of customer service. So, look for opportunities for customer service specifically in the K-12 arena.”

I spend most of my professional life doing exactly that–helping school districts identify the specific customer service challenges facing their schools and teaching strategies to improve the quality of experiences they provide.

K12 Insight’s Customer Experience Workshops represent a new form of professional development built specifically for K-12 school leaders and their teams.

These aren’t your standard sit-and-get professional training sessions. Customer service is by nature a social enterprise. That’s why our workshops encourage participants to get up, move around the room, engage with colleagues to problem solve and share experiences–and have fun. From understanding the customer journey, to managing your emotions during difficult interactions, to reflecting on how best to improve your approach, each workshop is designed from the ground up to help school districts embrace a culture of exceptional customer experience.

So far, we’ve taught nearly 6,000 staff members across the country, equipping them with vital K-12 specific customer service skills. I’ve seen first-hand the many ways in which this training positively transforms the experiences students, parents, and others have when they engage with their schools. 

The research is clear: School leaders want and need to provide better customer service training. It’s vital that this training is developed and delivered with the specific needs and challenges of K-12 schools in mind. 

To download the full State of K-12 Customer Experience report, visit k12cxreport.org. To see one of our customer workshop sessions in action, check out the video below. 

Want to learn more about our approach to K-12 customer experience professional development? I’d love to talk through your specific customer experience challenges. Simply email me at christine.wells@k12insight.com and we can have a conversation.

About the Author

Dr. Christine Wells
Dr. Christine Wells, NBCT, spent 16 years in K-12 schools as a teacher, instructional coach, building principal, and director for teaching and learning. She currently serves as Senior Director of Professional Learning and Research at K12 Insight.

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