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Superhero spotlight: Stopping bad headlines before they start

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You can’t solve a problem you don’t know exists.

That’s why having real-time insights into what your community is thinking matters, and having that power at your fingertips makes all the difference.

In our latest installment on school customer experience superheroes, we highlight administrators at Tennessee’s Wilson County Schools and an emerging technology used to identify and prevent potential crises—while consistently engaging different members of the school community.

A two-pronged challenge

Jennifer Johnson, public information officer, Wilson County Schools, TN

Serving approximately 18,700 students across 22 schools, Wilson County Schools is the ninth-largest school district in the state and the largest employer in Wilson County. The school community is close-knit and thriving, says public information officer Jennifer Johnson. “Parts of our community are rural and parts of it are growing wildly. As a district, we’re growing rapidly at a rate of about 500 students each year.”

Amid such rapid growth, administrators faced a two-pronged communication breakdown.

Kim Clemmons, instructional technology supervisor, Wilson County Schools, TN

On one hand, “We had parents and employees sending questions to different members of a department asking the exact same question,” explains instructional technology supervisor Kim Clemmons, noting that this sometimes led to parents turning to other department members for answers if they didn’t like the initial response.

On the other, “There was a Facebook page—not adopted by our district—that unfortunately shares out fake news sometimes,” Clemmons says. “So we needed another way for our parents and community members to reach us directly and get a district-approved answer.”

So district leaders turned to Let’s Talk!, K12 Insight’s cloud-based community engagement and customer service solution, to bring the community into the conversation. Accessible via a pop-out tab on the district’s homepage, Let’s Talk! provides a place online where every member of the community can pose questions, comments, suggestions, concerns, and compliments.

The solution is in play at each of the district’s schools and across several district departments—from transportation to instructional technology to human resources—ensuring the right people receive and respond to each inquiry. A back-end dashboard provides district leaders with key metrics in real time, such as number of inquiries, average response time, and customer feedback score.

Wilson County students

Putting out and preventing fires

Administrators say the ‘always-on’ nature of the tool has helped prevent all manner of administrative crises, such as recently when the district faced an issue with employee pay stubs.

“There was some kind of glitch in payroll where people got pay stubs that were short like $200 from whatever it normally was,” Johnson says, noting that the district started fielding questions from employees via Let’s Talk!. “We initially gave out the wrong answer, but then we started getting bombarded. It turned out it was a major, major problem that affected every employee.”

Further investigation revealed that several events, including a tax code change, led to the inaccurate pay stubs being distributed, an error the district likely only discovered because of Let’s Talk!.

“Normally, people would have called an individual in HR and—if that person hadn’t shared it with another person—it would have never surfaced as a larger issue,” she explains. “Because we started getting all of these questions in Let’s Talk!, we were able to resolve the issue before bad checks even went out.”

It could have been a lot worse, she says. “I could see that being an actual story on the news: Wilson County Schools shorts their employees X amount of dollars. And we were able to avoid that because of Let’s Talk!”

Creating the culture

student at computer

The district has been using Let’s Talk! for nearly three years, Johnson says. In that time, the tool has become “overwhelmingly popular” with the school community. So far, during the 2018-2019 school year, the district has received more than 3,500 dialogues from parents, students, staff and others, while maintaining an average response time of less than 24 hours and an average customer feedback score of 8.6 out of 10.

Getting the initial messaging right about Let’s Talk! was key, says Johnson. “Let’s Talk! really sells itself if you can just get that original message out correctly,” she explains. “We’ve been able to continue to build an audience on Let’s Talk! because people know about the tool and recommend it to others.”

Administrators say the district’s commitment to listening and responding to its community has changed how people approach the school system.

“People talk…They go to the ballpark or the grocery store and they talk about their kids—especially in a close-knit community like ours,” she says. “And so it matters that they know we’re listening and that we care.”

Want to learn more about how Let’s Talk! can improve community engagement and help you identify potential problems in your district? Sign up for a free consult.

About the Author

Kyle Freelander
Kyle Freelander is the Customer Marketing & Communications Manager at K12 Insight.

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