As an educator this topic may be making your stomach tighten because you are already doing so much—and families keep making demands. Schools today have so many public metrics to meet besides just educating their students. Students have to pass tests, family engagement has to be high, ADA accessibility requirements have to be met, and now families are demanding better service! Today, families have many choices, including free online options to send their children to school— “‘...we’re not a monopoly just because we are the public school system,’ says Wendy Robinson, Superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools in Indiana.”1
I recently attended a Back-To-School fundraiser at our local elementary school and as I walked through the gates, two 5th graders on either side of the entrance greeted me enthusiastically, and asked if I needed help buying tickets (they pointed to the tickets table), or if I was hungry (they pointed to the hot dog line). I was so impressed—and so was my son, who was just flattered to be noticed by “big kids.” This welcome experience is the same type of “customer service” you receive at your local chain bank or large restaurant where they are fighting for customers and over-trying with service to woo you to move your checking account from one bank to another with a new cooler. A new cooler doesn’t do it any more; attracting families to your school comes down to making a great first impression with great service.
When looking at ways to apply customer service in schools, here are four ideas on how to give your families a better experience, and keep them satisfied.
Prioritize safety above anything else, even if it means having to break another rule. Prioritize safety with your families through a secure web presence and excellent communication.
Besides having drills, security guards, easy-to-use and easy-to-navigate technology plays a big part in school safety. Presenting families with clear communication from whichever channel they access is key. That means if a family member is on social media they will see the same school news as the family member who is on the school app. When it comes to emergencies and important alerts you are ensuring all families will see the announcements. In addition, consider these safety features found in your school app.
A Tip Line that's easy to find, translates, and most importantly, easy to submit a tip!
Digital Hall Passes that have admin access and transparency of where all the kids are!
Digital Student IDs, safer for kids because they are harder to get lost, and they can include health information like an allergy etc.
Also consider your website safety. What security protocols is your school website company taking into account? Are you accepting payment from parents online? Is your online school payments company PCI compliant? If yes, what level? Above all, your customer service in school should prioritize safety.
The elementary school I visited with the 5th grade greeters would be an excellent example of kindness. My son was so flattered, and as a parent I immediately pictured my son or daughter as future greeters, and leaders—and wanted them to go there to have that opportunity. I was sold, I was engaged!
How can technology act as a conduit for courtesy?
Make your school technology accessible for all families.
Be courteous of families who don’t speak English. How easy can non-English speaking families find, read, and understand school communication? Are you able to translate text messages, app content, and online forms?
School payments for fees and activities should be accepted in all forms. Make it as easy as possible for families to make a payment. Remind them with a custom link to pay anything that is due.
Send families automated reminders right to their phones regarding low lunch balances, library books due, and attendance notifications so they don’t have to go hunting through other apps & emails.
Give families a place to submit feedback on what could go better, such as a follow-up from Back-To-School Night.
How memorable can you make the experience students and families have with your school’s brand?
What is your online presence saying about your school? Is it outdated? Is it mobile responsive? Your website is your first impression for many families to find information about tours, enrollment, college acceptances, etc. If your school name is more common like St. Francis School, can families easily search it and find the one they are looking for, or do the first St. Francis schools that appear on Google search come from other cities? Personalize and brand your school, including having its own listing in the app store.
Another concept from a customer service in schools standpoint relates to giving your stakeholders a magical and memorable experience. Schools can bring this magic into the classroom by keeping teachers happy. During the pandemic the "show" went a little awry with students being able to peek into the secret lives of teachers and see their homes, pets, and families through Zoom. Now that we are back to “normal,” keep teachers happy, excited, and give them the breaks and resources they need to easily do their jobs.
Use tech to make paying for things easier, waiting in line easier etc. Make life easier for your families!
Automate as many processes as possible for family communications to free up time for the “real” conversations with your parents. The processes to automate would include technology such as:
Your school calendars - integrate your website calendar instead of updating it manually.
Your school social media - if you post a news story on your school’s website, it should automatically share on social media.
District-wide alerts - use a website platform that allows you to push a news story from the district site to all of your school sites simultaneously.
Your school app - automatically pull content from your website so you aren’t updating two platforms at once.
Finally, empower your staff to have control over certain sections of the website. Use a platform that has granular permissions so staff members can be in charge of specific sections of your website. This prevents bottlenecks with getting information out to families, and when collecting information that has come in through form submissions.
A robust technology platform is key in helping schools provide excellent “service” to their families. It's ultimately about the experience and the feeling you get when on campus. When all of these principles are working together, each student’s and family member’s memories are tied to a part of your unique school. The morning bell rings, and it’s showtime!