Tag: Customer Service

Customer Service in Catholic Education

Customer experience is one of the hottest buzzwords in Catholic education these days. Schools are retaining national consultants such as Partners in Mission, Inc and committing resources into building a strong customer experience. In many parts of the country Catholic schools are already competing more based on the customer experience versus price or curriculum. After all, a school is a school is a school, and all elementary schools in essence offer the same education adhering to both state and national standards.

So, what is left then to set the school apart but the customer experience. Parents need to be able to rationalize the school purchase decision and the customer experience is the key to happy satisfied parents who are willing to serve as good will ambassadors for your school.

Outside of the education business, we are seeing research that companies that invest in customer experience boast a higher stock price. That said, more companies are also taking customer experience seriously.

The truth is that in the business of Catholic education, there are a many ways to care for and interact with parents to create a positive customer experience.

Customer service is the advice or assistance a school leadership and staff gives to parents.

The goal of customer service is to increase customer satisfaction, and it usually comes by answering questions – often before they need to be asked.  Some schools offer Kindergarten readiness testing for parents and parenting workshops open to parents of both enrolled students and parents with children enrolled elsewhere who members of Catholic parishes. This strategy can be viewed as a customer service gesture on behalf of the parish leadership as well.

Customer care means how well parents are taken care of while they interact with school leadership and staff.

A term used less often is customer care, which is how well customers are taken care of while they interact with the school leaders, faculty, and staff and yes even the custodial staff. Customer care in Catholic education is actually caring for parents, listening to their needs, and finding the right solution – even if it means sometimes helping them find a neighboring Catholic school more prepared to meet their needs.  In many instances, customer care moves one step beyond basic customer service by building an emotional connection and making parents feel like a member of the community. I refer to this as the Starbucks experience. Starbucks doesn’t really sell coffee but rather the experience of community.

Customer experience is the total journey of parent’s interactions with a school.

Customer experience is the sum of all contact, from first discovering and researching school options, to touring a campus, applying, admission notification, registration, enrollment, and the day to day interactions each day of the school year with EVERY member of the school staff. with to actually using the product and following up with the brand afterwards. Customer experience measures how customers feel about a company overall and includes the emotional, physical, psychological connection parents as a consumer have with the school.  Customer care for school parents isn’t a one-off interaction, but rather includes the entire lifecycle and every touch point a parent has with the school.

If these three concepts all sound similar, it’s because they all contribute to a school delivering on its promises and building loyal, satisfied parents and alumni. Customer experience is the overarching sum of all interactions, and customer service and customer care are pieces of that puzzle.

Customer service is a vital part of the entire experience—nearly 75% of customers who leave do so because they aren’t satisfied with customer service. However, customer service and customer care often fall under the responsibility of the school leadership. To be effective, everyone in the organization should be invested in customer experience.

Customer experience is more than just a buzzword—it should be at the heart of everything a Catholic school does. By including customer service and customer care, Catholic school leaders can exceed expectations and delight parents.

Millennial Parents, Catholic Schools and Customer Service

Here are 8 suggestions and a few customer service core values for improving customer experience in Catholic schools.  

1. Streamline. Millennial parents “digital parity.” They expect schools efficient, streamlined, user friendly and the best of what they customers have experienced online in every other part of their lives.  Millennial parents expect self-service options, they don’t expect to repeatedly fill out forms with information they’ve already provided elsewhere, and they actively rebel against org chart-mandated siloing (“I don’t handle that, you’ll have to go down the hall, or “you’ll have to come back on Tuesdays, when Mr. ____ is in the office.”)

2. Try it yourself. Are you easy to use? You won’t know until you try.  Try your own website without your auto-log in.  Is it easy?  Or a pain? Come in the front door of your building (rather than entering from the employee parking area) and see if the front door swings open easily, or whacks you on the shoulder.  Look for the signs and symbols at the get go and throughout the building that say we are a Catholic school.  Try a little secret shopping – Fill out a “request information” form online and see if anyone—ever!—responds.  You may be shocked at what you find out.

 

3. Do the hustle.  Perfect customer service, delivered late, feels wrong. And the timeline in this digital age for what parents as the consumer consider a delayed response is continually getting shorter. You’re not being judged based on what’s always been “fast enough for education”; you’re being judged, implicitly and unconsciously, based on the speed of Amazon.

 

4. Benchmark outside of education. More and more, what your parents are expecting in customer service comes from the service they experience outside of education–and you, too, should look outside of education to great companies and organizations regardless of industry for inspiration that will improve your user friendliness.

 

5. Learn to apologize.  Things will go wrong. Prepare for this, emotionally as well as operationally.   Note that sometimes–often–you’re simply apologizing for the situation, not for something you did wrong. It doesn’t matter; an apology is still of value. Parents are willing to recognize we are all perfectly imperfect.

 

6. Don’t make parents ask simple questions that they should have been able to find online. Customers don’t like to be burdened to contact you for items that could easily be provided for them on a self-service basis.  The lunch menu and photo day requirements are good examples here.

 

7. Get the welcome to your school right even before you greet the parent.  Welcomes are first impressions and are a key moment in customer service. If parking is hard to find, if disabled access is poor (or–just as common–confusing), if office hours are posted incorrectly online, then you’re making a poor impression before the parent or prospective parent gets to consider all the wonder you can do to prepare their child for college and heaven.  

 

8. Build a culture of yes.  A hallmark of a great school is an attitude by every teacher and staff member, that “The answer is yes—now what was your question?”  There’s great power  in getting everyone in your school to share a goal of getting to a “yes” for every consumer, rather than figuring out ways to say “no,” “not my department,” “it doesn’t work that way around here,” “sadly, we cannot accommodate that request,” or “if you call back in the morning, perhaps we’ll be able to help you.” Well-meaning teachers and staff can still find a dozen ways to say no to their parent consumers.   You accomplish this by modeling a spirit of yes, hiring for a spirit of yes, and rewarding a spirit of yes. (And there’s one more thing: Sometimes in education, achieving a culture of “yes” requires rooting out or/and reforming “situational tyrants.” Any institution can become a breeding ground for what I call “situational tyrants,” people who have the power to say “no” within their tiny little fiefdom, and who exercise that powers every chance they get.  It is incredibly important to get these people to come over to your program of having “yes” as the goal: “Yes, we can assist you with this and would be happy to do so.

Finally, work with all staff members to adopt customer service core values I refer to as:

  • Make it Happen
  • No Drama
  • Absolute Persistence
  • Relentless Support
  • Passion in All Things
  • Get Your Hands dirty