The Importance of Customer Service in Education and How to Improve It
Education systems have many different types of customers, although they go by different names: students, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders (like the government, board members, or taxpayers). Customer service in education refers to the experience students and stakeholders have when interacting with their school or institution.
While careers in education aren’t often seen as customer service roles, there’s a lot to be said about the importance of these skills when interacting with people in education. Research done in the UK looked at how the student experience changed the outcomes of student success1. They found that “effective communication may reduce the number of students who drop-out in their first year,” often because “students come with mistaken expectations that might have been corrected through more effective communications.” This isn’t just true of first-year students—all students can benefit from access to information and effective communication with their institutions. Providing better customer service will make your students (and their community) happier and more productive which leads to better school rankings in the long run.
Ground Your Decisions in the Spirit of Service
The pursuit of education is a worthy goal. Rather than just making money and racking up profits, working in education serves a bigger purpose—improving the citizens of the world. As Micah Solomon says2 “You’re not simply trying to “serve customers.” You’re trying to build your students into responsible scholars and citizens.” Because of this, there’s a difference between serving business customers and serving educational customers.
If you seek to improve customer service in your educational institution, it’s important to view all decisions through this lens. Think: “how can we best develop our students into responsible citizens of the world?” By framing customer service decisions in this way, it becomes second nature to serve students better.
To deliver a seamless experience and provide value to all their customers, educational professionals need to:
– Be responsive: reply to incoming queries quickly and efficiently
– Be available: ensure everyone knows where they can find the information they need.
– Be service-orientated: seek feedback and deliver on requests from students, parents, and administrators.
Using the right tools in your educational institution will help make these three strategies easier. Below, we walk through each of the strategies in detail, along with some suggestions for implementing customer service tools in your program.
1. Be Responsive
School is a highly stressful environment for many people and students will go through a variety of periods of high stress during their schooling. Before you even start school, you might have to go through admissions tests, applications, and a waiting period. Before you leave, you’ll be responsible for passing exams and getting good grades.
Reducing stress can make the experience better for students. Wondering when and if they will get a response from the school should be the last thing on their mind. Quick responses, whether through social media or email, will help reduce the stress during late night cram sessions or admissions time. Being responsive is one of the best ways to deliver a good student experience.
Set goals for responding to different types of requests. For example, set the expectation that all admissions emails receive a response in less than 24 business hours. By explicitly stating this expectation, admission team members know what their responsibilities are and can prioritize their inbox accordingly.
2. Be Available
Getting the right information into the hands of the right people at the right time is critical for providing great customer service. Being available means that everyone knows where to go to get the information when they need it.
Make it easy for everyone to connect with the staff or administrators they need—whether it’s the IT help desk, the admissions department, or the finance department. You want your students to talk to you if they need help, so be proactive about reaching out and connecting with partners in your school who can help spread information.
Keep repeating where to find services throughout the student experience. During orientation, explain the resources that are available and how students can access them.
Even if your team isn’t available outside of school hours, there are options to keep customers informed. A self-service portal where everyone can find what they need is helpful in organizing resources and providing information 24/7.
3. Be Service Oriented
Providing great customer service means giving stakeholders what they want. There’s no better way to know what they need than asking for feedback.
Ask students, parents, and administrators what would make their experience better, and then act on it! Use student engagement surveys or follow-up satisfaction surveys after an interaction to make sure students are getting the information they need.
Remembering the basics of customer service can also go a long way to a better experience. Be polite, friendly, and personable when interacting with people. Even in the busiest times of the year where students have the most stress, simple courtesies can go a long way.
Choose the Right Tools
Regardless of what mediums you interact with students and parents—email, phone or chat—a help desk will make it easier. A help desk can assist in managing the student experience through directing, measuring, and monitoring student communication with a variety of departments. Help desks, while traditionally used for business customers, have a range of features that can really help to improve customer service in education as well. For example:
– SLAs: ensure everyone is responding on time by tracking the time to first reply and resolution time. Understand where gaps in service are so you can hire more people or improve response time.
– Satisfaction surveys: follow up after interactions to ensure questions were answered and that everyone is satisfied.
– Automation: deliver questions to the right department using automation and ticket routing features. Instead of using a human triage team, you can save time and get everyone to the right place in the first instance.
There are a few other benefits that a help desk provides. For example, a knowledge base can help students find the information they need, even during a 2 am study session. Students can search for reference information at any time and it prevents them from needing to talk to a human. Because of this, taking the time to write up frequently asked questions can reduce the demand on your time.
Students are generally digital-natives, meaning they love using online tools like social media to communicate. In 2017, 83% of students used social media3 to research higher education institutions before making a decision. You better be responding (and with good customer service skills) online! A help desk can pull together messages from Twitter and Facebook so that an administrator can answer all the questions in one easy place.
Whether your institution is for profit or not, you have customers that need to be served. Improving communication between students and administrators can have a lasting impact on the student experience, and even how prepared they are to enter the real world.
Customer service in education can make a big difference in our lives. By following the strategies outlined above, you can make your institution known for the best student experience—a worthy goal.
Main illustration done by Siddharth Kandoth
1 – https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/resources/managing_the_student_experience.pdf
2 – https://www.forbes.com/sites/micahsolomon/2015/07/05/9-ways-to-improve-customer-service-in-public-schools-and-public-education/#487df068644a
3 – https://www.timeshighereducation.com/student/blogs/how-international-students-use-social-media-choose-uk-university