School operations teams often don’t think of themselves as “businesses.” The term brings to mind large corporations, office buildings, and an overwhelming focus on revenue — none of which are typically present in educational institutions.
But on an operational level, schools do have a lot in common with more traditional businesses. They offer a service, they serve a specific audience, and they rely on both a steady flow of new “customers” and a solid base of existing ones.
This means that they can benefit from many of the same approaches that businesses take to earning and retaining customers. The most important of these is customer service.
And today, many successful businesses know that great customer experiences begin with a focus on customer service. If you’re not sure what this means, keep reading to learn how a customer service mindset can benefit your school and how you can adopt one.
What is a Customer Service Mindset?
Whether you realize it or not, your school is already doing customer service. Every interaction your staff has with a current or prospective student or their families plays a role in their experience of your school and brand.
Adopting a customer service mindset means realizing this. You must view students and their families as customers who are essential to your success. It also requires you to actively look at each interaction as an opportunity to improve “customer satisfaction.”
With this mindset, you can improve overall satisfaction with your school and programs. And as your reputation improves, so will your chances of maintaining strong enrollment numbers and building a successful institution.
5 Ways Your School can Adopt a Customer Service Mindset
The advantages of adopting a customer service mindset are clear, but putting it into practice can be challenging. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of five tips you can use to get your staff on board with this shift.
1. Create a Clear Strategy and Implement it Across Your Organization
The first step in shifting to a customer service mindset is defining what this means for your school and developing a high-level plan for implementing it. Gauge the level of service you currently provide and then determine what kind of service you want to provide. What kind of reputation do you want your school to have? How will you set your institution’s customer service apart from that of your competitors?
Once you’ve answered these questions, determine the steps you’ll need to take to move closer to your goals. Establish some concrete benchmarks for measuring your progress, too. Are you looking to increase overall satisfaction with your school? Boost new enrollment? Improve retention rates?
Then, after you’ve established a plan with clear goals, you’ll need to share it with all of your staff. You need to get everyone from your school board to your admissions team to your teachers or professors on the same page.
Be sure to fully communicate the value of your goals and the impact that reaching them will have on your institution. This way, there’s a real incentive to provide excellent service other than simply following a plan. Once you’ve shared your strategy, you may also want to look for ways to recognize and celebrate employees who go out of their way to uphold these standards.
2. Build a Strong Customer-facing Team
When current and prospective students and their families contact your school, who assists them? Who fields phone calls and emails? Of course, if the customer’s question relates to a specific office or department, they may choose to call that team directly.
But what if a student or parent has a more general concern or they aren’t sure which department to contact or they can’t find a more specific number? They’ll often call the first number they see on your website. That’s where a support team can become extremely valuable.
Many schools rely on automated phone menus to redirect callers to the appropriate people. But this is often a frustrating and time-consuming process. And it’s one that you can bypass by hiring support agents who are dedicated to addressing inquiries, questions, and concerns.
This way, anyone who needs assistance can receive the information or help they need quickly and easily. Plus, when you train these support agents on your standards, the customer experience tends to much more pleasant than navigating phone menus and waiting on hold.
With that in mind, it’s essential that your customer-facing team is connected with any other departments they may need to consult in order to provide answers and resolutions. Build a strong internal communication system, and you’ll be able to serve each of your customers much more efficiently.
3. Make Community Engagement a Priority
As you shift to a customer service mindset, it’s important to look beyond your student body. Their families and the surrounding community also play a role in your reputation. The degree to which you satisfy them can have a significant impact on your institution’s success. This means that you should look for ways to get them involved with your school and establish open lines of communication with them.
In fact, a Rice University study found that family and community engagement is the top driver of parent satisfaction with the schools their children attend. This indicates that getting parents engaged with your school can greatly improve how satisfied they are — and increase the chances that their children stay enrolled.
But where should you start if you’re not yet taking steps to involve “customers” outside of your students?
Vikas Mittal, the lead researcher in that study, says that improving engagement in these areas requires, “involving parents in school activities, developing avenues for parents to give input in school policies, improved communication, and clearly explaining to parents how their child is graded and assessed.”
In a nutshell, parents want you to include them in the education of their children. And when you consider the role they play in determining where that education happens, there’s no reason not to look for ways to get them involved at your school.
4. Ask for Feedback on a Regular Basis
Understanding what your students and their families want is an essential part of providing excellent service. And the best way to do this is by collecting feedback on a regular basis. If you’re not yet doing this, start sending surveys to each segment of your “customer base.” This includes prospective students, current students, alumni, parents, and community members. Make sure that you tailor each set of questions to these individual groups, and consider their needs when you write them.
Within these surveys, it’s also important to go beyond standard multiple-choice questions. While these can help you gauge overall satisfaction levels, they’re unlikely to provide much actionable insight. You’ll get much more helpful results if you ask for input on issues, concerns, and parts of the overall experience with your school that have room for improvement.
And beyond written surveys, you may also consider creating in-person events where you encourage families and community members to discuss their feedback with your directors and other high-level staff. This way, you can hear directly from individual people instead of analyzing your responses as sets of data.
But regardless of the exact method you use to collect feedback, the most important step in this process is using it to identify what kinds of changes your “customers” want to see. Then, take clear steps toward making those changes. The more you take their feedback into account and the clearer you make it that you’re listening, the more satisfied your students and their families will be with your school. Plus, many of these changes will benefit even those who didn’t bring them to your attention, which improves the overall experience with your school across the board.
5. Take a Proactive Approach to Assist Students
Boosting enrollment is an important goal. And for many schools, it’s the primary reason to adopt a customer service mindset. Still, it’s essential that you don’t lose sight of your current students.
If you fail to provide assistance to students once they’ve enrolled, your school isn’t delivering on the customer service expectations you created. This can decrease satisfaction levels and have a negative impact on retention.
So as you create your strategy for adopting a customer service mindset, make sure that you include your current students in that goal. Provide help when they need it. And beyond that, look for ways to help even before they’ve asked.
Reach out to students on a regular basis to make sure they have the tools and support they need to thrive at your institution. This will increase the chances that they’ll have a positive experience while attending.
Every school provides customer service on a daily basis, whether they realize it or not. But recognizing this fact and encouraging your staff to view students, their families, and the surrounding community as valued “customers” can have a major impact on the results of each interaction. And making this shift doesn’t need to be an overly complex process.
Communicate the value of this approach to your staff and ensure that assistance is always available. Then, make it a priority to engage with families and community members, collect feedback, and look for new ways to best serve your students. With these steps, you can improve the overall experience of interacting with your school and help establish the enrollment numbers and reputation you want.