Attitude, behavior, and communication are the ABCs from which a school can create a customer-friendly environment that welcomes and serves all its constituents. Anyone who interacts with a school could— and should—be considered its customer.
A – Attitude
People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. Customer service-oriented organizations hire people with positive attitudes and skill at working with people. An effective way for administrators to encourage good customer service is to regularly recognize their employees’ efforts. Some organizations select an “employee of the month” or give certificates for outstanding service. Some hold award ceremonies— continental breakfasts or afterschool teas. Schools with outdoor marquees may post the honored employee’s name to show the whole community how much they value their “Employee Who Cares.” Recognition may be as simple as a brief note of thanks or a quick pat on the back. The important thing is to let employees know that their efforts are appreciated.
B – Behavior
It is not just what you do, but how you do it. First impressions are vital . . . and often indelible. They start from the customer’s initial contact with your school. Many times it is a telephone call. Prospective or new residents call to find out about registration. Parents of enrolled students call to report their child’s absence or to get information about events. Community members may call to find out about elections or classes held at the school. Telephone procedures and practices are among the most important tools in your customer service kit. The essence of effective customer service behavior is courtesy, which the dictionary defines as polite, helpful, and considerate. Put yourself in the customer’s place and treat her or him as you would like to be treated. A caution, however: become familiar with the major cultural norms of any ethnic groups residing in your school community. Responses that members of your mainstream culture might take for granted could be inappropriate for people from other cultures.
C – Communication
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Can your school’s main entrance sign be read from a distance? Is your school’s mission statement attractively displayed through exhibits of student work? What sounds do you hear when you walk the halls? Your school’s environment says a lot about your school. It is a silent messenger about the attitudes and actions contained within its walls. Your school’s grounds and buildings—even its sounds and odors—communicate how much its occupants care and what they care about. The environment is, therefore, an essential component of customer service. Displays of student work not only highlight the curriculum but demonstrate the academic values of the school. Other forms of communication play a vital role in your customer service program, as well. How user-friendly and inviting are your school newsletters? Are they easy to read, with illustrations, white space, and short articles written in everyday language? Do they contain articles of interest to the audience, and do they invite feedback and involvement in school activities? Look at them with fresh eyes to see what they are saying between the lines. Finally, the most important aspect of customer-oriented communications is listening. To serve your customer well, you must know what the customer wants and needs. Ask, and be open to input. And be sure to listen carefully to what your customers say. Do not be defensive. Take all ideas into consideration, regardless of their merit. Most people will respect the results, even if they do not agree, as long as they feel they have been heard. The essence of good customer service is showing that you care.
N.B: Remember, in today’s competitive environment, your school’s success and, perhaps, survival may depend on how well you serve your customers. Serve them as best as you ought to.