• IDRA Newsletter • May 2009

That is not the kind of reception families and people in the neighborhood should receive at the front office of their school. Teachers and principals may be trying elaborate and innovative ways to engage families and community members. But if people are made to feel unwelcome at the door, those great plans will fail.

Current improvement efforts in schools frequently look to business models of successful change and leadership. Customer service is one aspect of the business model that gets talked about more regularly and is actually delivered to varying degrees in schools around the country.

What does it mean to provide good customer service? How do we ensure service to our community on par with our expectations of service in other sectors of our lives? What can be gained through a focus on customers? Who are the customers?

There are two distinct forms of customer service in a school:

  • Internal customer service – how we engage students and staff in the education process, both at building and district levels; and
  • External customer service – how our schools and central office personnel engage the community.

Internal customer service can go a long way toward helping us understand the unmet needs of our students and staff and improve the quality of our work as a result. External customer service can garner community support in ways that empower our work and strengthen partnerships that are beneficial for students.

The Texas IDRA Parent Information and Resource Center (PIRC) recently conducted a full-day professional development session for the secretaries, clerks and support personnel of a school district that is strategically aiming to improve its services to and engagement with families. Below were the objectives of the session entitled, “Creating Family Friendlier Schools through A+ Customer Service.”

  • Arrive at a rationale for having A+ customer service in all the school district;
  • Compare and contrast the value and contribution of each staff position represented in the group;
  • Analyze the five C’s of customer service and list at least two barriers to providing or having each C;

  • Describe situations that are stressful or challenging to delivering good customer service and suggesting positive and creative ways of dealing with them; and
  • Sketch out personal and campus team steps to be taken to improve customer service.

The highly participatory workshop enabled school staff to validate their roles, their contributions and the importance of their work in presenting the face of the school district to customers (families) and the broader community. A committee representative of the different positions and roles drafted information to eventually become a customer service publication for the district.

This kind of intervention is critical in giving new energy and direction to the overall parent-family involvement work of the school district and will positively affect the Title I parent involvement responsibilities of each campus.

Visit the Parent Information and Resource Center online: http://www.idra.org/Texas_IDRA_PIRC

The school leaders who embrace, design and implement customer-driven systems will be the ones who thrive in the future.”
– Ellan Toothman, 2004

Comments or questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2009, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2009 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]