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Friday, July 18, 2014

Customer Service in Schools

How many of you have walked out of a business, doctor's office, restaurant, even a school, because of one negative interaction with one employee?
If your hand isn't up, I'd like to meet you.

When your business and employment revolves around serving customers and constituents, what is more important than a positive and supportive culture and climate? Personally, I frequent businesses that treat me well, and refuse to support those that don't. Admittedly, at times I am baffled by poor or indifferent treatment from employees whose livelihoods rely on my patronage. Mom taught me the best examples are non-examples, so I strive to learn from each of these interactions and experiences.

Many of you have certainly heard the conversation with a customer and cable giant Comcast, which has gone viral on the internet. In this day and age, assume everything is recorded. In schools, it seems all students have smartphones and any conversation or confrontation may show up on social media and get attention in a hurry. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. Accountability keeps us honest and focused on our customers, or in our case, our students and parents. While video clips can be taken out of context, this is life in our society and should be recognized and embraced instead of feared and avoided.

Culture is a living, breathing thing, and it can be changed for better or worse by each person in an organization, every single day. This year one of my goals was to consistently greet students, staff, parents and visitors with a warm smile and a handshake, letting them know they are welcome and appreciated. Honestly, I've been surprised by the volume of positive feedback on this small initiative. Conversely, I've made it a habit to personally apologize to anyone I feel I haven't treated as well as I should, which includes calling students into my office and telling them "I was short with you earlier, and there is no excuse for that. I apologize." While we all make mistakes and have bad days, it is imperative to strive for outstanding service and rectify any wrongs.

Our school culture means everything to me. Every decision is based on what is best for kids and what's best for the school, and our motto is "everyone who walks through these doors will be treated with respect." Burchell is a school of choice; students and their families choose us because of the options and programs we offer, and because of the culture we've built on relationships, respect and resilience. To remain viable and ensure future success of our school, we have to treat each and every student, family member and community member graciously, patiently and respectfully. We owe it to them, as we exist to serve them.

Culture is everything, and the lowest level behavior you allow becomes your culture. This drives me to cultivate and curate a positive school culture. Principals are but stewards of a school during the time they serve, with obligation to the greater good of the school, staff, students, community and the district. While it is difficult, my job is to address anything negatively impacting our school culture. My promise is to provide the best climate and experience for everyone who attends and everyone who walks through our doors.

Two small changes helped me to keep the pulse of our school culture this year. We began hosting monthly "morning coffee" meetings in the library, open to all parents, family members and interested community members. In my office every Friday, I met with student leaders from each advisory group, about 15 students representing the entire student body. These two meetings kept me informed and aware of the issues, events and concerns that may otherwise go unnoticed or seem minor. By listening to these groups and responding, we were able to carefully manage and cultivate our school culture. My hope is to continue growing these opportunities for feedback and collaboration, always with the goal of providing the best possible educational environment and experience.

We have so many positives to celebrate at Burchell, and we look forward to continued growth, improvement and success. However, I know one slip, one person, one bad day, one overlooked issue, can negatively impact someone's experience and perception of us. I promise to keep us in the continuous improvement cycle, keep my finger on the pulse of the school, and to keep striving to provide the best and most positive school culture possible.