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Customer Service: Minding Your Ps, Qs, and Netiquette

Healthy school communication online and in-person (Part 3 in a 3-part customer service series)

One cartoon character chasing two others with a megaphone

Today, there are a wide variety of mediums we can use to communicate with others. These means are not only great channels for your school communications, but they provide lots of opportunities to demonstrate your school’s quality customer service. How well you treat your customers influences your reputation and, therefore, your school public relations. 

In-person, by phone, voicemails, emails, social media, websites, tweets, blogs, etc—good communication and good service should be consistent through all of these mediums. We’ve talked about the power of words in Part 1, and tips to handle criticism on both the giving and receiving ends in Part 2. As the concluding part in this school customer service series, let’s look at some healthy, guiding principles to follow in order to establish your school as dependable and committed to good communication habits both face-to-face and written. 

Face-to-Face Etiquette

As the goings and comings of our lifestyle occur more and more on our devices, it’s important to place value on the moments we look others in the eye, talk to people directly, and listen to them intently. Within our schools, the struggles with devices is no longer new. Face-to-face connections are crucial for your students and others. 

In fact, the ability for you and your staff to communicate effectively in the school setting has perhaps never been so important. As the iGen generation (youth born between 1995-2012) continues to move through the educational system, one-on-one interactions become increasingly important. In 2012, more Americans owned a smartphone than those who did not. Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, studies generational differences. In a recent Ted talk she presented data from long-standing historical surveys taken by youth. Twenge encourages responsible digital citizenship, something many schools now include in their classroom curriculum. Twenge’s research indicates the iGen generation are more likely to stay home more, get together informally with friends less often, and feel more symptoms of depression. In addition, the suicide rate for teens has doubled since 2007. This makes the time these students spend within the walls of your school all the more important and the communication that takes place all the more vital. 

Here are a few communication tips for face-to-face communications. Use these with your students, their parents, your coworkers, and others in your community to improve your school customer service.

  • Take time to smile.
    It’s hard not to put this one first. It is one of the first characteristics others see in a person. Don’t underestimate the power of your smile.  
  • “Knowing me, knowing you.”
    Does your school community know you? Would they recognize you and be able to call you by name if you all met on the street? As the community, parents, and students come through your school doors or receive voice messages at home, find ways to help them know your name. Make an effort to learn their names as well.
  • Use good manners.
    Graciously use phrases like, "thank you" and "please.”Demonstrating respect for others is a powerful way to establish a culture of quality customer service. As a school administrator, lead by example. 
  • Help others feel comfortable, valued, and appreciated.
    One of the key factors that determines your school’s reputation and the quality of the public relations at your school is your overall school environment. Create a welcoming atmosphere, especially at your school entrance.
  • Be a guru in school policy and procedures.
    As students, parents, community members, and faculty face moments of confusion relating to school policies, take the time to be knowledgeable. Demonstrate your ability to be a source of credible information. If you don’t know the answer to their questions, recognize that you don’t know, then resolve to investigate the matter.
  • Treat customers with empathy, efficiency, and respect.
    We all hope for these. In general, people appreciate feeling understood, like their efforts are worth it and that others see value in them. I think one common mistake we sometimes make is instructing people how to feel. For example: “Don’t get angry, but _____,” or “Don’t get offended, but _____,” or “Don’t take it personally, but _____.” 
  • Listen actively and go above and beyond expectations.
    Seek to establish a reputation as an administrator based on building-block moments over and over in which you take time to listen and follow up on conversations. Word will get around.

Online Etiquette (Netiquette)

Many of us have become casual in our writing - we rarely use punctuation correctly or capitalize letters at the beginning of a sentence. and i don’t know about u, but i don’t even capitalize my “i’s” anymore

While it may be quick and accepted to be less formal when sending an email or text to your friend, it’s not professional at work. And as an educational facility, your community may not be forgiving of informality and errors on your school’s social media. Be attentive about your casual habits while communicating online and in writing.

Here are some reminders when it comes to written communication.

  • Jargon
    Steer clear of jargon when you can. Assume your audience doesn’t recognize the meaning of highly specific or technical terms. Poor school public relations often arises when administrators use terms their audience doesn’t understand; it can cause your audience to become disengaged and frustrated. If you must use “edu-speak” jargon, be sure to define and clarify what you’ve said.
  • Tone
    It is possible that if your writing is misunderstood, you might not have the chance to explain yourself further. Consequently, be cautious about the phrases and words you use. It’s a good idea to go back and read your document out loud without using any tone or inflection. Try to “hear” how the words sound, and then make adjustments as needed. 
  • Coherence
    Your goal should be clarity. Consider what you want to say, and then allow the words to flow naturally. Work at presenting your main idea first. Gather your thoughts into paragraphs, each with a main idea, starting with a sentence describing what it’s about. Keep your paragraphs short, and on your second draft, work on further simplifying what you’ve said. 
  • Sentence Structure
    To maximize readability, your sentences should have an individual topic. While it is possible to write longer sentences using commas and semicolons, your aim is to maximize readability. Show kindness and respect to your readers by creating clean, easily-fit-together sentences. After you write, try reading your sentences out loud. If you get entrapped by any of the words or you run out of breath, consider revising your text. 
  • Readability
    The essential ingredient to good writing is clarity. Make your points clear and “easily digestible.” Using bullet points and/or subheadings is a great means to communicate your points clearly.

Crafting Emails

Emails and texts are great time savers in our fast-moving world. Maintain a high quality of school customer service by maintaining professional means of comportment online. Here are just some suggestions.

  • Use Clear Subject Lines
    Use a clear subject line regarding the purpose of your email. It will increase readability and prevent confusion. 
  • Personalize Your Email
    When possible, personalize your email by using the recipient’s first name. Many studies show that when we use one another’s names, we feel more connected. Your email transforms into a personalized conversation.
  • Write Direct Opening Lines
    The opening lines of your message ought to be very clear so the recipient understands either what you need from them or what you are providing them. If it is a clarification on an update or a project you seek, let them know. For example: “I had a question for you about your request…” or “I wanted to follow up concerning the questionnaire you sent….”
  • Call to Action—our Closing Comments
    As you finish your email, be sure to include what action you’d like the recipient to take and any time that might be applicable. For example, “If you could let me know how you’d like me to update this information by the end of the day…” or “In order to meet our timeline for development, I’d need the following information by Wednesday at noon….”
  • Sign Your Email Professionally
    End your email with a polite sign-off and your name. It could be as simple as or “Have a wonderful day,” “Sincerely,” or “Regards.” Use something you feel is genuine.
  • Don’t Rush
    Remember to always check your email for typos, grammar, spelling, and clarity before sending. Don’t move so fast that you make a careless mistake.
  • Demonstrate Respect
    Always craft emails with the awareness that the messages you send out may include content that could be read by anyone. Assume that any email you send may be read by anyone. Avoid carelessness.

In our daily interactions on school campuses and our personal lives, we shouldn’t be afraid to reflect our personality in our school communications. As we do so in a professional manner, we give others an example to follow. Be yourself. Be kind. Be friendly. Be fun. Take time to thank and compliment others. Take time to notice others doing things right. Consider someone you admire for their exceptional communication skills. What do you appreciate most? Are you following suit?

The best customer service isn't your reaction to a negative experience—it's about working to prevent negative experiences. 

Seth Godin, a known marketing guru, says, "Perhaps we ought to spend more time being proactive. How many people on your team are actively advocating for the customer in advance? Guiding the process so that most disappointments won't even happen, which means we won't have to fix them..."

As you apply the principles and tips in this school customer service series, your community will respect your school and be more willing to give you its trust, and you will build loyalty. All of this results in a positive school reputation and healthy school public relations.

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