Who could forget Seinfeld’s 1995 version of “the Soup Nazi”? He served the best soup on the planet. So good that his customers had to follow his ordering procedure (step into the store, move to the right side, proceed directly to the counter, order without comment, and step to the left) to get what they wanted, or they would hear the dreaded words, “No soup for you!”
This begs the question, if your product is just that good, does good customer service really matter? Would you put up with poor customer service for a product you love? Probably not. Good customer service is important. Great customer service is even better.
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From good to great
Good customer service is about making a client happy—happy enough to try your products or use your services and then sing your praises to all who will listen. Great customer service is the backbone of any successful business, big or small. And whether you accept it or not, running a school IS running a business. Your clients (parents, students, board members, and taxpayers) are as critical as any corporation’s most important clients—and twice as demanding!
The following are some of the most important rules of great customer service for schools:
- Keep your promises.
Always do what you say you are going to do. Your client doesn’t care if it’s been super crazy at work or if several staff members are out on sick leave. If you made a promise, deliver on that promise. No excuses. Be sure to make reasonable promises, giving yourself a little “wiggle room,” and if you can exceed expectations, all the better. Look for ways to make doing business with you easy, and always do what you say you are going to do.
- Train your staff.
Give your staff members the information and power they need to make the small, customer-pleasing decisions. When they can say, “Yes, I can do that for you” instead of, “I don’t know; I’ll have to ask somebody,” your customers will walk away delighted. Immediate satisfaction goes a long way to providing great customer service! It’s also important to emphasize to your “front desk” person that his/her critical role is your “face” to the community. Businesses often put the lowest paid people in that role and neglect to provide them with the necessary information for that integral position. Hint: Hire happy people for these critical positions. You can train for job skills, but it’s difficult to train for a pleasant disposition.
- Answer the phone.
When customers call, they want to hear the voice of a live person on the other end of the phone. If possible, when you are not available, make sure your calls transfer to somebody who will answer the phone. If that isn’t possible, be sure to return your phone messages as soon as you are able.
- Help the customer understand your processes.
The easiest and most efficient processes in the world won’t do anybody any good if your client becomes frustrated or angry because nobody has explained how things work. Taking a little time upfront to explain how the process will work going forward will go a long way toward understanding and will ensure that the agenda is only secondary to the more important, human element of your organization.
- Deal with complaints.
Nobody likes hearing complaints, and hopefully, they are few and far between, but since they are a reality, it’s important not to shrug them off or worse, take offense. Deal with problems immediately, and let customers know what you have done to fix the problem. When something goes wrong, apologize. It’s easy, and it makes everybody happy. Remember, great school customer service, no matter the situation, means great school public relations.
- Listen to the customer.
Quit talking. Find out what the client needs, and then see if you can offer ways to help. Always look for ways to meet your customers’ needs—but you can do that only when you know what they are (no assumptions). When they have a reasonable request, tell them what you can do to help. By truly listening to your customers and finding out what they need, you will be able to improve your services for them and other clients just like them.
Answer frequently asked questions on your school websites
A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on your website can’t be overstated as a great customer support tool. Take the information you get from all your school customer service experiences, and put the most commonly asked questions, along with their solutions, right on your school websites. This is an imperative tool to good customer support in the digital age. Customers expect to access commonly needed information right online—even at 4:30 p.m. when the school office is closed, in the summer, in the middle of the night, or on holidays. And, be careful not to give a “no soup for you” vibe. It’s important to be friendly, and use the same “tone” on your school websites that your very best personnel would provide.
Making it easy shows them you care
Speaking of websites, which are often your first line of customer service, you need to make your content, information, and news easy to find and use. This includes providing a website that is available on any device. Even a few years ago most parents and community members were accessing your school website on their desktop computers. Even a year ago we were seeing mobile usage on typical school websites at around 15%. Today those averages are between 40-75%. So, if you want to provide great customer service, make sure you have a mobile-friendly website that is intuitive and user-friendly.
And, while you are converting your school website into a responsive website design, make sure it is ADA compliant website as well. Between 15-20% of people in the U.S. have some type of disability. It may be something as common as color blindness or arthritis, but it affects how they obtain the information they need from your school website. By complying with the WCAG ADA website accessibility standards, you make it easier for them to engage with your school. Besides being the law (and keeping you out of trouble with the Office of Civil Rights) you are providing better customer service.
Use your school websites to show you’re listening
“Listen” to your customers by providing feedback forms to ask questions or provide input. This is another step toward going from good customer support to great customer support. A periodic satisfaction poll shows your customers you care and are striving to make them happy.
So, no matter how great your product (your school, teachers, programs, facilities, technology, etc.) is, the prideful “Soup Nazi” mentality only works in a fictional world. Give your customers the kind of great customer service they deserve, and soon you’ll have a whole community of raging fans touting you and your school’s magnificence. It is worth the effort, so build customer service into your next website redesign.
Judy Bittner, Project Management