Here at School Webmasters, we believe that effective school communications are a part of good customer service. One doesn’t happen without the other. And, one aspect of school customer service (aka good communication) includes telling others thank you. Thank you for your contribution to our school’s success. Thank you for your commitment to our students’ learning. Thank you for your great attitude that makes working with you a joy. Thank you for helping your child succeed!
Learning from example
A while back I received a handwritten thank you note from a superintendent. And, I have to tell you, it made my day. In fact, it made my week. Not that we don’t get thank you messages from our schools, because we get them in abundance via e-mail and through the customer portal daily. But this one stood out. At first, I wondered why this seemed so unforgettable, and once I understood it, I incorporated that knowledge into my own practices.
So, I thought I’d share the joy and recommend this to all of you who have customers, vendors, or staff. It’s the old-school approach, and that is what made it memorable. I recommend adding this to your arsenal of good customer support, HR, and school communication strategies. Here are a few tips that a wise superintendent knew intuitively.
- Be sincere. Don’t express sentiments that you don’t really mean but you think might be the expected thing to say. No need for over-the-top hyperbole; just be honest. The note our superintendent wrote just said he had worked with us when he worked in another school district and had become accustomed to our excellent service, but this past year at his new district as superintendent, he was even more impressed. He then asked that I pass his appreciation along to all of our staff—and be assured I did! For that matter, I put his comments on our website and kept his nice note on my office bulletin board for months!
- Be specific. Avoid generic phrases like “thanks for all you do” but give specific examples of how they helped. This will add to the value of your appreciation. It will help them see that they had made a real difference to you—enough of a difference for you to recognize it and take the time to share your thanks.
- Be brief. Use your opening paragraph or sentence to tell them what you are showing appreciation for. It is as simple as summarizing your experience and stating your gratitude. It could be acknowledging help or information they provided, recognition of a job well done, or follow-up after a meeting or contact. If they inspired you or encouraged you to get out of your comfort zone, let them know the outcome along with your thanks.
- Be personal. This can be the way you send your note (mine was hand-written on a custom notecard with the school district’s logo on it—simple, classy, and professional). Or, it could be the wording you use. In my example, the superintendent referenced our services and reputation specifically—I knew it wasn’t generic. He knew who we were, and we stood out in his memory.
- Proof your note. If you aren’t the best speller or grammarian around, you might compose your brief note in Word or a Google Doc first to run it through spell/grammar check, and then just hand write it from there. It is an extra step, and if you make a small error on a handwritten note, it will probably be overlooked, but considering who you are and your field of expertise, you might not want to take the chance. Typos are understood, but a handwritten note might indicate that we didn’t just move our fingers too fast along the keys but we really don’t know how to spell “apprecaite” correctly. 🙂
Don’t get me wrong; you don’t have to handwrite notes of appreciation for them to be memorable—but do take the time to be sincere, specific, and say thanks. A carefully thought-out e-mail can be very effective, and a face-to-face expression of appreciation (when possible) will make someone’s day. Most of us are highly motivated when we are valued, and we enjoy pleasing those who appreciate us.
When appropriate, consider showing your appreciation in front of others. This might mean cc’ing their supervisor if it is an e-mail, or if in a group setting, use their first name instead of pronouns when you voice your thanks.
Oh, and don’t forget to take advantage of school social media channels or to add an article to the news page of your website when appropriate. Public appreciation speaks volumes (to the individual you are thanking and to others about what you value).
Parents: consider making it personal
Parents will often struggle to find ways to tell their children’s teachers that they appreciate them. In the United States, on the Tuesday of the first full week in May, we celebrate National Teachers Day or the start of Teacher Appreciation Week. In some countries, World Teachers Day is held on October 5th. Other countries’ day of honor varies, as you can see here on this list of Teachers Days. It is a calendared reminder to say thanks.
But, as a parent, you don’t need to wait for a specific day or week to let your child’s teachers know you value his/her contribution to your child’s education. A thoughtful, sincere note that describes something specific about what you value will be more appreciated than a dozen apples during Teacher Appreciation Week.
Better yet, ask your child to tell you about something his or her teacher does that makes them like to learn, and include the example in your note. I guarantee it will be a note that makes it into that teacher’s “keepers” and is valued long after your son or daughter has moved on.
For some other ideas, check out our extremely popular blog called, “Showing Appreciation for Your School’s Staff.”
Raise the bar: from school customer service to personalized service
As humans, we are a selfish lot. Particularly true for educators is the expression, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” Those who interact with us, particularly parents, students, and staff, will feel loyalty, trust, and confidence in those they know care about them and their needs.
When we can turn our school customer service into personal service, we will build a strong school brand. Our school’s and leadership’s reputation can become nearly bulletproof so long as our efforts are sincere. So, how can we do that in our schools?
Tell them why they care. Ask yourself, are the customer service processes we’re using in our school helping our customers (staff, parents, staff) feel like they are doing business with a human or a bureaucracy? For example:
- Are the answers we give about why something is necessary because “that’s the way we do it here” or “it’s a rule/law/policy”? Or do we provide a reason that helps them understand how they benefit from our request?
This could be as simple as providing the information on your school website about why a particular student policy is in place (“It helps us protect your student’s privacy,” “It helps us assure that all of our students are safe on campus,” or “It helps me understand how to best help your child learn”). Or, it might be the way we word a request, avoiding a demanding tone and passive voice in favor of a more inviting, conversational tone.
Are we using people’s names? If we don’t know it, we can ask and then use their name in our conversation (which will also help us remember it next time). If we teach or lead, do we make an effort to learn the names of those we serve? Brain science tells us that our own first name is important to us, and when we hear it unique brain functioning activation occurs. This in itself makes our interaction a personal one. Even using your own first name makes your exchange more personal. Think about the difference between getting an e-mail from “ABC School Attendance Clerk” or “Mary at ABC School.”
Put a face to it. If you often interact through e-mails, put a face to those conversations. It will humanize you and your school. It personalizes the communication. Add a real picture—no cheesy avatar—but just your smiling face added to your signature block will do. This is true of your school website as well. On those school directory pages, be sure you include a photo of each staff member (from the custodian to the superintendent). No exceptions (even of those people who say they don’t want their picture taken…well, unless they are in the Witness Protection Program)! They all are a part of that personal service your school provides.
Ask questions. In every conversation you have, ask and then listen. Find out more about who you are speaking with. How long have they lived in your area? How many children do they have? What can you do to help them out? Questions, asked sincerely and heard, provide tremendous value. What is more personal than having others show they are interested in you and your needs?
That’s really what effective customer service in schools is about, isn’t it? Outstanding customer service can also include finding out what your customers want from you, and a few well-targeted surveys can help with that. Then, when you analyze those surveys and implement solutions to meet some of those needs, be sure to let them know about it so they will know you heard them.
Make your school’s customer service a memorable experience
If you want to improve the relationships in your office or school, add a personal touch when showing appreciation or recognition. It only takes a few minutes, and the effects can last for a LONG time. I received a handwritten note from a superintendent several years ago, but to this day, whenever I hear this school district or superintendent’s name mentioned, I still get a nice warm feeling—and I am also quick to make sure we maintain his high opinion of us.
So, add showing appreciation in a memorable way to your school’s customer service repertoire. Look for opportunities all around you, or consider calendaring reminders to send out a few notes of appreciation weekly. In today’s society, where we are increasingly more isolated in a digital world, a personal thank you can stand out and bridge gaps. Give it a try!
Bonnie Leedy, CEO, School Webmasters, LLC.