Educational institutions pride themselves on a unique culture and identity working hard to instill positive values in their main clients (students and parents). So, for example, if you attended Opoku Ware School (my school) the togetherness and nostalgia of our cherished school days play up anytime we meet up with old mates and I assume the same goes for all others. Just a few weeks ago I got a surprise call from one of my primary school tutors, (Achimota Preparatory), and boy was it fun to reminisce about the good old days! It even led to a link up with her son domiciled in the USA who was my classmate after over 50 years of us parting ways.
The emotional feelings and the sense of belonging stay with us for life. The pride of belonging and its attendant emotional effect whenever we engage with each other undoubtedly resonates with the customer experience. How we turn this into a great experience for all stakeholders (Managers, Heads, Tutors, Students, Parents, and Employees) can be a game changer.
The fact that the choice of schools these days has become very competitive (there weren’t that many to choose from in my time depending on where you resided) makes it imperative for stakeholders to focus on retaining enrolments. This calls for a more responsive approach to client relationships in learning environments.
It is an undeniable fact that customer service is as important for schools and institutions of learning as it is for businesses and corporates. Students and staff these days face great anxiety and stress as they strive to grapple with the fast-changing mode and medium of learning. By creating a congenial learning environment clients can receive quick support and appropriate resolutions to their needs and queries. This calls for a client-centred learning approach and is relevant to all the stakeholders of the learning environment.
Institutions of learning must also work at reducing teacher attrition rates: A 2022 research shows that 77% of U.S teachers at the basic education level feel stressed, and 33% of them are very likely to leave the profession, a number which has gone up by 13% after the pandemic. Consequently, providing teachers with the necessary tools and technology support will help maintain an engaged faculty and improves staff retention. When you build a good rapport with families they enjoy a unique experience with your school consistently. Ultimately, they are bound to turn into loyal advocates. They will soon be recommending your institution confidently to their friends and relatives, creating a positive reputation for your brand.
A student with a bad experience in any educational institution is likely to share their story with their friends and relatives. This could hurt the institution’s enrollment and retention rates. Here are a few points to help us tie up the loose ends. First, Lead the CX programme to keep all the clients aligned. Second, develop the educational journey seamlessly. Third, optimize the interaction between your customers and your institution. Fourth, be prepared to leverage pain points into strengths.
Improving the education experience requires a leadership orientation that is willing to listen and connect with customers on their terms to win them over and build lasting relationships. This requires more than just getting the messages right but also being available to your clients (students, teachers, and parents) on all the right channels and at all the right moments. You must strive to stay ahead in all the areas of importance to help you build and sustain strong relationships.
To deliver quality and reliable service to clients you must create an environment where you are accessible at the right moments and in the right ways. These days technology drives everything. When schools and institutions were shut down globally due to the pandemic distance learning via video provided a lifeline for teachers and students. This development has now morphed into remote education as a permanent reality enabling institutions to create immersive, collaborative video experiences. An effective leader who wants to develop CX must quickly adapt these tools and use them to good effect.
The pandemic intensified client expectations for an omnichannel experience. Omnichannel means streamlining all the customer interactions across multiple touchpoints in a unified way to deliver a consistent brand experience. The CX leader aims to lead clients in the right direction and earn their trust. For example, they must trust that their information is correctly and securely shared among the right people. Note that the fastest way to break this trust is to make them repeat themselves to different people across the learning experience (teachers or administration staff).
Dr. Chuma Osuchukwu’s book, The Learning Leader sums up the ideal qualities of an effective leader thus. “A learning leader …. consistently creates or utilizes change gained through learning to positively further his personal, professional and organizational goals.” To empathize with clients, one needs to be a learner as every encounter is different. The goal is to ensure that the client’s need is well understood and demonstrate a genuine desire to address it comprehensively.
The Educational Journey
The main stakeholders in your institution are parents, students, and teachers. We can broaden this by adding auxiliary staff as they have a role to play in the journey. Remember the relationship between front lines and back-end staff. The student’s journey begins with sourcing for a school and following through to engage and ultimately deciding on enrolling at the school if s/he meets the criteria set by the school through the education process to graduation.
How accessible is the school information to the prospective parent? In our culture, there is the likelihood that some parents may not be informed enough to make the right choices for their wards. Therefore, planning the journey for prospective students and ensuring their retention will require some creative thinking. Where the journey starts will depend on the target audience. In the village (as I learned from my late Dad) everyone knows everyone. The school head here must be proactive in drumming home the value of a good education and its impact on children’s future.
In a more sophisticated environment, good customer experience from the customer journey would include easy access to student information (with the right permissions) for teachers and other departments in your institution. Making available learning resources (manually and with technological support) will make life easy for students and teachers.
Additionally, parents must be supported to access the required details to track the growth of their children. In today’s world of technology, this could include the use of an intranet/extranet (a central repository where student details can be obtained with the right permissions). In planning the journey, we must include touchpoints for resolving other students, staff, and parent queries on admissions, payrolls, accommodation, and other curricular activities promptly. By thinking through the journey collaboratively we will be better able to address the needs of all customers.
Interactions with customers
The goal is to create a safe learning environment for the student. To do this effectively we must work towards an open and trusting relationship among all stakeholders. The collaboration among staff must be at the highest level with the paramount interest of the clients (students, parents, teachers) at top of their minds. Furthermore, the environment must be conducive to learning. One way to achieve this is to encourage learners to take responsibility for their learning at the inception of their journey to strengthen collaboration as they journey through touchpoints.
Assess the needs of your customers from young married households to single-parent households (including those where one guardian might be away for extended periods), and explore how your school can better support them. How about organizing entertainment for kids in school periodically (quarterly or half-yearly) to give parents some breathing space? Explore ways to collaborate with local businesses while creating fun events for the children.
I must admit that many of these activities are on the radar of some schools already. The point here though is how you undertake them as a deliberate part of enhancing the experience of your customers. These activities must go with initiatives to develop the internal experience for your employees. When employees are satisfied they will pass this on to your clients. This means better teacher-student relationships and better rapport among your internal teams and with parents. This includes the recruitment process.
Here is one interesting story to share about developing the employee experience from the recruitment process. Years ago, a classmate and friend of mine went for an interview for a teaching role in one an international school. He had a Bachelor’s degree and decided to leap into the role. According to him, his fellow applicants were all Master’s degree holders, he was the odd one among them applying with his Bachelor’s. Guess what, he got the job. He impressed the interview panel enough to convince them to hire him. His response to the confidence posed in him was to give his best to prove that their confidence in him was not misplaced and boy did he do that!
Convert Pain Points into Strengths
One of the highlights of a good Customer Experience strategy is the ability to recover from a bad experience, turn it on its head and make it count as a good experience. In my school days when my parents enrolled me in a new school, I initially struggled a bit with my math. After a couple of weeks, my teacher sounded a warning to me that I might have to go back one academic year if I continued to flop in math. I immediately solicited my mum’s help and voila the challenge was dealt a telling blow.
A pain point in education is communication. When the message is distorted both the sender and receiver disconnect. Teachers, parents, and students must strive to resonate appropriately as they collaborate in the educational journey of the student. An effective way of listening is to use survey data to gauge communication levels. According to researchers, poor communication is one of the reasons why families may decide to move their wards from one school to another.
Take the trouble to listen in for feedback from clients (students and parents) using tools that help paint the real picture of customer sentiments. Net Promoter Score (NPS) will help you obtain first-hand information from clients on how they will vote for your service. They will either promote your brand if they score within the threshold of 9 – 10, be passive and not tell your story as passionately as you would wish (scoring 7 and 8), or become detractors by telling your story negatively (1 – 6).
You might want to complement NPS with a range of methods for eliciting information and/or feedback from your clients (students, parents, and teachers. These range from interviews, to email (provide a dedicated reply service) responses among others. these are real-time responses to help you understand what your customers are feeling. Additionally, you can conduct surveys to sense the satisfaction levels of your clients (Customer Satisfaction – CSAT) or test the waters for the efficacy of your services from clients to assess how easy they find it to engage your touchpoints by measuring Customer Effort Score (CES).
Customer Experience is more about showing a genuine effort and following through by going a step further to solve the customer’s problem. When you commit to delivering exceptional customer experiences you earn high customer loyalty and customer retention. Higher customer loyalty translates into more purchases and this is no different for any business not least educational institutions.
The Writer is a Change and CX Management Consultant. He can be reached at 059 175 7205, [email protected],