What Schools can Learn from Santa


I’m at it again, talking crazy talk. Earlier this year, I wrote about schools learning from car insurance companies and now Santa?

Yep, Santa.  I think most people have seen “Miracle on 34th Street” the classic Christmas movie in which Santa tells shoppers to go somewhere else if they couldn’t find the toys they wanted at Macy’s. While the store’s management was furious, the reality was that this move actually proved to be beneficial for the store. By Santa putting the needs of the customers above the “sales goals” of the store, he actually helped to improve the experience of the shoppers significantly. Santa built a level of trust with the shoppers that made them feel like the store really cared.

As schools, we can embrace this mindset of putting customers’ needs above our own and really make our customers feel like we care about them and are here to help. That approach builds trust, which is especially important when you consider we’re asking parents to entrust us with educating their children, and shows that we’re not just looking to fill a chair/bed and earn a tuition check.

What can we do to improve the experience of our customers and show that we care? Think about how you communicate with families at your school, for example. While every department may want different ways to communicate with students and families, sometimes having freedom for every arm of the school to do what it wants can detract from the overall experience of the family. We often have tools that allow us to communicate in dozens of ways, and if families don’t know what to expect, it means they might miss something.

Think about how all school information is shared: email, website, notifications, blogs, apps, portals, etc. Finding a way to streamline this information into one consistent platform is a great first step. Does the school filter all emails through one department to oversee timing and messaging, and ensure that families are not hit too many times at once? Or is it every office for itself, doing whatever it wants and sending notices at any given moment? Find out and add up how many times you email your families. You might surprise yourself how often they could be hit on a given day or week.

Let’s break it down and look at just your email processes. You might not realize it, but teachers, coaches, advisors, the development office, business office, dean’s office, school nurse and other offices might each be sending out information to families. Does the school filter all these emails through one department to combine messages into a weekly newsletter and oversee timing and messaging of necessary one-off emails to ensure that families have a regular communication time and are not hit too many times at once? Or is it every office for itself, doing whatever it wants and sending notices at any given moment? Find out and add up how many times you email your families and students. You might surprise yourself how often they could be hit on a given day or week.

That’s not the only place we can put customers’ needs above our own. Consider the various forms at your school, perhaps. Are your forms overly complicated for parents because they truly NEED to be, or because it makes our lives easier at the school when it comes to data entry and saving time?

The school’s donation form is one of the first places I can see an immediate customer experience issue. We want customers to give us money because they care about us, but yet so many schools make the gift-giving process cumbersome. With many people relying on their phones as a primary point of contact, is your form optimized for mobile? How many questions do you ask on the form? Do you REALLY need the donor’s email, phone, address, class year, spouse name, job information, and credit card info? Or could you get away with just name, email, credit card info? Then you look up the information you need in your database and follow up with them via email if more information is required. It may take a few more minutes of your own time, but if you’re getting a donation that you wouldn’t otherwise get AND building relationships, isn’t it worth the effort?

The admission inquiry form is another perfect example. Schools typically require families to fill out an inquiry form that’s more akin to a pre-application than a true inquiry form. Do you really really need every field on that form to be there? Could you maybe get away with using only three or four fields, and then following up with the family to get more information? Look at ways to simply the form, and you might actually see more inquiries coming in.

A great customer experience is crucial for a business, including schools, to be successful. We often forget that our families are customers and that we need to make sure they are happy. We do want them coming back to annually and telling others how amazing we are. What are you doing to improve your own customers’ experiences?

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