Customer Service…

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou

A comment made by the facilitator of my administrative program sticks in my head to this day. He would visit us throughout our program. During one visit he stated that he can usually grasp the total feeling & climate of a school with in the first few minutes of his visit. As I reflect back on that statement I find the same to hold true no matter what type of establishment I visit. It’s all about relationships and customer service.

Right now I’m sitting in a local car dealership waiting for my car to be inspected. The amenities to make one feel comfortable are pleasant. Free wi-fi, a big screen TV, free coffee and snacks, a variety of comfortable seating areas with a cozy feel and everything is neat and orderly. One also knows the exact mission of the dealership by looking around at the various literature available, award plaques and cars showcased on the showroom floor. The initial greeting by employees was welcoming, but not over the top. The inspection of my car led to a promising diagnosis and one I can trust, saving me $800.00. (It pays to get a second opinion!) All in all a very pleasant experience.

This experience causes me to think about the school environment. Currently I’m employed by an outside service provider. I have the opportunity to visit many schools. Just as I learned from the facilitator of my administrative program I can usually tell the climate of a school or a classroom right from the initial visit. First impressions are so important.

There are several things that catch my attention as I make a school visit. Since all schools require visitors to check into the office, that is usually where first impressions are made. How a person is greeted makes all the difference in the world. Since I usually arrive at a school in the beginning of the day, offices tend to be busy. The greetings to other visitors (parents, students, etc…) and how their needs are met also make an impression.

But impressions aren’t all about the main office. I also focus my attention on the students. How do they react to visitor in their school? Since I’m visiting, I tend to bring along a computer bag, a rolling cart full of the items I need that day and my morning Starbucks. The reaction of students seeing a visitor enter their school with their hands full is another sign of a welcoming school. At many schools students will graciously open the door for me without even being asked. Yet, at a few I’ve been totally ignored and rush right by. Manners speak volumes. The welcome received by other staff members is also an indication of the school’s climate. Fortunately I’ve had the opportunity to work with many schools where I’ve been welcomed as part of their school community. Yet, I have had a few experiences where I’m pretty much ignored by staff, feeling as an outsider rather than a partner.

Customer service isn’t just about how occasional visitors are greeted. How students and parents are greeted and how they are made to feel each time they enter the school or classroom is just as important. At the school level customer service is all around them from the way they communicate and follow-up with parents to sending a clear message of their vision and mission in all that they do.

The car dealership environment that I’m in right now causes me to wonder how many schools have such an inviting area for parents and visitors. At times space is limited in schools, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a room where parents and visitors could congregate. I envision a room that is as inviting as the car dealership complete with comfortable seating, computers with an internet connection, coffee, student work displayed, information to assist parents with their child’s education and a clear sense of the schools mission, vision and purpose. This could be a place for parent meetings or parent activities to be held. Such a place may send a message that visitors are welcomed.

The administrator is at heart of how a school is portrayed to all stakeholders. Leading by example sends a clear message to all staff members. While writing this I ran across an article entitled: How Customer-Friendly is Your School? (Ed. Leadership, October 1998) It outlines the “ABC’s” (Attitude, Behavior & Communication) of creating customer-friendly school environments. These have always been important characteristics in creating welcoming environments, but in the 21st century they have been taken to a new level.

Currently I’m reading the book Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead by Charlene Li. (2010) A small portion of the content of the book can be found on Amazon. It provides information on the difference between Open Leadership and Traditional Leadership. “Although the traits of good leaders are universal, there are new skills and behaviors that open leaders must learn and master to be effective. In particular, open leaders must act as a catalyst to creating greater openness in organization, in ways that differ significantly from traditional leadership.” (Amazon.com)

Table found at Amazon.com (review of book – Open Leadership)

In the 21st century news is not just at the professional level. Each person has a voice through a wide variety of social media. Within an instant, through Twitter, a Facebook status or a YouTube video, either a positive or negative experience a person had at our schools can be generated for a vast number of readers. We continually need to ask ourselves, “How do we want to be portrayed.” I could have easily mentioned the specific car dealership I’m in (providing some positive publicity) or worse yet, the place that had tried to sell me something I really didn’t need.

What kind of message do we want sent about our schools?

Customer Care image credit: This image or file is a work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made during the course of the person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain.


  • Aviva (@grade1) 28 Dec

    Another great post, Kathy! It reminds me of the opening chapter or two of The Leader In Me. These first impressions are important and how we portray ourselves to others is so important too. It’s not only about providing that great impression on the day people know you’re coming, but on every day throughout the year too. You make some great points here!


    • Kathy Perret 28 Dec

      Thanks, Aviva! I loved the book The Leader In Me! I envision it to be a gift for each staff member wherever I find a principal job. 🙂 The book has a great message for us all to learn from and reflect upon.

      You are so right – daily impressions are the most important. Its all the little things that matter. How neat and orderly is the school? How do students behave? What message do staff members send in their talk & actions?


  • Joan Young 28 Dec

    Great post Kathy! As in the age-old saying, “Actions speak louder than words,” what happens when you enter a school environment is quite revealing. The school where I currently work is quite a contrast to my prior school environment. Everything from the receptionist who so graciously welcomes visitors, to the students, who often jump up to help others struggling with carrying many items, set the stage for a compassionate, inviting place where students love to come and learn.
    Thanks for sharing, as always, another insightful post 🙂

    • Kathy Perret 29 Dec

      Thanks for the comments, Joan. Yes, actions do speak louder than words. I’m so glad to hear that your current school environment is a positive, inviting place. That makes all the difference in the world for all stakeholders.


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