Can teachers learn from hairdressers?

Posted by: Joyce Matthews   |   No Comments   |  Posted on: Nov 21, 2011

What’s your ‘customer service’ like?

I was recently in a small secondary school for an event that they were hosting. And I was looking forward to it because I hadn’t been there in a while, knew that the facilities were superb, and wanted to see a school in action, instead of just writing about them.

I was meeting some colleagues there as well, not educational colleagues, but professionals from all sorts of different walks of life.

So, that’s the big build up for an afternoon at a school, seeing people I liked and supporting a local charity event.

And was it a great experience?

Not from my point of view; the school and the staff fell at every customer service hurdle. And my colleagues were aghast at they way the organisation operated and the way they were treated, or rather, not treated. At every point of contact, from start to finish, visitors were not made to feel welcome. To be fair to the school, I don’t believe this was their intention, but they hadn’t tried out their service from a user’s point of view.

The first contact with your customer has to be impactful, friendly and memorable, and although I may not be sending my child to your school, I am a customer – anyone who walks through your door, or comes into contact with your school is a customer, and more importantly has an opinion and is an influencer.

What’s your first contact like? Is your car park open or locked? Can I get into your school without having to search for the main entrance and is there somewhere to leave my car which makes me believe that it will still be there when I want to go home?

And what’s the first point of human contact like? Do you have a welcoming and cheery receptionist who is pleased to see a visitor, or the office administrator who is far too busy to be bothered with people who come to the glass partition (even this is a barrier) and interrupt her work? Is it a stand off between you and them to see if she, or he, will give in and make the first acknowledgement? Or do you have children to welcome your visitors?

And once in your school, what is my experience going to be like? Will I be made to wait, will I get offered a coffee, and will I get offered a seat to sit on? Believe it or not, I’ve been in a school where I’ve been made to wait 45 minutes for an appointment, with nowhere comfortable to sit, and when I accepted the offered coffee the member of staff then proceeded to tell me there was no milk or sugar, so did I still want it? Will I be given a sticky badge that will fall off every 3 minutes and will I have to dodge spit in the corridor and swearing youths on the stair well? And once I’ve navigated successfully through your school, can I get out or will I be locked in the car park (as I was at one school last week). And finally, will there be a pleasant toilet that I can use to freshen up in?

I’ve just been to a new hairdressers in Newcastle, where I was greeted effusively, even though I’ve never been there before, sat down immediately, introduced to my stylist, offered a coffee, magazines and even a massage chair. And it made such a difference to the whole experience that I had – I felt valued, wanted and important. Such a difference to the way I felt when I visited the school last week that made me feel like a nuisance, who inconvenienced the unfriendly staff by asking for the gates to be unlocked so that I could get in and for the female toilet to be opened.  Now I’m not suggesting that all school receptions should have massage chairs or a coffee barista, what I am wondering is if schools think about the sort of message they give to people who come to visit your school. Or even to people who pass by your school or live near it.

From Ofsted inspectors, to careers officers, school nurses, to parents and the local community – all these people have opinions of your school and can influence others. And if they are the slightest bit savvy with social media, Twitter, and Facebook, then their opinion is instant and can be public. What do you want them to say about your school? What sort of customer service do you offer?

I’m more than happy to come to your school to be a mystery shopper, but wouldn’t it be so much easier if you could see things yourself from a different perspective?

What will you see, hear and feel if you walk around your school ‘in another man’s shoes’?

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