I’ve recently run into some bad luck in terms of customer service. These experiences have influenced the way I look at my current role in my school district.
In my personal life, I was trying to work on something with my bank; a necessary piece of paperwork. It seemed to me like a routine piece of paperwork I needed to complete, and should have required little time from the bank to help me. So, I called the local branch and talked with a banker.
“No problem, Jay, this should take me 15 minutes. I’ll call you right back.”
Naturally, an hour later, I called the banker.
“Sorry, Joseph is with another customer. Can I take a message?”
In the days that followed, I called the bank three times on three separate days to request a call back with an update. Would you be surprised if I told you that I still haven’t received a call back, nearly two weeks later?
As my school district’s Director of Instructional Technology, I interface with many internal and external groups. Although we are a relatively small district (6,500 students) we do business with many vendors. Some of our dealings are significant (i.e. our network infrastructure, 1000s of staff and student devices), and I feel like we should be a valued customer that can offer future growth for our vendors. Nonetheless, I feel like many of my vendors won’t return my call no matter what the issue may be. Even worse, they don’t respond when things don’t go well and I am an unhappy customer. I am not overly demanding, I am never rude. I keep my cool, I respect their need to meet the needs of numerous customers. However, I find the role of the customer as a contentious one.
I won’t share in this post who the vendors are that have caused me grief. That’s not the aim of this post. What I don’t understand is how – in what are supposed to be tough economic times- vendors can ignore their customers’ happiness. It’s almost as if they forget that I can walk. There are many options for the goods and services we use, and, being new to this position, I have no historical ties to any of these vendors. In sum, being the customer requires a lot of work, negotiation, and patience. Gone are the days when a customer can expect to receive an ample return for their payment, and a reasonable reaction from the vendor if things go awry.
At the same time that I struggle with the role of the customer, I also have to balance my role as a service provider. We serve the technology needs of 13 school sites and the district office. This includes more than 300 teachers and 7,000 students (we serve 2 charter schools, in addition to our district’s 11 schools). Including me, our department consists of 8 staff (me, a secretary, a network admin, a student information specialist, and 4 technicians). Serving the technology needs of so many people and schools is a daunting task.
Through it all, there is one fact that can make things easier or more difficult for us: The teachers in the district cannot walk when it comes to technology services. They are stuck with us as their resource for technology support. We could use this fact as a pressure relief valve and tell ourselves “So long as we don’t do a terrible job, we’ll be just fine.” Or, we can use the fact that we are teachers’ only option as the proverbial fire under our seats. We choose to believe that because we are the only option for our district’s staff, we have no choice but to offer the best possible customer service. For us, “good customer service” means timely response to tickets, friendly interactions with staff, and minimal disruption to instruction.
We aim to treat our staff as if they had a choice between what technology department they could use. To channel the teachings of Dave Burgess: If teachers could choose their technology service provider, would they come back to us the next time they need help?