Take a minute and think about quality customer service. Actually, think about places with which you are familiar that really focus on providing exceptional service and experiences. I bet you are thinking about maybe a favorite restaurant, or a place of business….or how about the hospitality industry, a hotel or a theme park. Yep, I thought of those, too. You know what I don’t normally think about? Schools. More personally, my role in school.
We (meaning educators and staff collectively) exist to serve families and strengthen communities. In fact, we are actually a sort of community hub. People make decisions to live somewhere based, in many cases, on the school. We engage with parents, youth, community colleges, local business leaders, city services such as the fire and police departments, the local library, and the list goes on. The future adults who will live, work and make decisions in our communities in the future are sitting in our classrooms today. And yet, historically, customer service hasn’t been an area of concentrated training or focus for most of us. I will admit it wasn’t for me, until this year.
I am currently participating in a book study over the book Be Our Guest, which describes Disney’s unparalleled approach to customer service. My school district has trained all school office staff in customer service and has elevated customer service to a high priority level for all employees. Since implementing this, I have really noticed a lot of places where, in my day to day duties, I have huge opportunities to create those positive experiences and provide the type of quality customer service that I am learning about to my own “customers”. Those customers include students, parents, staff members, and district-wide colleagues. They also include local businesses with which I may have the opportunity to interact. They include bus drivers and our lunch staff. Our custodial services, the local boy scouts who use our gym for practice, and even outside trainers who come to work with our staff. I am on the district PTA Council Board this year and so guess what? That is another group of “customers” that I get to serve this year. So I am really focusing on what type of customer service I am providing. I even made a sign and hung it up in my office so that every day I am reminded of the focus. It’s very simple, but it works:
I won’t lie. There have been moments this year when customer service has been the last thing on my mind. It’s hard to be 100% in anything, no matter how dedicated you are and I’m not going to always get it right. As it says in 1 Timothy: “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” But even though I am not batting a thousand, I am much more aware. I’m more aware of the opportunities I have to provide great customer service. I’m reflecting more on the actions I take (or mis-take) toward living into that mission. I’m noticing that “everything speaks”. Everything.
Walt Disney has a term “Guestology” which he describes as knowing and understanding customers. Kinda reminds me of knowing and understanding students. Nothing happens without a relationship and that is something we school folks understand very well. He also says that customer service is sometimes “a moving target”. Boy, we can certainly attest to that! What works for one student (or class, or teacher…or campus) won’t work for the next. Got those state standardized tests all figured out? Don’t even try- that target will definitely move. Here is another quote from Walt Disney:
“Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.” – Walt Disney
Sound familiar to anyone? There is a saying in education: “If you don’t like a certain trend don’t worry, it will pass soon enough.” Sadly, that sometimes does ring true. But we also know that we have to keep our eyes fixed on the future because these days, we are preparing students for a future that doesn’t even exist yet, but all the tools and advances are there for them to create it themselves and what isn’t there will be soon enough because they’ll create it themselves. And what didn’t exist when I started this post is just one moment, one idea away from being a thing. That’s how fast we are moving, folks.
It turns out that me and Disney have a whole lot more in common than I might have expected at first glance. In fact, all of us do. Something I am discovering and that (I hope) is making me a better educator, leader and community-building partner.
Thanks, Disney. Another memorable experience in the books.