Leadership

Building a customer experience culture in K-12 schools

August 31, 2021

Over the years, we’ve watched as many major brands have taken customer experience (CX) to new heights. Let’s take Apple, for example. From the moment you step inside a store, you’re immediately immersed in their brand. Every touchpoint in the buying journey is distinctly ‘Apple’ — from its cleverly designed modern spaces to the over-the-top full-team applause upon purchasing a new item. Then, there are other brands, like Disney and IKEA, who create the ultimate customer experience by focusing on immersive and interactive experiences.

But, elevating customer experience isn’t just for heavy-weight brands like these, it also plays a crucial role in K-12 school retention strategies. If you’re looking for more good news, according to Forbes, brands with excellent customer experiences bring in 5.7 times more revenue than those that don’t — so it’s essential for your bottom line too! 

But, just who should be in charge of customer experience? There’s a rise in brands (and schools) adding a Chief Experience Officer (CXO) to their team to do just that. In this article, we’ll look at the evolving role of customer experience, an overview of what a CXO does, and what your school can do if you don’t have the resources to appoint a CXO just yet...

 

Why focus on your school’s customer experience?

In our free guide, Retention marketing ideas for K-12 schools, we talk about a dangerous duo for a school’s bottom line: fierce competition and rising attrition rates. Nowadays, consumers are bombarded with endless choices across all facets of their lives — and education is no exception! It’s a wildly different consumer market compared to even just five years ago. Rather than working through a solution together, if a family isn’t completely satisfied with their experience at your school, all they need to do is a simple online search to find an alternative solution. 

That’s where customer experience comes in! By understanding what creates a great experience for families across all interactions with your school, you’ll not only retain enrolments but create advocates who’ll go on to spread the word to their broader networks.

 

So, what does a Chief Experience Officer (CXO) do? 

You might be wondering what the difference is between your Director of Marketing or Director of Admissions and a Chief Experience Officer. While Marketing and Admissions are typically aligned on growing new enrolments, a CXO looks through a broader lens at the entire family lifecycle with your school. It’s about having a holistic view to make sure parents feel connected to your school community and that students love turning up every day to learn.

Experience is about looking through a broader lens at the entire family life cycle.

But they don’t just stop there.

A CXO reviews the experiences of all stakeholders at your school. That means talking to teachers and administrative staff to see what helps them thrive and what can be done to support them better. After all, retaining quality employees is essential to creating great customer experiences for families. The first question all CXO’s ask is, “what do I want our students, parents, and staff to feel when they interact with our school?” 

Just like defining your school’s unique selling proposition (USP), a CXO will think about what qualities will set you apart from your competition but from a customer experience perspective. A CXO will be highly involved in your school’s retention committee or play an integral role in getting one established if it’s not already set up. Essentially, their goal is to spend a lot of time talking to different stakeholders and getting feedback on their thoughts and feelings about your school. 

 

What if my school doesn’t have the resources?

Hiring a CXO can be a great addition to your school — if you have the budget, that is. However, it’s not always doable if you’re a smaller school or are working with limited resources. But, if you’re keen to start improving your school’s experience, you could begin by sharing the role between a few key departments, like Admissions and Marketing. 

Creating a better experience for all stakeholders is about looking for ways to bring back connections and make them feel valued. These teams are well-positioned to do that as they already have a lot of touchpoints with both your prospective and existing communities. It’s likely your Admissions and Marketing teams are already performing regular research or surveys throughout the year, so they have the perfect opportunity to add an experience survey into the mix. Or perhaps they’re sitting on valuable information about why families decide to leave your school through exit interviews.

Let’s look at three practical ways to start improving the experience at your school.

1. Turn pain points into strengths

If survey data shows that poor communication is one of the reasons why families leave your school, look for ways to turn this feedback into a positive customer experience moment. For example, you might look at revamping your school newsletter, introduce regular video updates on your social media channels, or invite families to attend a weekly ‘open door’ afternoon where they can ask questions or check in with teachers.

Does your drop-off zone get easily congested? Find creative ways to ease congestion or at least make the wait bearable. Perhaps, throughout the summer months, you could supply chilled water to take the edge off. 

 

2. Spot opportunities that resonate with your community

If your demographics include many single-parent households (including those where one guardian might be away for extended periods), how can your school better support them? An idea might be to host a quarterly parent’s time-out, where kids are entertained at school on a weekend morning, giving a little time back to busy parents. 

Or, perhaps, you have a lot of small businesses in your school community? Provide opportunities on your grounds for events such as a craft market. This can be a great way to support your local business community while creating a fun day out for families.

 

3. Learn from your competitors 

Keeping an eye on the competition is always a good idea. If you’ve noticed an increase in new students from a competitor school, be sure to ask families why they made the move and if there’s anything they miss about their old school. There might also be some clever customer experience moments you could bring to your community. 

While ensuring great experiences across the entire family lifecycle is important, your admissions and onboarding experience must stand out from the crowd. Analyse your own and other schools' customer experience moments throughout the enrolment pipeline to make sure there are moments that create a lasting impression on families as they navigate their top schools of choice.

Don’t forget, looking after your teaching and administration staff’s experience is just as important. Checking with your staff across various departments can be valuable to gather ideas on how the school experience can be enhanced. Remember, they bring a wealth of knowledge from previous schools and even other industries they might have worked in! 

 

Wrapping up

Small changes can make a big difference, so the most important thing is to get started. Whether you’re thinking about getting a Chief Experience Officer on board or looking for ways to involve your existing departments, your students, parents, and staff will thank you for it. Remember to start by determining how you want your entire community to feel about your school and then look for opportunities across the entire lifecycle.