I walked into a nationally known car care chain this morning with a 9:30 appointment for an oil change. Upon arriving, it was explained to me that they would get to my car around noon. Huh? When I inquired about the point of even making an appointment, I was given an explanation that likened my current hassle to the mechanic setting an appointment with his doctor at 3:00 but not being seen until 4:00. Again: huh?
Although I appreciate this mechanics' medical metaphors (and he may want to consider switching physicians), in 99 out of 100 places where I set a 9:30 appointment, the understanding is that I'll get in somewhere around 9:30. I told him to cancel the 'appointment' and headed to a different oil change location, where they got me in immediately. Without an appointment.
While this could easily devolve into a customer service rant, I instead choose to be reflective and think about what my customer service is like as an edtech coach. What are the tenets that should guide me in the way I serve teachers so they don't feel the level of customer service frustration I feel right now? Here are the 10 guiding principles I've come up with from my experience working with teachers.
- Honor teachers' time
When working with teachers, everything needs to have a purpose and a time limit. Whether it's a one-on-one coaching meeting, small group training, or a larger professional development setting, clear objectives and a set time are a must. It's amazing how far it goes to let a teacher know you'll meet for 10 minutes, focus on one coaching idea, and then wrap it up with 2 minutes to spare. Big win.
- Listen carefully
In his book It's Not About the Coffee, former Starbucks president Howard Behar says "You'll be amazed at the power of silence. Pay attention to how people fill it...Keep your ears open, your eyes open, and your mouth not flapping." As a coach, it can be easy to think our role is to dispense information and solve problems. Actually, our goal is to help teachers identify and solve their own problems and only step in when necessary. Listening carefully is a requirement to making that happen.
- Respond thoughtfully
I am a habitual "first-responder," and not in the EMT/fireperson meaning of the term. I'm typically the first one to respond to a question, which means I haven't always thought it all the way through. It's a growth area for me. Responding thoughtfully to a teacher means considering what they mean instead of just what they say.
For example, if a teacher asks for an online tool for assessment, could they be better served by an old school whiteboard and dry-erase marker? It's quite possible. Considering the teacher's context and intended outcomes before offering an idea provides much more useful, actionable recommendations.
- Deliver on promises
Abt Electronics, one of George Whalin's Retail Superstars, has a one page Customer Service Policy Handbook. What's the maxim that governs all their interactions with their customers? "The Answer is Always Yes to Any Reasonable Request." And when I, the coach, say "Yes" to something, I had doggone well better follow through.
If our goal is create Raving Fans of our teachers who trust us with their instructional lives, Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles point out that "...consistency is the key to delivering Raving Fan Service...Consistency will overcome resistance, but in the meantime, [customers] are watching like a hawk for you to mess up."
Now, I wouldn't necessarily take the same negative view of teachers that they're "watching like a hawk" for us to mess up, but if we're honest, we know educators have been burned before by unfulfilled promises from those in leadership positions. It's imperative that when we promise, we deliver, no matter how small the task may seem.
- Anticipate needs
Teachers don't always know everything they'll need when they start integrating technology in the classroom. It's our job to offer "lagniappe" (lan-yap): the little something extra. It's the idea behind the Baker's Dozen, the 13th donut in the box when you only ordered twelve.
We have to clear the way in advance by creating logins, checking WiFi connections, making sure devices are accessible, and anything else that greases the wheels to get a teacher integrating in a meaningful way. It's that anticipation that can mean the difference between a failed lesson and an exceptional edtech experience.
- Be honest about what you don't know...
Yes, we're supposed to be experts, but it's impossible to know everything about every digital tool, pedagogical strategy, and content area. One thing my blended learning partner has taught me this year is the importance of consulting with experts to make sure we're giving the best information possible. When a teacher asks something you don't know, be honest, then give them a time period in which you'll get back to them with an answer (see #4). If you do that consistently, you can start turning the things you don't know it opportunities to build trust with the teachers you coach.
- ...but know as much as you can
Okay, so we can't be experts at everything, but we are responsible for knowing our craft. There's no excuse to not be constantly learning and keeping current on what's out there. As an edtech coach, we have a responsibility to all the domains of TPACK. We need to be up-to-date on technology, pedagogy, and content, as well as management strategies for classrooms full of devices. Teachers won't learn from people they perceive as incompetent, so we're serving them poorly if we're not always growing. It's fine to not know everything, it's unacceptable to stop educating ourselves.
- Have a good attitude
There's really nothing else to write about this. Have a good attitude when working with teachers. No matter what. All the time. No excuses. Period. The end.
- Think long-term
Customer service is a matter of creating processes over time that make supporting teachers more efficient and effective. Back to Raving Fans again: "All good customer service is a result of nifty systems." And it's an ongoing process to create ever-improving systems of support.
Do teachers know how to contact you? Can they get professional development on demand on their schedule? How convenient is it to set up a coaching appointment? Do they see you in their building enough to talk to you informally? Do teachers receive recognition for the difficult work they're doing of integrating technology in meaningful ways? Even if you can answer in the affirmative to all these questions, continue to consider how you can improve the systems currently in place.
- Actively seek constructive feedback
We ask the teachers we coach to be perpetually receptive to receiving feedback on how they can improve. As coaches, we must do the same to increase the effectiveness of our service. We can do that by building relationships with our teachers where they will respond honestly when we ask them what they need more (or less) of from us. Even if we think we're offering the best support in the world, if we're perceived as a know-it-all, inconsistent, or smothering by our teachers, it's not good customer service.
The difficult thing is to actively seek out the painful feedback necessary in order to improve. But if we're not inquiring of our teachers, it's usually not information that will be volunteered freely. It's up to us to ask.
Inspiration for some of these tenets came from the sources below, as well as the books mentioned in the post.
The 10 Principles of Brilliant Customer Service
15 Principles for Complete Customer Service
7 Customer Service Principles That Can Change Your Business
Principles of Good Customer Service
6 Very Effective Principles to Improve Your Customer Service and Make Your Clients Happy