A few weeks ago, I had to stop at the grocery store for a few things on my way to work. After I picked up my items I jumped into line and was the second person in line. The cashier struggled to get the automated cash register working.
The electronic system, according to the cashier, had already “gone down” twice in the half hour that the store was open. As I stood in line, this was now the third time. I looked behind me in line and noticed that it was now five people deep.
I looked beyond the cashier to see if help was on the way. A manager stood a few feet away complaining to another employee about the failings of the electronic system.
Meanwhile the line grew to eight people deep. Keep in mind that it was 6:30am.
The cashier eventually was able to get the system up and running, and processed the first order. I managed to count at least four additional employees who appeared to be capable of opening up another cash register, although none of them did.
It didn’t seem that customer service was at the top of the list for the store employees.
What I thought was going to be a quick grocery “run” prior to heading into work took me twenty-five minutes to complete. It made me late for work.
As I drove to work, I couldn’t stop thinking about the additional employees just standing around, completely ignoring the customers in the growing line. I don’t think I was the only one in line who was agitated or frustrated.
It made me think of the main office in my building. At any given moment, there is someone who needs something, whether a student, parent, teacher, or other staff member. On many occasions, there are multiple parents, teachers, and students in need. Our office staff always tries to keep the “customers” happy. We would never let the line get to eight people deep. We do our best to serve those around us, and make sure that everyone is getting what they need.
Try to remember these service principles when helping your “customers:”
A Smile Goes a Long Way. Rule #1. Always serve the customer with a smile. If the building is a happy place, the happiness will spread… happy students, happy teachers, happy parents. That smile on a Monday morning or when someone is down can make a world of difference.
Add Value. Start by asking this question: “Is there anything that I can do to help you?” Make sure that you are bringing value to those you are serving. Offer to help, and make sure that your help actually helps. Do things for others because you can not because you are expecting anything in return.
All Hands on Deck. No matter the title, if a parent, student, or staff member needs help, everyone should be willing to step up to the plate. As Principal, I have answered phones, applied band-aids to a variety of wounds, tended to sick students, made copies, cleaned up messes, among other tasks. When it comes to helping customers, nothing should be off limits, and no one should say, “That’s not my job.”
Be Willing to Accept Criticism. No one wants to hear when something isn’t working. It can sting when a customer points out that a system or process that we have put in place is not doing the job. Don’t allow your ego to get in the way. Accept that it is not working, allow for critical feedback from the customer, and use that feedback to improve the process.
Patience is a Virtue. In many situations, the customers you are serving may be angry, frustrated, and agitated. While you may want to return the frustration with some frustration of your own, it is important to remain calm and level-headed. Remain patient with the customers you are serving. If you can figure out a way to satisfy the person’s needs, the frustration may dissipate.
Seek Solutions. Any time you are offering to help someone, make sure that you are solving their problem. Figure out what’s wrong, and determine how to find the best solution to that problem. Don’t try to pass the person along to someone else. Make a commitment to solving the problem right then and there. Offer a variety of solutions, and find out which option works best for the customer.
Your Goal is to Serve. As an educator, it is important to recognize the “customers” that you serve: students, parents, colleagues, community members, among others. Ultimately, you are trying to bring each one of them a service, the ability to deliver a high quality learning experience for students. Do everything you can to deliver that service in a customer friendly way.
Even though schools are not selling a product or service to customers, we can learn a great deal from employing customer service principles in our daily interactions. Keep these principles in mind as you begin a new school year.