by Joseph Otley
Introduction: A Traveller’s Tale
Join me on a deeply personal journey, where we delve into the complex realm of customer service within the sphere of international education. Imagine the scene – a solo traveller, accompanied by twin four-year-old boys, embarking on an adventure from Edinburgh to Denmark. The thought of managing such a voyage, though thrilling, is also laced with challenges. Nonetheless, with meticulous planning and unwavering determination, I was poised to make this journey memorable. To kick-start our adventure on a seamless note, I decided to book a hotel near the airport.
As I sifted through the myriad of options for a suitable hotel to accommodate me and my boisterous young boys, one establishment stood out – a well-known brand.
Great Expectations from a Trusted Brand
The hotel felt like a beacon of hope amid the whirlwind of preparations that come with a journey involving two rambunctious boys. This brand’s reputation for delivering quality and offering top-notch service preceded it, making it a natural choice for this leg of our adventure. I envisioned my stay at this airport hotel to be in alignment with the exceptional experiences I had enjoyed at other branches of this well-known brand across China and around the globe.
However, this narrative takes an unexpected twist, exposing a stark contrast between the expectations instilled by the brand and the reality that unfurled. The pivotal moment in this story revolves around a seemingly mundane item – a pair of bright blue Spider-Man headphones, to be precise, two sets of them. These headphones were inadvertently left behind on the hotel bed as I hastened to check out. The commotion of managing my young children and ensuring we caught our early morning flight led to a significant decision. I chose not to return for the headphones, planning to call the hotel and request that they be kept safely until my return in two days.
When Customer Service Falters: A Tale of Broken Expectations
My call to the hotel to retrieve the headphones ushered in an unexpected response. Instead of the attentive and caring attitude I had anticipated, the staff’s disposition was dismissive. The hotel’s representatives were unable to locate the headphones, and their responses only exacerbated my vexation. The staff’s recurrent references to the hotel’s usual standards and their assertion that it was my duty to safeguard my belongings left a sour taste in my mouth.
This experience at the well-known brand’s hotel, in stark contrast to my previous positive encounters, challenged my perception of this esteemed brand. It underscored the significance of customer service, prompting me to reflect on how this aspect intertwines with the domain of international education.
Education and Customer Service: Bridging Expectations
The episode at the hotel serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of managing and meeting customer expectations, especially in the realm of international education. When parents join your school, they arrive with specific expectations moulded by the school’s brand and reputation. These expectations are influenced by promises made during marketing events and word-of-mouth endorsements.
Evidencing Learning and Progress
In the educational context, evidencing learning and progress is equivalent to how companies demonstrate the quality of their products or services. Traditionally, exams, homework, tests, and grades have been the primary means of evidencing learning. However, the paradigm is shifting. Schools are now tasked with striking a balance between formative and summative assessment methods.
Frequent, consistent communication between the school and parents is vital in ensuring that parents are not only aware of what is happening but also feel deeply involved in their child’s education. Three-way conferences, involving parents in field trips, inviting them into the classrooms, and engaging them in school activities, are just a few ways to make learning transparent and to solidify the partnership between parents and the school.
Brand Building Through Expectation Management
Much like how the well-known brand’s name shaped my expectations, a school’s brand defines what parents anticipate. Hence, establishing clear expectations and ensuring your school consistently delivers on its promise is of paramount importance.
To accomplish this, it’s crucial to involve teachers in defining the school’s mission and values. They should have a voice in creating, revising, and reviewing the mission statement. This engenders a sense of ownership and ensures that the mission resonates with every member of the school community.
Consistency in Communication: The Lifeblood of Expectation Management
While the importance of setting and meeting expectations is paramount, it is essential to delve into the lifeblood of any successful school – communication. This facet of the educational journey cannot be understated. The consistency of communication throughout the school plays a pivotal role in shaping the parent-school relationship.
Much like how the well-known brand’s name influenced my expectations, a school’s brand moulds what parents anticipate. Therefore, it’s imperative to establish clear expectations and ensure your school consistently delivers on its promises. The communication between teachers and parents must remain the same between and across year groups. Expectations of one year group must align with the expectations of another. Your brand is important, and when your staff are all operating on the same page, you have a cohesive and comprehensive approach that guarantees consistency.
Conclusion: The Customer-Centric Approach
In the world of international education, customer service extends beyond the students to the parents who entrust their children to the school. Customer service is about providing a consistent and dependable experience that aligns with the brand’s promise. Just as in the world of hotel brands, where perception is the cornerstone of building a lasting brand, international schools must strive to meet, and whenever possible, exceed the expectations of their customers – the parents.
By actively managing and meeting customer expectations, evidencing learning, and building a brand that resonates with the community, international schools can provide a customer-centric educational experience that leaves a positive and lasting impression, just as any reputable brand should.
Ultimately, it’s about exceeding expectations, not merely meeting them, because perception is the key to building a lasting brand in the world of education. The lessons from my personal journey underscore that in customer service, education, and beyond, it’s the customer’s perception that matters most.
Joseph Otley is Head of School at Foshan Etonhouse International School, Guangzhou, China