8 Ways to Create a Parent Experience that Wows

At many schools, leaders generally understand that focusing on the parent experience is somewhat important but don’t incorporate specific initiatives into strategic planning. However, what educators should remember is that the parent—or customer—experience is a key consideration in choosing a school, in what parents tell others about a school, and in their continuing commitment to that school. Here are practical steps that schools can take to actualize or improve the parent experience.
Think like a parent. It’s a design-thinking project, and empathy is key. You need to see your school through the eyes of parents—both current and prospective. That’s much easier said than done, largely because it requires the willingness to accept perception as reality.
Start with a 360-degree analysis of the admission process. I recently spoke to a head who mandated a review that included a series of focus groups and surveys to assess the admission experience. Parents who had applied and registered as well as those who ended up at other schools spoke about every aspect of the process. A multidisciplinary team, including representatives from the admission and business offices, as well as educators, carried out the review. The results impacted social media marketing, tours, admission events, communication, and the onboarding process. For example, in response to a perceived lack of contact, the school developed a weekly communication vehicle for parents in the admission funnel.
Collaborate with the community. Thinking about changing your school’s homework policy? Considering an investment in STEM curriculum? Need to make changes to the before- and after-school care schedule? By reaching out to parents before you make changes, schools can meaningfully demonstrate that they value parents’ feedback—and also benefit from fresh perspectives.
Alex Castellarnau, former head of design at Dropbox, says that with millennials, “a new brand, service, or product is only started by the company; it’s finished by the customers.” Millennial parents at independent schools might see their involvement as integral to a school’s future. Give them and all parents many opportunities to express opinions through surveys, evaluation forms, contact forms, and personal conversations.   
Admit to mistakes. A student ends up with a bad scrape after an incident on the playground and her knee gets bandaged, but amid the craziness of the day, her parents aren’t contacted. Her parent calls to complain about the lack of notification. The response could be, “You can’t possibly understand the number of issues we deal with on a daily basis, and while in a perfect world we would notify every parent of every incident, that doesn’t always happen.” Alternatively, and more appropriately, the response from an administrator, a teacher, or a nurse, should be, “You are right. We should have called you. We apologize.” This is the kind of culture that can be created throughout the school.
Solve problems. Get to the root of problems and proactively try to prevent them from reoccurring. A problem-solving approach that can be widely adopted in the school is based on the management mindset of asking “why.”
For example: A student ends up on the wrong school bus. Why? Because the student’s name was on the wrong list. Why? Because the student’s parents are divorced, and the wrong parent’s address was used for the bus list. Why? Because that was the address that was entered on the student information profile. Why? Because from the information originally provided by parents, it wasn’t clear at which address the student lives and support staff entered the wrong address. Why? Because a staff member should have taken the time to confirm the address, and the design of the information form needs improvement.
Also, you can’t solve problems you don’t know about. Staff members need to feel confident that they can let leadership know about problems that have occurred. Supervisors can work with staff members, or even with larger groups, to determine the best way to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
Make good first impressions. A friendly and welcoming front-office staff is a good start, but there are some innovative ways in which you can create outstanding initial impact. A school I worked with held an annual information night for parents of students entering middle school. It’s not an exciting date night for parents, but imagine the surprise and delight when students rehearsing upcoming musical numbers serenaded parents entering the building.
I know of a high school that enlisted student hosts to help reduce anxiety on parent-teacher conference evenings. At the front of each classroom, a student had a list of scheduled parents and tracked the teacher’s progress. When parents reached the classroom, the student was there to say “hello” and let them know when they could expect to be seen. Students also engaged parents in conversation. By providing information and personal interaction, there was less tension, and it also made a great statement about the character and poise of the student hosts.
Prove youre listening. For most customers, there’s nothing more satisfying than having a complaint addressed and remedied. In fact, an eye-opening study done for Marriott hotels indicated that guests who had problems that were solved were more likely to return than those who had no problems at all. So, just asking parents for their opinion isn’t enough. Demonstrate genuine interest in what parents have to say by doing something about it.
Break down silos. Creating an outstanding parent experience requires the active cooperation of every department in a school—from educators to custodians and from the business office to the bus driver. It’s likely that there are great examples of customer service taking place at your school right now, so share those stories. For example, let the community know about the teacher who took homework and well wishes from fellow students to a child who had been away from class for an extended period of time. Curate these stories in a regular communication that brings parent care and engagement to the forefront.
Boost professional development. The notion of the parent experience is not something taught as part of an education degree program. Professional development sessions can inform and sensitize faculty to the importance of the parent experience and the ways in which they can positively contribute it to it.

 How does your school ensure it's delivering a positive parent experience? 
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Chuck English

Chuck English is a school marketing and messaging strategist.