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Customer Experience as Family Engagement 

I recently read two articles from the Disney Institute concerning customer service versus customer experience. (see below) They defined customer experience as:

the sum of all interactions a customer has with a company…everything from a customers initial awareness or discovery of a company, product or service, through the … use of that’s company’s products or services.” 

What I found most interesting was the assertion that “customer experience, …(is) about truly understanding your customer … as individuals, architecting a plan for delivering exceptional experiences, and then …deliver(ing) it across all touch points.” This forces us to consider that it’s not about giving customers what we think is useful; instead it’s about taking the time to discover their needs and fashioning our “product” to meet those needs in a way that is meaningful to them.

I read the article with family engagement in mind. It struck me that schools – educators and councils alike – don’t view families as ‘customers’. Do families disengage from their school (the “hard-to-reach”) because understanding the customer has not been the first priority? We create ways for families to deliver services to the school or Council rather than offering them ‘exceptional experiences’ in learning. We expect families to reach in and forget to reach out. Perhaps schools and councils need to rethink their approach when confronted with low family engagement.

We can learn from the Disney Institute. I’ve adapted three suggestions for improving customer experience to match family engagement:

    1. Create an organizational common purpose”: “What do you stand for and why (do) you exist?” In other words, what does your staff, (and Council) want your families’ school experience to be – at an     emotional level?            

Family engagement is about supporting families to support student achievement. Do you want your families to feel confident in their abilities to do this? Do you want your staff and families to value home-school partnerships? Do you want your families to believe that they belong? Find your purpose and take actions that support it.

              2.   Get to know your customers holistically: “Truly understand their    needs, wants (and) emotions…                        assess the customer experience    and … identify areas where …expectations are (or are not) being                          met and exceeded.”  

This is very important for schools to consider. Are you aware of the needs of all families? Do you survey your community at the beginning of every year to see how they feel? What they need? Do they have expectations of the school and school council? The results should inform your plans and activities and influence all engagement projects. Your work can provide families with the help they want to support their children’s learning. Finally, don’t forget that consulting your community also includes an evaluation of your work. Understanding your successes and failures will allow you to come closer to achieving your common purpose.      

      3.   View exceptional service as an economic asset”: Providing our    families with the services and experience they need will pay    dividends for our children. Research tells us that students are more    motivated, have better grades, behaviour and attendance, and    continue in school longer when their families are engaged in their    learning. That has to be an economic asset.                          

  Why not begin your work next year by figuring out how to provide      your families with the customer experience they desire. Plan to    deliver “exceptional experiences” that will build their capacity and    confidence to support their children’s learning. Provide    opportunities to build trust amongst peers and staff. Learn about the    beliefs and values of all. When we do that, we have meaningful,    successful family engagement.