Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Customer Service

I ran across the following video at David Pogue's blog. If you have time (6:22), watch it, and then I'll tell you why I decided to blog about it.

I decided to blog about this for two reasons. First, I'm the primary tech support for my high school. I have excellent support from my school district - they take care of the network and the servers. And I have an excellent field support person (Hi Rody!) who's also a certified Dell technician (I share him with 8 or 9 other buildings, though). For anything that's under warranty, he can quickly get new parts ordered after I have (or he has) identified the problem. For anything else that I can't figure out, he'll also do a thorough job of trying to figure out what's wrong and get it working again.

But I'm still the first line of defense - and the only person on-site tasked with this. My high school has about 2,150 students and 150+ staff members, so about 2,300 end users - with about 570 of them new each year. We have just over 750 computers, 50 or so printers, 75 or so LCD Projectors, and a variety of other peripherals such as scanners, digital cameras, camcorders, etc. We have the usual assortment of software, ranging from Microsoft Office to Geometer's Sketchpad to Audacity, and I also help support our student information system (Infinite Campus). If you're a regular reader of this blog you know that I also do a little bit of staff development as well. And, given that this is a school, I pretty much support whatever comes my way, whether it's school-owned or teacher-owned or student-owned, I try to figure out a way to help them with it.

So what's the point of all that? The point of all that is that I'm kind of busy, which means sometimes I don't do a very good job of "customer service." Too often I find myself just trying to solve the problem quickly myself, instead of helping the student or staff member learn how to solve the problem themselves. And as more and more tech "stuff" has come into the building, I've done a worse and worse job of serving my "customers" - I've given them a fish (Fisch?) instead of teaching them how to fish. This is particularly ironic considering my constructivist leanings.

So the first reason I'm posting this is to remind myself to do a better job of teaching my staff and students how to fish. I think this not only makes sense in a general way, but is especially important if we want teachers and students to be "technically literate" in the 21st century. If technology is going to play as big a role as I'm telling everyone it will, then everyone is going to need to be comfortable with using it seamlessly. And that includes learning the problem-solving skills that I've learned along the way - skills that they'll then be able to apply as new technologies - and new problems - arise.

The second reason I'm posting this is to think about the idea of customer service in education just a little bit. (As usual, I'm exploring my own thinking here on the blog, so please bear with me.) The title of the video is "Ordinary Indignity," and it indicates that there is nothing particularly special about this call, that it's pretty typical. In many ways, I think we've become accustomed to this type of service - so much so that we're a little surprised when we get good service. I think the same thing is often true in education. We're so accustomed to the way things are that we end up accepting things the way they are.

I think this applies across the system. As teachers we are the "customer" of building and district administration. As adminstrators we're the customer of the Board of Education, who in turn are the customers of the state legislature and state board of education. And, of course, going the other way, students and parents are the customer for all those folks previously mentioned. But how often do any of us think of this in terms of customer service? It seems like most of the time (at least in my little corner of the world) that instead of being treated as the customer, we look at it in the opposite way. That the folks that are supposed to be serving the customer in each of those relationships are instead looked at as the ones with the "power" in the relationship. That too often administrators are treated like the customer of teachers, that teachers are there to meet administrator needs. And that teachers don't think of their students as customers often enough, but instead the students are supposed to meet our requirements.

Now I know that's a very simplistic description of this. It's a broad generalization and doesn't come close to describing it in full, and I'm not trying to imply that the vast majority of folks in the system aren't caring and truly trying to do their best for their respective "customers," but I still think there's some hard thinking we need to do on this topic. We should ask ourselves questions like the interviewer in the video asked the customer.
In terms of customer service quality, "would you recommend [insert name of school/teacher/administrator/district here] to friends or colleagues who are looking for good customer service?"

And how many folks are "so disenchanted with our customer service" and what we've done to them?

So maybe instead of just accepting things the way they are we need to spend some time thinking about who our customers really are and whether we are truly meeting their needs. And, if we're not, maybe we should think about changing - instead of asking our customers to change.


  1. First of all, I can completely related to the customer caller in the clip. I could feel myself getting irritated with the customer service just watching it. I think this is a great analogy to students. My husband and I constantly talk about how EVERY job is truly just serving customers (or so to speak). I think that the surveys that the students took for 21st century are a huge insight to me about my customer service and where I can change to make some improvements. Maybe we can talk about this when we debrief about the surveys on May 22nd.

  2. I don't believe for a second that your customer service is even remotely related to the type we see here. So often we hear that education should be run more like business. NOT in this case. In the case of customer service, I think business should take a lesson from education.

  3. Love the clip. Like bkitch, I shared the caller's frustration (and laughs). He didn't have to endure the usual tone-menu system ("Press one for an interminable delay listening to tuneless hold music, press 2 to speak to a person with such a poor command of English that you won't be able to understand a word, press 3 to be cut off ...").

    If only company execs would actually try out their own call centre systems at peak times!

    I've been a one-man IT help/service desk too in my past, and it's hard. The more helpful you are, the more they call. However, they soon learn to tell from the stress in your voice whether now is a good time to discuss which home PC to buy or whether to let you get back to that evil mail server that keeps crashing every 15 minutes ...

    I'm currently reading two fab books by IDEO exec Tom Kelley about innovation for products and service s. Great ideas there. Sounds like HP for one could do with a lesson.


  4. I, too, have been disconnected while being transferred from one department to another, or from one tech support rep. to another at HP Customer Support. However, this is about the same whether calling HP, Symantec, or just about any other computer support group. You have to have a great amount of patience and not get frustrated during the call or waiting periods (such as, "music-on-hold"). Two things about the call as shown (or recorded)...1) Even though the end user formatted the C: Drive, all of his original operating system and software was still located on the D: partition (which is hidden from the system to prevent accidental erasure). The end user could have done a "system restore" from the boot screen by hitting the F10 key... 2) If the D: partition was accidentally erased or reformatted, then the end user should have made his system restoration CDs or DVD/Rs when he first started his HP Media Center. That is the first thing that you do when you purchase one of these (and you only have one chance to make them correctly, and they are verified during the process), so, the end user didn't read his system information or user's guide when he first bought the PC. Granted, jumping over the "accent barrier" on a phone call to India is difficult, but not impossible! But even companies like Symantec and HP, whose tech support agents are in India, now have "live chat" screens in which this information can be typed, rather than spoken. but, of course, you need to be connected to the Net in order to do this. Perhaps we should consider the amount of calls which these companies receive on a daily and nightly basis and the expected amount of problems just with verbal communication of the issues. Also, the end user could have had his model number and serial numbers at hand BEFORE making his call! How do I know this? Because I also have an HP Media Center PC and support tech issues with my clients, family and friends. But thank God HP has both the complete and non-destructive system restore routines in their Media Centers! If you follow the basic directions, you will have everything that you need to bring the system back to factory condition, and the non-destructive restoration preserves your personal files, desktop and other folders,... you just need to reinstall any additional software which was loaded after the purchase or first use of the system. In short... it all works as I have done this twice with my system since I first started using it.