The DeHavilland Blog

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Customer satisfaction survey - at school?

I was happily surprised to see the article below in this morning's Charlotte Observer (our local paper). Our new superintendent, Peter Gorman, came to the job on a platform of making the district more responsive to the needs of children and to the community at large, and he's done an impressive job of getting out there and listening. But the study outlined below goes above and beyond; aside from the one other district they mention in the article, I've never heard of a school system actually trying to measure consumer satisfaction like this.

Hats off to him - this is exactly the kind of action schools need to be taking in order to get closer to their communities.

The article can be found here, although I'm pasting it in below so that it won't get lost when the Observer moves it around on their site.

CMS fails test on customer service
`Secret shoppers' used to make calls, go to school offices to ask for help

Many parents had two reactions Wednesday after hearing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spent $80,000 to highlight problems with customer service.

We could have told you that for a lot less money.

And ...

It's about time.

Teams of so-called "secret shoppers" found that schools and departments ignored more than half their e-mails, transferred more than 40 percent of their calls and too often failed to quickly help visitors.

CMS leaders said the data give schools irrefutable evidence of problems and detailed help finding solutions. They say they're emphasizing customer service because if things don't improve, parents such as Diane Stiffel could abandon the school system.

"It infuriates me," said Stiffel, who lives in northeast Charlotte and has two children in CMS. She said at a former school, it frequently took the staff five or 10 minutes to acknowledge her.

"If they can't give attention to me right away," Stiffel said, "what's to say they can give my child attention right away?"

CMS paid Charlotte-based Customer Service Solutions $80,000 to send a team of shoppers to each school and most departments from March to May. The company, which has done about 400 similar projects including some work for Mecklenburg County, called each school and the departments three times, e-mailed twice and visited once. That was 1,043 total interactions.

A few other school systems have hired secret shoppers, including Norfolk, Va., but the idea is uncommon, educators said. While the CMS report found some successes, the 18 binders of information point to far more shortcomings.

(The Observer requested a copy of the report, but a district spokeswoman said because it includes so much personnel information protected under privacy laws, much of the findings would have to be redacted.)

Complaints about the responsiveness of the state's largest school district aren't new. In 2005, they grew loud enough to help spur an effort to break up CMS.

"We have to have the mindset that we're operating like a private school, and we're competing for quality students," said area superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh, who will lead a new regional office in the northern part of the county.

The regional offices opened this summer to provide better service to schools and parents on issues such as discipline and transportation. "How we treat people is a way to build trust, or a way that trust gets shattered," Superintendent Peter Gorman said at a Wednesday news conference to discuss the findings.

CMS has started training workers in the regional offices, the transportation department and other areas critical to the Aug. 27 start of school. In the fall, the district will start training office staff at each school.

District leaders warned, though, that it will take two or three years before they see marked improvement across CMS. They hope by 2010 that 80 percent of parents will agree they get timely, accurate, responsive service.

What They Found

Here are some of the problems and highlights with CMS customer service, according to a team of secret shoppers.

The bad

• 48 -- percent of e-mails answered. (Businesses usually reply to about 80 percent of general inquiries.)
• 31.4 -- percent of those e-mails that actually answered the customers' questions, as opposed, for example, to referring them to the Web site. (75 percent is standard.
• 12 -- number of minutes a secret shopper waited at an unnamed school, as he cleared his throat and four office workers went on with their tasks.
• 42.5 -- percent of calls transferred.
• 25 -- number of rings from one of those transfers, before the caller hung up.

The good

• Having good information ready to hand visiting parents. (Done at schools such as McKee Road, Shamrock Gardens and Sharon elementaries, Alexander Graham Middle and Butler and Myers Park high schools).
• Answering questions and presenting information in a personal way. (Oakdale Elementary and Olympic International Studies and Global Economics High School).
• Providing quick school overviews on the spot or giving tours. (Cochrane Middle and North Meck High).

How Much?

School leaders in Norfolk, Va., paid $20,000 for a similar study last year. The smaller price tag is partly because that district is barely a third the size of CMS, and a CMS spokeswoman said the Charlotte report is more detailed. Norfolk said it's too soon to prove whether customer service has improved.

Can I See the Results?

Each school and department got an 18- to 25-page report. A CMS spokeswoman said they won't be made public because they have information about individuals. Principals should share key findings with parents and staff, she said.

What They Said

What parents said about CMS service.

"The communication ... makes me question the quality of education my daughter gets in the classroom." - TIM GALLAGHER
Has two children in CMS but withdrew his 11-year-old daughter, in part over the lack of information about her teacher's departure. Lives in Matthews.

"Hallelujah!" - PAM HEATON
Upon hearing CMS had gauged customer service. Heaton, who has two children in CMS, said some school employees are a "saving grace," but half the time, the others don't respond . Lives in northern Mecklenburg.

"If they can't address the bus problem, how many other problems are going unaddressed?" - MORGAN GAINOR
When she questioned frequent changes to her child's bus schedule, she was told there was nowhere to send her complaints. Lives in south Charlotte.


  • I know this is an old post, but I just wanted to thank you for putting it up here. I have been doing some research into customer service - and found this article very interesting. I also wanted to point out a great company called Mindshare that does surveys like the one you spoke of. Thanks again for the great information.

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