Full Service: Is This the Future of School District Call Centers? 

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Amid mounting pressure to improve community engagement, the nation’s school districts have invested millions in customer call centers to field questions from parents and other community members on topics ranging from transportation to standardized tests.

Customer service is a priority — and for good reason. But are call centers truly the best use of taxpayer dollars? Equally important, are the schools that invest in these services using them to their best advantage?

In Baltimore, City Public Schools CEO Gregory Thornton recently brought up the subject of call centers when asked about inefficiencies in his district. In a story in the Baltimore Sun, Thornton said he was surprised to learn that the district operated five different call centers.

“IBM doesn’t even have five call centers,” he told the paper.

Time for change?
Call centers are expensive. For years, they have been a necessary, if expensive, source of overhead, something large school districts needed to provide better customer service.

But, thanks to evolution of technology, educators suggest the notion of the traditional school district call center is changing. Phone banks are being replaced with scalable online tools that promise connectedness and peace of mind at a fraction of the cost. So what’s the K12 call center of the future look like?

It might not be a physical call center at all. Increasingly, district leaders rely on cloud-based and software-as-a-service solutions. These tools invite stakeholders to comment online and effectively route feedback to the right person within the school system, resulting in more timely, reliable responses. The information can be tracked, with customized reporting, giving district leaders the opportunity to consider their approach and make reforms informed by public knowledge.

It’s almost certainly mobile.  Educators — and parents, for that matter — increasingly conduct business on their smartphones. Research firm eMarketer estimates that as many as 2 billion people will have smartphones by 2016. With that kind of saturation, it stands to reason that your next customer service solution should feature a mobile app. Stakeholders demand that they be able to communicate with your district online and on the go, wherever they are. When it comes to education, mobile applications aren’t a fringe benefit; they are the way forward.

It’s strategically important.  Too many school district call centers were created toward a single misguided purpose: to give the vocal minority an outlet to voice their concerns. The latest customer service solutions go beyond the traditional “gripevine.” Rather they combine the power of data and always-on 24/7 accessibility to cast a wider net, inviting comments from a larger cross section of the community and tracking and analyzing those responses toward the ultimate goal: to help school district leaders make better strategic decisions.

It’s not just for large districts anymore. The good news about cloud-based software is that it can be purchased for a fraction of what it costs to get a brick-and-mortar call center up and running. There was a time when only large school districts could afford these resources. The logic was simple: If the district received more calls than it could handle, a call center was an option. But districts of all sizes can benefit from better customer service. Now, with the help of online tools and resources, they can have it.

Interested in learning how emerging customer service solutions can work for your district? Let’s Talk! is a good place to start.

Author: Corey Murray

Education writer and editor

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