My last article focussed on Learning in COVID times and writing it reminded me of just how important some of my early decisions were in setting up an LMS in a school setting. A good LMS will not only support online learning first and foremost but will also provide a communication solution for the school community.
My teen years were spent working in retail and travel sales. Straight from college, I entered the travel industry where I stayed for ten years honing my customer service and sales skills. I learnt some valuable lessons for my latter roles when I was expected to write up processes, instructions and prepare curriculum for online delivery.
Again, this article may be too early for schools that have rushed into “emergency remote teaching” however when school administrators have time to reflect and refocus the questions of whether their customers (students, parents & staff) are having their needs met.
One of the major mistakes made in rolling out platforms and services is a high reliance on the technical experts (the IT team). These people are generally highly skilled technicians, network engineers and IT geeks, competent to install the software/server etc but few of them have design, teaching and marketing experience to deliver on what the platform should look like, what features are/aren’t needed in the classroom and what communication channels to utilise. In addition, most IT Managers do not have representation on the school executive team, so this means they aren’t exposed to the “big picture” and are not involved in strategic planning.
A crucial role in Schools these days is the administrator of the LMS (Learning Management System. In seeking to feel this position my priorities were on finding:
- Someone with strong Customer service skills and experience – Sales (persuasive speaking), Empathy, Communication skills, Adaptability and Patience.
- Preferably someone with training experience but for the right person providing this training could be an excellent investment.
- A good eye for design (as mentioned in my previous article colour, fonts and imagery are all extremely important aspects of designing pages for the www)
I never insisted on technical skills, apart from being curious, as the technology skills required for most platforms these days are low level and can easily be taught.
The benefit of someone with a strong customer service background is that they are more likely to have natural empathy. This means that when they are tasked with preparing content on a webpage/class page they have the ability to view content from the user’s perspective.
Earlier this week I came across this infuriating tweet from a Dad reflecting on his experience of “remote teaching”:
This is clearly a teacher whose School has turned on Google Classroom just expecting that alone will deliver “remote learning”. This is a teacher I suspect that has received no training in this transition and who has no understanding of the platform he is using, or its capabilities. It’s situations exactly like this one that gives online learning a bad name. Judging by the number of likes and retweets these tweets received I’d say this parent is not alone.
If we look at this from a customer service perspective, the school is providing a service to the community, so they need to think about what it will do for them, why it does it, how it does it and then communicate this to them.
My personal mantra when it comes to providing Good Service is to offer transparency and always ‘under-promise and over-deliver. As an example, last week I went to have my car serviced and was offered a coffee and told at worst it could take two hours. I had just set up my laptop and started writing this article when they came to me and I hadn’t even finished my coffee. I was thrilled to be out of there so quickly but what if they’d told me it would probably take 45mins and then it had taken 45mins- Meh! My mood may not have been quite so joyous.
For schools, teachers, and principals if you entered lockdown telling parents that you will deliver an LMS platform, online learning and teachers delivering content Mon-Fri 8.30am-3.30pm each day, your parents are now writing to the newspapers, lodging complaints and asking for refunds on their fees. If you instead had been more transparent and explained the situation of where you were with technology, infrastructure, staff training and the steps you were planning to take over the oncoming weeks and how it would impact each stakeholder, you would get a far greater level of understanding and support for the transition. Public Relations 101- Transparency and honesty builds trust!
People naturally will have expectations based on previous experience and for schools, the LMS, the Parent Portal and the level of teacher content is always compared between schools. These days most parents would assume that they could enrol their child into a school online, pay school fees in bitcoin and receive all school reports electronically, but this simply isn’t the case in many schools. Our aim as service providers is to listen to our customers, know what they need before they need it and provide the answer via the fewest steps possible.
In my office for years I had the following poster on the board:
It came as a result of a teacher attending professional development and discovering QR codes for the first time. She came to me for help uploading all the files she wanted to share with parents behind QR codes because it would be more fun and show them how innovative and tech-savvy she was.
It was left to me to explain that
- perhaps only 40% of her audience would know what to do with it and have a ‘reader’ on their phone ready to go
- By 2017 that technology was already very “old” and not well adopted technology and
- Parents would not appreciate that a step that used to take them 1 simple click would now mean ensuring they had software installed, ensuring that they had their phone in their hand each time they accessed the page and they’d have to scan the code to get to the same point as a simple link with just one click.
Good service requires as few steps as possible to complete…but wait there’s more:
- Treat your LMS, or website, homepage as your reception area. Remember it’s the first place you enter, it’s the first place you have an interaction and the first place you look for signage of where to go next. It is where impressions are made.
- Don’t use internal acronyms, or tech or education speak. Remember when your community members (parents/students/staff) first interact with you they may not have any idea what SAC’s, MCEETYA, UDL, PBL, ACARA, ESL, NDIS, LOTE, PL/PD or BYOD/BYOT all stand for, let alone the difference between remote, flipped, blended and online learning.
- Use natural language or ensure you provide definitions. Whilst the accounts team might call it the “expenses reimbursement” form, a teacher will be far more likely to search for “how do I get a refund”, “how do I get my money back”. Metatag all your files with appropriate, meaningful, natural and logical language. Create your search terms as verbs i.e. what action do I need to do?
- Be consistent in your delivery. The language and the visual style needs to be consistent which is why I recommend you have one or two people setting up your portal/LMS and their templates to begin with. Every page in your school LMS/Portal should use the same font, size, colour, the same branding, the exact same place for course outlines, assessment tasks, content, teacher greeting/update/contact details etc. We all quickly grow accustomed to usage patterns online and every break in consistency is a break in trust.
- There’s the old adage of “What gets measured, gets done”. I’ve just worked with a school IT team who had a gamified helpdesk platform. This meant there was a competition within the department and a race to be the first to assist and respond to logged calls – just brilliant!
- Inclusion is also a necessity when designing your services and a lack of diversity within your team will mean you have a lack of inclusion in your service.
- Finally, I’m sure each and everyone one of us has spent frustrating minutes on a website trying to locate a buried phone number, email or ‘contact us’ form. A good service will always provide an easy path to communicate with a human. On your internal platforms (LMS & Parent Portal) always have a “Help” link on every page offering your end users a range of help solutions including ways of contacting you directly.
In discussions with clients, I talk about the “barriers” users have to hurdle to get the desired outcome. The more barriers we remove, the more likely people will complete a task. A good example is a form…after three fields, for every additional field someone needs to fill in, you will dissuade a percentage of your users from completing the form (assuming the same motivation for all). When someone comes in contact with your school, or organisation, and they discover that they can achieve all that they want to achieve and with the fewest steps possible then that is good customer service.
If you’d like to do further reading on this topic the reference that has inspired my post comes from a recent read: “Good Services-how to design services that work” by Lou Downe.
This post is also in memory of the incredible visionary and digital transformation specialist, Paul Shetler, from whom I learnt so much the few times our paths crossed and who sadly passed away in February, aged 59.