One of the key concepts that most marketing textbooks cover these days is relating to the importance of a high quality of service delivered to stakeholders. And this can make a real and significant difference to business success across all sectors: from Waitrose to Qantas to Mercedes to the AA, there are countless examples of businesses where customers are willing to pay more for a dependable and excellent service.
Is this more important in service industries? Well yes I think it is. Where there is no tangible product to inspect / test / caress, the need to demonstrate an excellent quality of service is paramount. Schools are in the service industry, and are dependent on a strong reputation, a reputation which is generally driven by customers’ experiences. So for your school it is essential that you are offering the best possible quality of service to parents, pupils, staff and other stakeholders. This covers all areas, from the standard of your teachers to the regularity of your communication.
Schools should be continuously trying to improve their service, and a good way to do this is through using a SERVQUAL framework. This was developed by Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry in the mid-eighties as a means to explore customer service expectations and performance. It is designed to measure five key areas contributing to service quality, which form the useful acronym RATER and, for schools, might encompass some of the following:
- Reliability: do you deliver your promised service every time? Is the ‘outstanding academic education’ you talk about on your website really delivered consistently?
- Assurance: how well do you and your staff display the knowledge, professionalism and understanding that inspires parents to trust you with their child’s education? Is your service competent, credible, courteous and secure?
- Tangibles: how does your school look? Is it unsafe / falling down / in need of a clean and some paint? How are your facilities and are they really meeting needs and expectations?
- Empathy: do you and your staff really understand your parents and their children? Can you display this and underscore this empathy at all times? Do parents leave open days knowing that you ‘get it’?
- Responsiveness: how quick and willing are you to meet your parents’ needs? Are your school’s key staff accessible to parents and do they respond quickly?
It’s worth pointing out that you don’t have to excel in all of these areas. Thinking of retailers, Lidl and Aldi, for example, aim to offer discounted food prices, and customer service quality reflects this. However, your service levels should reflect your desired positioning and, for independent schools, your fee levels.
Thinking about these aspects will help you to identify gaps between what your parents expect and what you deliver, as well as the priorities for future change. In my next blog I’ll suggest some research to highlight these gaps and guide your progress.