Monday, August 3, 2015

Is Great Teaching Really Just Great Customer Service?

As some of you already know, when I’m not chasing a toddler around, running a ridiculous amount of miles, working on one of my various writing projects or out rescuing puppies from burning high-rise apartments, I am a teacher at a high school for at-risk youth.  Last week I had the opportunity to present a development seminar to colleagues in my district about changing the educational paradigm and how it really starts in the heart of the teacher.  Later in the week, after having a horrible experience as a customer in dealing with a representative of a particular company, I had a marvelous revelation:  Great customer service and great teaching are parallel.

I know what you’re thinking, especially if you’re one of my fellow teachers reading this,  “Students aren’t customers.  They can’t choose not to be in my class and I can’t choose not to work with a student without some serious legal gymnastics.”  Bear with me.

For those of you on the customer service end, you may be thinking, “Yeah, I’m in this business because teachers are crazy people.”  I won’t debate that.  But you may say, “I’m not trying to teach my customer anything.  I just want to create a good experience for them.”  That’s when I say:  B-I-N-G-O.

A Yucky Classroom experience and
Bad Customer service 
both feel like the above photo.
Two of my big takeaways from the last week both in my teacher training and through my terrible customer service experience are:  1.  Great teaching and great customer service both create a positive experience.  2.  Great teaching and great customer service employ action to build trust.  I will talk about both briefly below.

                 1.  Great teaching and great customer service both create positive experiences.  In my work environment I generally deal with what are known as “reluctant learners.”  That is the politically correct way of saying most of my students are at very low levels academically and socially, usually several grades levels below their current grade level.  In other words, my average student may be in 10th grade, but may only be able to read at a 4th grade level and write at a 3rd grade level.  This being the raw material I have to work with, forces me to ask another question:  What isn’t the educational system doing to get this child where he/she needs to be?  Why is this student shutting down?  The simple answer is that these students have not had very many or any positive experiences in an educational setting.  In the world of a teacher, if I can create a positive experience for these learners, their reluctance dissipates and they will go above and beyond any of their or my expectations.  If I create a negative experience, why is a student going to work for me?  My students lose out if I create a negative experience in my classroom. So do I. 

The Monk says:
Customers and Students 
require trust.
It’s the same in customer service.  My wife and I really love Kerbey Lane Café in Austin.  In particular, we love their original location over on Kerbey Lane.  We just can’t stop going there.  Why?  We love the food.  We like the building.  The staff is friendly.  Put all of that together and what do you get?  A positive experience.  Because we have a positive experience we keep returning.  On the flip side, earlier this week, Stef and I had a very bad customer service experience with a certain representative.  As a result, we are no longer working with this individual.  While we could have been sending the representative a ton of referrals, both the representative and company are losing since our experience was terrible.  Our recommendations and future business will now go elsewhere.

 2.  Great teaching and great customer service employ action that builds trust.  Kids are the masters at holding adults to their word.  Any parent can attest to this.  If mom and dad promise little Johnny he’ll get an ice cream if he finishes his homework, once that homework is finished, mom and dad better have ice cream for him.  If mom and dad do not get him the ice cream, not only are they risking a level 47 meltdown...  mom and dad also run the risk of Johnny never doing his homework again AND more importantly, Johnny is going to think his parents are full of crap.  In other words, Johnny will not trust mom and dad, and will continue to push the limits thereby creating extreme scenarios for his parents to regain control. 

Teaching is the same way.  If a student asks me for something and I affirm that I can arrange to make it happen, I better make it happen.  If I don’t, the student then thinks I’m full of crap, and I run the risk of losing that student for the rest of the year.  As a teacher, my most powerful words are, “Go ask the principal.”  In all seriousness, NO is one of the most powerful things I can tell a student when I can’t back an affirmation up with an action.  The student will get over it and I will have maintained trust in our relationship.  In the student-teacher relationship it is imperative that a YES is backed up with immediate action. 

On the customer service end, please do not tell a client one thing to make them feel good and not back it up with an action.  This will immediately break the trust of the client and they will think the representative and the company for which the representative works is full of crap.  This was the bane of our bad customer service experience this week.  Stef and I were told one thing, no action was taken on the part of the representative.  This broke our trust and confidence in the representative.  So we quickly terminated the relationship and went in another direction.  Because the representative did not take action, his company lost immediate and potential business.

"The man who doesn't reach decisions promptly when he has all the necessary facts in hand cannot be depended upon to carry out decisions after he makes them."  --Napolean Hill

To conclude:  Action builds trust and trust builds positive environments.  Students need positive environments in which they feel safe and empowered.  I find the relationship intriguing and empowering.  I’m excited to delve into this topic more in future posts!  In what ways can you employ these concepts to empower you own life?  Let me know and let the fun commence!

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