In our work at Charter Oak Research, my business partner and I have the opportunity to travel to many different places and help Christian schools better understand their markets. Schedules are often very tight so we try to fit in as much as possible in a short amount of time. Thus, delays and cancellations often times add stress and frustration.
This past November I was scheduled to speak to a large group of teachers and experienced a frustrating moment. I had made a reservation for a rental car to use for transportation to the event in central PA. As the time came for me to pick up my car, there were no rental cars available. My situation many of you would recall from a famous Seinfeld episode with rental cars.
However, my situation was a bit different due to the fact that I made a reservation with a company I consistently use and one that I believe is excellent. I would say I am a loyal customer and have a long history with them. My belief about the company went beyond being just a customer but from the great experience I personally had working for them after graduating college.
The office staff was friendly but not very helpful in my situation. While being sorry, they did not offer any real alternatives. My experience went from bad to worse when I talked to their customer service hotline, which did not accomplish anything other than an apology but no solution to the problem. It did not change the fact that I was left without a car for my trip. I recall one of their taglines and their promise to be always ready and committed to customer service; needless to say they did not live up to it in this one experience.
One of our growing offerings for Christian schools is the work we do with interviewing families who chose not to re-enroll after being a school family. The interviews are fascinating as we hear so much more than just the typical answers. For sure, there are those who are not coming back because of cost and the financial challenges of paying tuition but this is not the majority of the responses we receive. The biggest reason families choose not to re-enroll is because, what was promised was not what was delivered. There was a breakdown in the minds of the parents of some kind and trust had been lost.
Thinking back to my rental car story, it really was not that big of a deal. Rental cars are not a passion for me, mostly, I was just inconvenienced and I was forced to go in a different direction. There were plenty of alternatives to choose from and there was no cost or investment on my part. My bad experience, without sharing the name of the company, led me to share the funny story to the teachers I was presenting to, others in my sphere and now in this blog. Since the experience, I have not contacted them for another rental car and have no plans to do so in the future.
How is this different from parents and their children’s education? Children and their education is such a focus in the minds and hearts of parents and they are expecting schools to deliver what they promote. They spend a significant amount of money on tuition while there are cheaper options (public education, charter schools, homeschooling) available to them. In many areas, there are often other alternatives, such as independent private schools and parochial schools that families can choose to pay for as well. Sadly, the cost when families leave our schools is that they often leave Christian education entirely.
While there is debate and various opinions about the wisdom to under promise and over deliver, there is no question we must first deliver on our promises. Marketing plans, promotional materials and websites are all necessary and incredibly important but are secondary on the school delivering its promise. As administrators and school leaders, we must ask the following questions:
- What promise(s) have we made to our new and returning school families?
- What is it that we promote?
- Where are the areas we are over promising and under delivering?
- What promise(s) have we made that we are not fulfilling?
- What changes must we make to fulfill the promise(s) we have made?
In considering these questions and also my experience with the rental car company, it reminded me that there are many who are on the front line of delivering on our promises. For the rental car company it was the rental car associate, the location manager and even the member on the customer service hotline. They were all tasked to fulfill the promise made by their marketing team and tagline.
As I was speaking with the faculty at this conference, I shared with them that it is everyone’s responsibility on campus to serve families, but teachers are the primary ones who are tasked with delivering on the promise and the mission of the school. Teachers are the ones who are in front of our children most of the day and interact with families about their most prized possession. They deliver the education that we promote and they have the unique opportunity to shape the lives of children unlike many of the other positions on campus.
As administrators, do your faculty know the promise you make to parents at open houses and in the marketing materials? Have they ever sat in on what is being presented to prospective parents? Are they aware of what is being said about what their family should expect?
It is my experience that teachers are often not involved in these discussions and it would be a good strategy to include them more formally as they are consistently called to fulfill what has been promised.