School staff to be graded covertly on 'customer service'
Hoping to combat an image of public school staff as unresponsive and lacking in aloha, the Department of Education will soon begin teaching its own employees how to treat parents and other school visitors as "customers" to be served.
The effort bears the covert-sounding name "Project Aloha," perhaps for good reason: It will be backed up by volunteers who will call and visit schools posing as members of the public and then grade the schools on how they were treated, the department told the Board of Education last night.
The grading would not be used against schools or employees, but rather to laud service-oriented schools.
The eventual goal is that visitors to any given school are greeted by an enthusiastic, positive staff member who eagerly steps forward to help them, said Susan Kondo, project coordinator.
"The bottom line is that we want schools to be more visitor-friendly so that when people say, 'DOE,' they don't go, 'Ugh!'" Kondo said.
The training effort will be spearheaded by Gwen Fujie, a customer service specialist who is married to Deputy Superintendent Clayton Fujie and will be volunteering her efforts.
Fujie said that even he has walked into school offices and been ignored by staff.
"Someone might tell you, 'There's nothing I can do.' But there is always something they can do," he said.
Kondo said some schools have told her they would like to have initiated training in customer service before but have never been offered any materials or guidelines.
Busy staff sometimes forget to be service-oriented, and for the most part merely need to be reminded, she said.
But board member Karen Knudsen said success will depend on a "culture change" within schools.
"This has been a long time coming, and I'm glad we're taking it seriously," she said.
The beneficiaries are expected to be not only parents, but also business vendors and even other DOE personnel who frequently visit schools.
A broad range of people involved in the state's schools, including the military community and unions, are being consulting on the plan's final shape.
DOE staff are expected to be used as the volunteers to assess schools. Those who visit a school in person will be dubbed "mystery shoppers," while those who phone are "secret callers."
In phone etiquette, school staff will be urged to eliminate the words "we can't" and "no" from their vocabularies, pick up phones within three rings, answer with more than a simple "hello," offer to transfer calls rather than telling callers to dial a different number, and make sure calls are returned promptly.
Though aimed primarily at the clerical staff in school offices, Fujie said it is hoped that the "do unto others" credo will filter down to teachers and students as well.
Training is expected to begin in some schools early in the coming school year.