Mal Lee and Roger Broadie
The bottom line in a market driven economy is that every school – state and independent – has to attract and retain sufficient clients to remain viable.
The new and added challenge for schools – that business is already grappling with – is how to win the continued patronage of the client’s year after year, student cohort after cohort in a world of rapid change and evolution? As Nokia, Blackberry and Yahoo can attest client support in the digital world can be momentary. What are perceived as exemplar schools today within years could suffer the same fate as Nokia if they don’t continue to attract the clients.
Both are realities that many schools don’t appear to recognise or to factor into their planning. You should in readying your digital evolutionary journey.
Compounding the challenge many of the same principals and teachers appear loath to view the students and their parents as clients, seeing them simply as ‘conscripts’ obliged by law to attend the school, fortunate to have access to their professional expertise.
That belief is particularly apparent in schools at the lower school evolutionary stages (Lee and Broadie, 2016). At that stage the leadership and indeed most of the teachers are firmly of the belief that the educational experts should unilaterally control all aspects of the schooling. The students and parents should be acquiescent and accept the control given by government to the experts.
The expectation of those schools is that the students and the parents accept the established ways and will, without question attend the local school.
That might have been acceptable to students and parents in the past. It might even be acceptable in some situations today where there is no alternative to the traditional mode of schooling but it is increasingly less tenable where there are good digital schools ‘competing’ for the student custom.
The stark reality in a market driven democracy is that if parents want to get their children into the desired state school – and they are willing to play the political game – they will invariably succeed.
In 2016 the clients, the customers expect the market – and not the government – to govern their choice. Moreover they expect organisations will not only meet, but hopefully will exceed their needs and wants. As soon as another organisation is perceived to do that better they will likely take their custom to the superior provider.
The same is on trend to become increasingly a feature of schooling, with the marketplace determining the winners (Lee and Broadie, 2016…).
Forrester’s in its research on digital transformation of organisations concluded:
- The customer experience is at the heart of digital transformation. With customers in the driver’s seat of their interactions with brands, businesses must create positive and relevant customer experiences across channels and touch points. As a result, digital development and customer experience improvement are two key priorities for businesses (Forrester, 2015, p1)
The same holds true for schools.
We would urge all embarking on the digital evolutionary journey to treat your current and prospective students and parents very much as your clients. View them as clients who could take their custom elsewhere if they perceive their needs are not being meet. Follow the lead of the digital schools and indeed the digital masters in business and the public sector and focus first and foremost on the clients and recognise the increasingly tenuous hold you have on their patronage.
Putting their needs to the fore, listening to them, communicating with them through multiple channels, striving to continually improve the schooling, positioning the learner at the centre of the teaching and doing the utmost to ensure each child continually receives the appropriate schooling 24/7/365 in a rapidly world will go a long way to towards changing the focus and nature of the schooling and ensuring the school’s continued viability.
While many have advocated since the 80’s that schools should better meet their client’s needs most have not done so until they moved to a digital operational base, began lowering the school walls and recognised the considerable value of genuine collaboration with their current and prospective clients.
The challenge of identifying your client’s needs in the midst of the Digital Revolution is considerable. But the case study digital school experience strongly suggests that if the school trusts, respects and empowers its clients and works collaboratively them in their identification they will be satisfied and will work with the school in helping identify and meet the rising expectations.
That said as an educational leader within a rapidly evolving world you, like the leaders in industry will be expected to identify the client’s needs well before the clients recognise that need. The genius of a Steve Jobs was his ability to read as yet unarticulated customer needs. That will increasingly be desired of school leaders as they seek to identify the kind of attributes desired of the young twenty, thirty years hence.
That critical task is made that much easier if the school is focussed its clients and winning them for the long haul.
Forrester (2015). Digital Transformation in the Age of the Customer. Forrester for Accenture. October 2015 – https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/Accenture/Conversion-Assets/DotCom/Documents/Global/PDF/Digital_1/Accenture-Digital-Transformation-B2B-spotlight.pdf