Is the Independent School Parent Your Customer?

About ten years ago, during my tenure as head of school, a parent said to me, “I hope you don’t mind that I am complaining. After all, when I’m unhappy at my dry cleaners, I speak up.” At the time, this sent me into quiet paroxysms. Did she really think that paying tuition was like buying a dry-cleaning service?  Did she not see the responsibility for a child’s well being and the pastoral role the school embraces as more a relationship than a purchase?

At the same time, my Board was nudging me to do a parent satisfaction survey. I resisted. Wouldn’t that further the growing consumer mentality I was working to keep at bay?

A decade later, and no longer in that role, I’ve begun to see these questions in a different light. Parent surveys are now common. Much is written about the value of collecting and leveraging data, particularly where our Gen X constituents are concerned. And we know that word-of-mouth marketing is our most powerful enrollment tool.

Several consulting firms now offer data collection and interpretation services to independent schools. The Independent Schools Association of the Central States offers a constituent survey through Bob Dicus of Marketing Research Technologies and Chris Everett of The Kensington Group and is showcasing the work of another firm, Measuring Success, at its upcoming Heads of School Conference.

ultimate queston

Fred Reichheld’s development of the Net Promoter System is a particularly interesting approach to gauging customer satisfaction. I’d give it high marks for its simplicity, a tone that does not promote a sense of consumer-oriented entitlement, and clear emphasis on behavior. Originally implemented in the for-profit sector, NPS is growing in its application to nonprofits including independent schools guided by Reichheld’s firm, Bain & Co.

Applying the NPS to parents in the school setting, the questions are:

  • On a scale of 0-10 (10 high), how likely are you to recommend School X?
  • Why did you give School X that rating?

Arnie Zar-Kessler, Head of School at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston, explored the use of the NPS in Jewish day schools in a presentation at the RAVSAK/PARDES Jewish Day School Leadership Conference on January 19: Forget the Marketing, Dump the Branding — It’s All About Loyalty Now: An NPS Primer for JDS’s.

Steve Hinds, Headmaster at Meadowbrook School (MA), and his colleague Lisa Lebovitz will be joined by Melissa Artabane of Bain & Co. at the NAIS Annual Conference on February 28 in the presentation of The Ultimate Question: Does Your School Ask It?, an overview of their use of NPS for an annual parent survey and related administrative goal setting.

Reichheld’s book (with Rob Markey), The Ultimate Question 2.0: How Net Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer Driven World (Harvard Business Press Books, 2011), is worth a look.
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