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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wanted: Secret Shoppers for School District

The District is moving forward with the customer service initiative in the Strategic Plan, "Excellence for All". Like everything else the District does, this is all about accountability. As you know, accountability means having objectively measurable goals and assessing performance relative to those benchmarks. Now they need people - lots of people - to make those assessments.

They need people to act as secret shoppers to check and report compliance with the customer service protocols. It's not a big commitment - a few minutes of training, a few minutes of asking for service and a few minutes to report on your experience. Did the staff respond promptly? courteously? correctly?

If you're willing to be one of the army of hundreds of secret shoppers they need to assess the standard of customer service in the District, please contact Bernardo Ruiz at bjruiz(at)seattleschools.org.

25 comments:

Sahila said...

You are joking, aren't you?

Secret shoppers dealing with the District admin/receptionists at John Stanford, or sending in complaints and reporting back on that neanderthal, frustrating, obfuscating process, or going into schools and checking them out???????????

My-version-of-god.... I thought I had seen it all in terms of ridiculous ideas in the District and that nothing else would astonish me... I was wrong!

Time, money, energy spent on this ludicrous plan to test and hold customer service providers 'accountable' under "EXCELLENCE for ALL" and we're closing schools, reducing transportation, RIFing teachers and, and, and....

Sahila said...

They dont need to hire any secret shoppers - they already have all the feedback they could ever require...all they need do is read the transcripts of public testimony at Board meetings, read these blogs, read the formal complaints...

And, are they going to pay the super shoppers????

Who the heck have they got advising them on marketing and PR strategy????

Charlie Mas said...

There's no money involved. The only cost is the cost of staff time to manage the assessments.

Would you rather that there were no assessment and no accountability for the customer service quality?

There is nothing ridiculous about this at all. Lots and lots of businesses conduct assessments of their service quality. If the District is going to get serious about it, then they will have to conduct assessments of service quality as well.

I don't know if public testimony at Board meetings really provides data that they could work with. It's a self-selected group.

Look. People complain about the customer service standards. Now the District is trying to do something to improve them. When they ask for our help I don't see how it contributes to the solution for us to stand idle. If you aren't offering a solution or working towards one, then you're not complaining - you're whining.

Sahila said...

Oh please, Charlie - I worked in market research for half a dozen years in New Zealand... I carried out or supervised my staff doing 'secret shopper' projects... I wrote customer satisfaction survey questionnaire, I've advised my clients on using various tools to measure customer service satisfaction...

This secret shopper strategy is just not appropriate for the kind of organisation this is, and what are they measuring exactly - how pleased people are with their few minutes transaction with a receptionist?

Surely any issues around quality at that level of activity within the District are trivial... we have much bigger problems around customer satisfaction - access to and dealing with management Staff, having complaints dealt with, quality of education, decisions made without community input or contrary to community input, lack of transparency etc, etc, etc...

this is just lip service and an exercise in distraction ... you watch, they'll come back with some sort of statement lauding themselves on their TQM and community engagement efforts and how they've streamlined the front office operation to shave 2 minutes off your queuing time...

More Alice in Wonderland...

Brita said...

Bernardo Ruiz has a lot of credibility with me. He has worked hard in the schools and in the district to make the system more open and accessible, particularly for bilingual families.

Volunteer 'secret shoppers' could supplement the other sources of data about the district. Seems like an excellent idea to me.

sixwrens said...

I like this idea and am glad that SPS is trying to evaluate customer service.

Sahila, I appreciate your views but am getting a little tired of your long adversarial posts peppering this blog.

Charlie Mas said...

I have been training myself for the past several years to try to live without expectations. I don't presume that things will go well; I don't presume that they will go poorly; I don't presume any specific outcome. It's kind of a Zen thing, I guess. Living in the present, you know? My license plate holder says "I'd rather be here now."

You might question the possible benefits of living without expectations, and I will be happy to have that conversation with any of you offline.

Think of all the times that you have heard people say something like "Isn't life weird?" Actually, life is perfectly normal - it is, in fact, the very definition of normal. If life does not conform to your expectations, then it is not Life that is weird; it is your expectations that were out-of-whack. I would posit that you had faulty expectations. In fact, I would posit that it is faulty to have expectations. Better to greet events even-footed and respond to them as you find them.

It's not easy. Try it. It's really hard to not have expectations. It's as hard as looking at words without reading them. Try that sometime. Try to look at these words without reading them: See? Nearly impossible, isn't it?

I'm getting better and better at it, but it's still a challenge for me to not peek ahead to the next page in my life's story. As a result of this training I find myself hyper-aware of the expectations that other people have.

Anyway... it's too late to make a long story short, so I'll just finish by saying that I think people's expectations reflect the people themselves more than anything else on the landscape. I worry for people who expect the worst at every turn - maybe just a bit more than I worry for people who expect the best at every turn. We all need to allow for the possibility of success and we all need to allow for the possibility of failure.

LouiseM said...

Thank you for that voice of reason Charlie.

I've been reading this blog for quite some time and I too am getting tired of the negative vibe here. It has truly turned toward the worse and it's hard to get good nuggets of info out of it--although I'm sure they're there.

I hope people take your advice and not have expectations (good or bad), but just live in the moment.

Teachermom said...

Sounds like a good idea to me.

I would like to see it expanded to services extended toward staff. How are they treated when they enter/call the human resources dept., apply for a job, attend an interview? How are they treated when they ask for support/information from central offices?

In my experience (And I do have experience with both!), the district puts on a much better face when dealing with parents than when dealing with staff.

Measuring and improving the supportiveness of the district toward its staff will lead to better services for the kids of SPS. The whole point of that lovely building full of central staff is to support what happens in the school buildings every day, right?

So, while I am okay with this plan, I do have to say that Sahila's question of "Don't they have enough data about this already?" makes sense on a few levels.

Sahila said...

thanks for the feedback Carolyn...feel free and welcome not to read them...

Such a beautiful zen peace (pun intended) on the joys of being here, now, Charlie...

Now being the 21st Century, well past the need for industrial revolution-era education systems and policies and simplistic strategies to improve PR ratings... and not one single, creative idea about how to do the best we possibly can to nurture our kids into the fullness of their maturity, except to hand them over to big business for moulding...

Sorry to keep going on about it, but that is what is happening... just because you dont want to hear or acknowledge it, doesnt mean it isnt happening... and if you do acknowledge it, dont you then have to do something?

Maybe that's why many people dont like hearing this stuff... my long, adversarial, negative, pessimistic expectations stuff... back to the Germany of the 30s we go...

Robert said...

"back to the Germany of the 30s we go..."

Unbelievable. I'm done now too.

Sue said...

I think this is a great idea. Feedback is always valued.

As for this blog, I still look at it, but I have to concur with other, the constant posting by Sahila of repetitive posts that basically say the same thing over and over, is wearing. Now I believe we are veering into Nazis? Hitler?

Makes it a blog I no longer feel provides a truly engaging place for exchange of ideas and discussion.

seattle citizen said...

What we need are "secret students"!
Hire some youthful-looking twenty-somethings to "register" for classes and "attend" for a few weeks...

I'm torn: Sahila makes a good point about other issues of accountability, while Charlie argues persuasively that more data is good...

As long as the data is also being gathered and used usefully elsewhere, also, I guess I'm okay with a few spot-checks on customer service. One would think that making the comunication between the community (mainly parents, who really need eady access) and the district easier would be good...

For those who think some of us (mea culpa) descend too often into negativity, two points: Some of us have been on here, or involved in district issues, for many years. A) if it ain't broke, don't fix it: we often comment on things that might not be going so well, because those that are, are...
B) there's lots that isn't going well;
C) negative commentary serves to bring up various viewpoints;
D) Some of keep posting, often, to continue to be in the conversation (for whatever our contributions are worth)rather than lurk most of the time except to chime in that things are "so negative..."

Think someone is negative? Call BS, like Reader did on me. I'm often wrong (it's true!); call me on it. This is a conversation, not a "gee, what a great job everybody is doing" rah-rah fest.

Dorothy Neville said...

Ditto Robert and Keepin'On and Trish. The best thing about this blog has always been the sharing of information and productive ideas and viewpoints. This has been Very Useful.

Not recently. This isn't the first time Godwin's law has shown up, but Sahila does seem to be turning it into an art form.

Back on track. Charlie, I agree with a lot of your view here of expectations. How does it jibe with your firm belief that the APP curriculum promises will be held? Seems to me that you have very high expectations there.

My low expectations for the rollout of the new start/end times and bus transportation transformation is based on my experiences driving around town at different times of the day, and my observation that the transportation department doesn't seem to be accounting for the variation that will occur with shifting buses into and out of rush hours. I hope for the kids' sake I am wrong, but if I had a child involved, I would not make long term logistical planning, not until Mid October at least.

ParentofThree said...

It sure will be entertaining to watch that board meeting where MJG presents the results of the shoppers experience.

Megan Mc said...

As a recent shopper of the district's customer service, I think its a good idea to have people report in on how beneficial their experience was.

I needed some answers about how to get on-site before and after school care set up at our school. The first operator had no clue where to direct me, so she sent me to Head Start so I eventually asked to be put through to Enrollment, who didn't know either. When I called again a different operator directed me to someone in communications who did know where to direct me - the Office for Community Learning. I got a out of office reply for both of the contacts there but was followed up with on Tuesday (I sent the email on Friday).

How would I rate my experience? operators: fair, enrollment: good, communications dept: great. The operators need to be better equipped to handle questions like this. The first person I spoke to didn't even offer to ask around and eventually transferred me Head Start. The woman I spoke to in the communications department, however, was fabulous. She talked me through the website to find the department page and called ahead to the contact to see if she was in town.

Josh Hayes said...

seattle citizen sez:

What we need are "secret students"! Hire some youthful-looking twenty-somethings to "register" for classes and "attend" for a few weeks...

This sounds like some cheesy 1980's television show, but to make it more TV-like, the kids would have to be, uh...police officers? Yeah!

What - you mean, they DID that already?

I have to admit I see the value in this as well. I have, with my own ears, heard district staff tell outright falsehoods to prospective SPS parents, as I've described in other posts in the last year or so. It would be great to have a forum where such experiences could be expected to be attended to, not so that staff would get verbally beaten up, but so that they'd be appropriately informed so that they KNOW what the accurate (and helpful) answers are.

WV: We have nothing to flear but flear itself.

anonymous said...

Sahila said "This secret shopper strategy is just not appropriate for the kind of organisation"

I think this is totally appropriate as a customer service evaluation.

Have you ever called the enrollment center and got three different answers from three different people?

Have you ever called transportation to let them to know that your kids bus is late every day, and they tell you they will research it and call you back, but they never do?

These types of things happen all the time, and the district should hear about them. In fact they must hear about them if there is any hope of correcting them. And these are not the types of complaints/topics that you tent to hear about via public testimony at a school board meeting.

Robert said...

I applaud an attempt to move from varied gripes to objectively measured standards of service.

If my experiences are reflected in the data... Often you need to talk to the department head to resolve your issue.

Anyway, I have offered my time with the hope it will impart some positive change.

Charlie Mas said...

Sahila writes: "Sorry to keep going on about it, but that is what is happening... just because you dont want to hear or acknowledge it, doesnt mean it isnt happening"

I am fully aware of what is happening and I take action on what is happening.

I'm suggesting that it is unwise and uncharitable to take action on what has not yet happened. It is unwise and uncharitable to give up on people before they have had the chance to succeed. I will not presume failure and take steps predicated on that presumption.

Sometimes that's a hard thing to do. I'm not always able to contain my impatience. The APP curriculum is an excellent example. There is a significant probability that the curriculum will not, in fact, be fully implemented on the first day of school. There's nothing I can do about that now; I just have to wait and see. Either predictions or reports of failure would be pre-mature and disrespectful to the parties involved.

Shannon said...

I'm interested to hear about this initiative although slightly concerned that people are being recruited through a blog which attracts those who are perhaps not a representative sample of SPS parents.

Like Sahila, I have worked in market research for many years and have been responsible for major customer service projects. Sahila, you mention your time in Australia - I was responsible for the customer satisfaction research for the City of Brisbane for many year which included secret shoppers and surveys as well as interviews with those who had particular problems.

I think that this is an appropriate strategy as long as it is one part of a broader approach to gathering information. When you have a large sample of interactions done by people without systemic bias you can gather useful monitoring information.

It should not supplant qualitative (in depth and open ended) feedback from people through customer complaints, board meetings and sources such as this blog but those who are motivated to attend meetings are not representative of the whole community just as Sahila is not representative of this blog.

I would not expect very exciting news from the data collection but its certainly an attempt to monitor and perhaps address concerns and I welcome it as such.

I join with those who question the drama and suspicion that are being brought to many comment threads. I don't love the District but its not terribly hard to bring respect and build community in this forum.

Megan Mc said...

More follow up from my shopping of the district's services. I received another email from the second contact at the community learning department giving me information about the process in specific detail as well as relaying exactly what had been covered with the previous principal last year. She copied 5 people on the email so I am guessing that there is an increased push for supervision and accountability in the different departments.

I think the district should be using the Office of Community Learning as their poster program rather than transportation who NEVER returns an email even to the board members who forward them on on your behalf.

Sahila said...

in reference to my point predicting that,as the result of the secret shopper exercise, the District will issue some sort of self-congratulatory media release on how customer service has improved hugely/is declared by us as wonderful......see the latest press release praising the (on the verge of non-existent) WASL improvement... think its Charlie's post today (Friday 14 August)...

I guess my inability to get with the 'rah, rah' crowd stems from the fact that I like to be 'real' and deal with the big problems that really matter/impact our kids, rather than pretend everything's honky-dory in the garden of eden that is SPS...

choosing to do the 'rah, rah' lets all focus on the positive, lets the negative continue and get worse... go along to get along and let the negative slide by... if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, flaps its wings like a duck, chances are its a duck... and its duck poop that you're stepping in, no matter what spin words you want to apply to that smelly pile ruining your shoes...

Charlie Mas said...

I do not endorse being "rah rah". It is just as inappropriate to presume a positive outcome as it is to presume a negative one. The point is that it is inappropriate to presume any sort of outcome in advance. Do not be biased by expectations of either variety or any variety. Let the story unfold.

It is not often that I am accused of being a cheerleader for the District. It was oddly refreshing.

Sahila said...

Customer service and quality control:

I have been getting antsy because I know that a letter offering my son a place in other schools ought to be on its way to us (AS#1 not meeting AYP and all that) and the deadline for transferring under this option is 4pm THIS Friday...

So, I ring this afternoon the District to make sure they have the correct address...

I have in front of me the change of address form sent out in July 2008 by Bridget Changler, Director of the Office of Public Affairs, asking for confirmation/change of address... I completed it and faxed it back (with the two verification documents required) to the number on the sheet on 5 August 2008....

Apparently enrolment services didnt ever get the new address details and has been sending anything/everything (except nutritional services/FRL material) to our old address....

AND the grumpy and unhelpful enrolment services woman said the fax number on the form was incorrect, had nothing to do with them....

Apparently one part of the system doesnt talk to another part of the system... why cant changes made in one department's records be automatically carried to all other databases that contain/need the same information????

And its a safety issue for me and my son.... our old address was for a house that belonged to my son's father... there is a protection order in place and he has no right to information about our lives... this mess has given him information that reduces our safety
...
WV - addlexp... addled 'experts', perhaps?