It’s one thing to know your numbers – enrollment, results on standardized tests or budgets. But having insight into what your parents, staff and even the broader community, think about your school, in a blinded, anonymous way, is a critical part of ensuring that you’re meeting the needs of all of your stakeholders as well as the educational needs of your students.
Many schools rely on anecdotal knowledge to understand how customers feel about them, but this approach has the potential to be swayed by the “loudest voice in the room” and lacks the quantifiable metrics that allows you to track over time how your school is improving or getting worse in the eyes of your customers. A consistent, yearly, school satisfaction survey also allows you to track how perceptions change and gives you a good set of metrics for how your school is doing. On-line customer satisfaction surveys are an easy-to-disseminate way to gather this information.
In creating a school satisfaction survey, you must first consider what types of information are you trying to gather. Writing out a set of research objectives is the first step and often most critical step in crafting a good survey. Do you want specific answers to questions like:
- How did parents hear about our school?
- Are they satisfied with the athletic program at the school?
Or, do you need more open-ended questions to gather more detailed information like:
- What kinds of things would make our school go from good to great?
Chances are, it’s a combination of the two, and having specific research topics identified at the beginning, will allow you to write questions that answer the specific questions that you have of your customers.
Tools like surveymonkey.com allow schools to easily conduct online surveys, but it’s also important to consider analysis and the fact that doing it yourself may not give you the most honest answers. No matter how strongly you feel that parents trust you to be unbiased, there is always the perception that critical feedback will have negative consequences towards their child. Outside firms, especially those that conduct surveys for other schools, can also provide comparative data that shows how well you are performing against other schools as well as bringing the experience in writing questions correctly.
Once you’ve established your research objectives and decided on using a professional firm or a DIY approach, it is now time to write the specific survey questions. Writing effective questions is both a science and an art. And often, customers can misinterpret your intent. It is important that you have somebody review all of your questions to ensure that they are easy to understand.
As you consider what questions to ask, make sure that you’re prepared to do something with the data. Is this just something interesting that you want to know, or will this data be actionable? Are the questions reflective of the respondent’s feelings or are we asking them to provide an opinion on how others feel? Make sure that you are only asking questions that reflect solely the respondent’s knowledge or feelings.
Next, identify certain questions that will remain constant year over year. A school satisfaction survey executed once is only reflective of that point in time. Having standard questions that are asked every year gives you a great metric to see how you are improving or not. I always recommend that a customer satisfaction survey should be executed every year.
You will often find that customers are a wealth of information if you merely give them the opportunity to speak and give their opinion. But be careful that you don’t overwhelm them with the amount of information that you are asking them to provide. Use your open ended questions sparingly. One of the best questions that you can ask is “what can we do better?” This really allows you to get at the most pressing thing that customers want to see in the school. This question can provide a wealth of information – but you need to ask.
It is important that once you have the data, that you have a plan for how to use it. I always recommend to my clients that they share the results of the school satisfaction survey with their parental base with an action plan for key issues raised in the survey. This transparency shows that you value the concerns and opinions of your customers and are actively working to make the school a better place for them and their children.
You can also utilize the results in your marketing. Being able to say that you have a 95% customer satisfaction rate is a very powerful data point that really speaks to the quality of the educational experience that you are providing to your customer.
Surveys are a great way to understand your customers and should be a well-used tool in your school marketing tool box.
Good luck and happy surveying!