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How’s your “boilerplate” working out for you?

By Rob Pocock | Expert Insights , The Encourager

1st in a series of 8 Basic Tools for Effective Communication . . . Topic: The Boiler Plate

Remember to PATTB!*

*Pay Attention to the Basics

I enjoyed reading the posts about Jamie Volmer on the SCN homepage.  While I agree with Volmer’s conclusion (epiphany?) that we can’t run schools like a business, I would suggest there are some things school communicators can learn from business.

Summer’s a great time to refresh and renew.  So let me suggest how you can reinvigorate your communications by adopting eight basic tools widely used in business for effective communications.  Today we’ll tackle boilerplate information.

When I first visit a school, I like to ask those I meet to describe it.  I’m always amazed at the variety of answers.  And it quickly lets me know how effective the communication director is at that school.  The best schools know how to describe themselves in one consistent voice.

How would your colleagues describe your school?

Go ask three individuals right now.  I’ll wait.

Back already?  How was it?  Did you hear an accurate, holistic description from all three?  Or did the answers you heard remind you of the parable of the blind men and the elephant?

As the school’s chief communication officer, it’s your responsibility to make it easy for your colleagues to promote your school’s strengths and unique qualities.  That’s why the first basic tool you need to create or simply reinvigorate is what business communicators call a boilerplate.

A boilerplate is a succinct description of your school or district.  It’s only a few sentences long making it even the more difficult to write!  Once written, the boilerplate is used at the end of every single press release.  Think of it as being the words you would like everyone to use when asked to describe your school.  Just for fun, visit the online press room at and read the paragraph at the end of every single press release.  I’m particularly impressed by their “confidence” (some might say arrogance!?!).  In their boilerplate paragraph Apple claims to be the “best.”  To “lead” the digital revolution.  To have “reinvented” the mobile phone market.  And I’m amazed to learn that Apple is “defining the future.”  Is your school’s boilerplate as compelling?


with Professor Pocock

By Rob Pocock | Topics

4th in a series about customer service . . . Topic: Think Win Win

The two axes of win-win

When I first heard people use the term “win-win” I thought it rather meaningless.  I was pretty sure they meant, “I win, you lose” but with the sugar coating of a nice sounding buzz phrase.

It was when I started studying the writings of Stephen R. Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) that my thinking turned around.  The way Dr. Covey explained it made so much sense. But it also outlined how much hard work truly getting to win-win takes.  Because it takes people who are both courageous and considerate at the same time.

Draw box with four quadrants. The x-axis is labeled “courage.” The y-axis is labeled “consideration.” The scale goes from low to high (left to right and bottom to top).  Here’s how each quadrant is labeled:

The bottom left-hand quadrant is Lose-Lose.  That’s because the organization is low on courage. It won’t stand up for what is right for the organization so the organization loses.  And because the organization is low on consideration as well, the customer is offended or treated poorly. Yes, lose-lose.  That organization isn’t going to be around for long.

The quadrant directly above (upper left) is Lose-Win.  The organization is low on courage (so the organization loses) but the customer wins because the organization is so overly considerate.  In this quadrant, the organization simply becomes a door mat for others to walk on.  Why do you think this organization won’t stand the test of time?

The bottom, right hand quadrant is the Win-Lose quadrant.   The organization is low on consideration (so the customer loses) but the organization wins because the organization is so very courageous.  In this quadrant, the organization treats customers poorly and while it may make a profit in the short-term, that certainly won’t last long.

Getting to the upper right is the challenge

The final quadrant is in the upper right.  This is the Win-Win quadrant because the organization has had the courage to do what’s right for the organization and it has had enough consideration to do what’s right for the customer.  This is the only quadrant in which successful organizations live.

Getting to the upper right hand quadrant is hard work. Period. But it’s the only quadrant your organization can choose. Make it a habit to practice being a win-win organization starting today!

with Professor Pocock

By Rob Pocock | Topics

3rd in a series about customer service . . . Topic: Service recovery

Dropped the ball?  Here are six steps to redemption.

Even organizations that have exceptional customer experience programs in place will drop the ball on occasion. Sometimes it may not even be their fault. Still, they must accept responsibility for a failed experience created by their vendors, other business partners and yes, even Mother Nature.

Customer service is critical to developing and maintaining a competitive edge in today’s market place. The bad news is that industry statistics suggest only 50 percent of the population will even give you the chance to solve their problem. But here’s the good news:  if you solve it, those customers are more loyal than those customers who never even had a problem!

Consider the value of these six steps when handling customer complaints.

  1. Listen. There’s a reason God gave us only one mouth, but two ears. Try to make it habit to spent at least twice as much time listening as you do speaking. Listening is the first critical step because it lets the customer feel heard, feel validated. And if you don’t do that right off the bat, very little else will matter.

    Apology, fruit, and water thrilled this customer. Have you thrilled your customers lately?

  2. Repeat back what you heard. This is the key technique to empathic listening. Do this by listening as much your eyes, as with your ears.
  3. Apologize. You never need say much more than simply, “I’m sorry.”  And don’t try to give an explanation (unless asked). Trying to quickly explain what happened on the heels of a sincere apology is a great eraser. The previous words simply disappear.
  4. Show empathy. This is a natural result if the previous three steps are done correctly and sincerely. Identify the feelings the customer is exhibiting and state those feelings to validate the customer. Is she scared? Angry?  Anxious?
  5. Identify the acceptable next steps. Think win-win. That’s not a cliché, nor a glib statement.  Getting to a true “win-win” is hard work. I’ll address that in next week’s post.  I hope you’ll come back and read it. The key in this step is to identify something tangible that makes the customer agree the issue has been resolved.  But to reach a next step that is acceptable to both sides requires that both parties are satisfied.
  6. Thank the customer for bringing this to your attention. Your appreciation can be genuine because research shows that the vast majority of complaints are the results of the system, a business process that is broken. That’s why you want to genuinely thank this customer for bringing this issue to your attention because more than likely it will allow you to fix a process that otherwise would have created problems for others in the future.

Don’t keep them waiting.

Here’s a quick way summarize. When a customer calls to complain, first fix the person. Then fix the problem.  And finally, fix the system or process. Then watch the number of complaints you receive diminish.

photos by JoTagliatella & qthrul



with Professor Pocock

By Rob Pocock | Topics

2nd in a series about customer service . . . Topic: Listing customer complaints

It’s not all sweetness and light . . . what don’t they like?

Have you sat down and listed your most frequent customer complaints?  If not, do it today.  Call together a few of your seasoned colleagues, grab a fresh cup of coffee and pull out a pen and some paper.

My guess is you’ll quickly agree on the top five or six most common complaints you hear from students and their parents.  You might have another list of the most common complaints received at athletic events, concerts, or theatre productions.

The sad fact is we probably know what they are but we never take the time to prevent them from happening in the first place.  So after you make your list, I’d suggest you learn from a couple of giants in the industry and take steps to prevent complaints and manage the expectations of your customers.

Tom Peters told a story about FedEx at a conference I attended several years ago.  He said he always marveled at the fact that he could set his watch by the time the FedEx delivery person came through the front door.  One day, Tom asked the man, “How is it you can organize your day so efficiently that you run in here exactly at the same time every day?”

“Oh excuse me, Mr. Peters,” began the FedEx employee, “but you never see me run.  That’s against company policy.  Because if you see me running you might think I was late.  And FedEx is never late!”

What are you doing to manage expectations at your school?

A few years after that I was at the Disney Institute studying their customer service models and learned that Disneyworld has a vice president of parking.  Their research found that parking was the number one area for complaints.  And what was first on the list of parking complaints?  Forgetting where the car was parked in that massive lot.

After extensive research the vice president of parking learned that if they repeated four times where the guest parked, it dramatically decreased the number of complaints.  Check it out the next time you visit Disneyworld:  By the time you step out of your car until you unload at the Park’s entrance you will hear at least four times, “Remember!  You parked in Goofy Green!”

Disney took it another step in the parking lot.  All day long their team of employees scour the lot identifying cars where lights were left on, keys were still in the ignition, tires were flat and in some cases the car was locked with the engine still running!  There were enough common problems that they preprinted post-it notes (in the shape  of Mickey Mouse, of course!) that gave the car’s owner instructions on how to board the tram, go to the transportation center, get help and be on their way in less than 25 minutes.  Wow!  What proactive customer service.

There no reason you can’t create some similar magic within your organization.  It’s certainly worth doing because as we all know:  an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

photos by cyanocorax & gruntzooki


with Professor Pocock

By Rob Pocock | Topics

1st in a series about customer service . . . Topic: Developing a customer mindset

Do schools have customers?    

It may seem a strange question to ask but I’ll do so anyway:  Do you have customers at your school?  And before you answer that question yourself, I’d encourage you to walk the halls and ask a few of the teachers, custodial staff, coaches and administrators.  You might be surprised by their answers.

A large computer company shows how it digs into customer service. What would a sketch of your school district’s customer plan look like?

That’s why I’m beginning a series of posts over the upcoming weeks on handling customer complaints.  Maybe I’d be better served to promote the idea that schools need to create raving fans.  But “raving fans” would simply be code for “loyal customers.”

If you do the little exercise I recommended in the first paragraph, and if 100 percent of the responses you receive aren’t an enthusiastic “Yes!” then you know what you need to work on.  In today’s highly competitive world, customer service has become a harbinger of every successful company.  Without it, you might as well lock your doors.  Your customers have several choices on where to receive their education in today’s world.  They could be home schooled or attend a parochial school or a private academy or any one of a plethora of charter institutions.

Why should these families choose your school?

Readers of this blog will remember previous posts where several tools have been introduced to help position and promote your school.  Have you tried using any of those tools?  Which ones are working?  What challenges are you experiencing in using them?  Remember your job is analogous to running a marathon, not winning a sprint.

So the next tool to introduce is developing a customer service mindset within your building.  And the beauty of this tool is that everyone knows how he or she wants to be treated as a customer.  That’s the kind of attention they have to deliver to each of the students who sit in your classroom, each of the percussionists in your band room, each athlete on the sidelines, every parent who calls or emails any one of the school’s employees.

Consider the importance of developing a customer mindset among your colleagues.  And let’s visit next time on some specific ways to support your efforts.

Photos by dellphotos & ydubel

with Professor Pocock

By Rob Pocock | Topics

Remember what your mother taught you            

One of my assignments at Hope College is to serve as co-advisor to our chapter of Mortar Board.  Mortar Board is the premier national honor society recognizing college seniors for superior achievement in scholarship, leadership and service.

I get such a charge working with these students. They are highly motivated, unbelievably intelligent and intentional about everything they do.  Make no doubt about it:  they keep me on my toes.

You have an assignment for Day 1.  Who are you going to thank Day 2?

Each year we kick off our activities with a retreat held at the home (i.e. farm) of my co-advisor.  She and her husband are two of the most gracious hosts I’ve met and roll out the red carpet for these 35 kids each and every time.  This professor and her husband are my role models for hospitality.

So the Monday after this year’s annual retreat, I sent this email to the 35 members of Mortar Board on our campus:

Good evening.

One of the habits I started early in my career was to attempt to write a thank you to someone each morning.  That was long before the Internet was even an idea so I hand wrote them.  I still hand write them most mornings.  It’s a habit that has served me well:  it forces me to start the day on the positive note.  It makes me think about the impact people have had on my life.  If reminds me to nurture a spirit of gratitude.

All this is to suggest that I would encourage those of you who attended last Sunday’s retreat to write a thank you note to your host and hostess.  It really was an incredible afternoon and didn’t happen by itself.  If you don’t have appropriate notecards, you know what to ask for at Christmas (personalized stationary is a very nice touch).  Notecards are sold everywhere.  Some of you may decide an email is sufficient.   And while I’m confident Mortar Board’s secretary will send a note on the group’s behalf, people who are as gracious and hospitable as your advisor can’t be thanked enough.  I’ve attached their address at the bottom of this email for your convenience.

So that’s my attempt to jump-start your habit of gratitude.  You have an assignment for Day 1.  Who are you going to thank Day 2?

Mr. P

I wondered how my email would be received.  Would the advisor get any thank you notes?  Well at the chapter meeting a couple of nights later, I was heartened that the group’s secretary passed around a wonderfully creative thank you card that she hand made for our host and hostess.  That was a great start.

Then before the meeting started, the young man seated next to me, an engineering major, leaned over and said, “Thanks for that great email on thank you notes.”  I was encouraged!  I guess I had broken through to at least one of the students.  “Oh, you liked it?” I said with a little more pride in my voice that I deserved.  “Yeah,” he replied.  I sent it to my fiance and told her she ought to start doing this!”

I guess we never know whose life we’re going to touch.  But even if it’s not who we expected, we can still give thanks.

 photos by tnarik & mandiberg

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