Board Member Wallace Answers Questions About Customer Service Handbook and Secret Shopper Program

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Board Member K. Alexander Wallace (District 7) answered our questions about the new Customer Service Handbook developed by Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS). He also gave us insights into the new “secret shopper” initiative. The views expressed are Mr. Wallace’s own and do not represent those of the school system.

How was the idea for the Customer Service Handbook developed? Tell us a little bit about the philosophy behind the new handbook.

​While the Customer Service Handbook was something developed by the Maxwell administration and through the work of our PGCPS ombudsman, Dr. Edward Newsome, the topic of and discussion around bettering the interactions of all internal and external PGCPS stakeholders ​grew over time through collaborative discussions between the board of education and senior level administration.

As board members, we are often told stories of inappropriate actions, statements, or interactions of staff members, whether it be to a colleague or to a student, volunteer, or family member. Even a few board members themselves have received unsatisfactory customer service from PGCPS employees.

While these actions, statements, and interactions do not speak to the dedication of the vast majority of our nearly 20,000 employees, there is truth to the notion that “one bad apple spoils it for the whole bunch” — pun intended.

What is the timeline for training employees on the new handbook? Is there an initial area of focus (e.g. school offices, secretaries, transportation, etc)?

​The timeline for employee training and the order in which departments are trained will be decided by the administration. ​It is my hope that the training start with our support staff. While every department within the school system is extremely vital, it is a known fact that for every teacher or principal a student interacts with, there are several more support staff members (paraprofessionals, nurses, bud drivers, security assistants, registrars, cafeteria staff, building and maintenance staff, etc.) that students interact with — sometimes before they even step foot into the classroom.

Did looking at other school systems inform the development of the Customer Service Handbook? Who was involved in the creation of the handbook?

​From the briefings​ that I have been a part of, which were open to the public, the point was made very clear that not too many school systems of comparable size and demographic to PGCPS had a formal document that all stakeholders could point to and hold individuals accountable. Due to this, the handbook was formed out of a few key examples, including well known companies and organizations known for their high level of customer service: Nordstrom, Chic-fil-A, Ritz Carlton, etc.

I do not have a full listing of all who were involved in the creation of the handbook, but I do know that our ombudsman, Dr. Edward Newsome, was the lead on the formation of the handbook.

Will the handbook be available publicly?

​Absolutely. I would not be in favor of it if it were not open to the public, available both in print at every school and online for electronic access.

If PGCPS is going to set a form of accountability structures, then we need our internal and external stakeholders to know what they are, so they can hold us accountable if they are not followed.

Will there be a way for parents and community members to provide positive or negative feedback specific to customer service?

​In a way, this forum for feedback already exists through electronic communities via email. I​ have received several emails from students, parents, community members that expressed their disappointment or gratitude for the level of customer service they received from PGCPS employees. I too have emailed supervisors of employees who I believed handled difficult situations in a very professional and appropriate manner.

The board’s Committee on Family and Community Engagement, which I chair, is exploring an incentive program for employees, where they would receive a “Polished Apple” memento that would signify that they exhibited professionalism and delivered great customer service. This “Polished Apple” incentive program could possibly allow for external nominations where students, parents, or community members could nominate a PGCPS employee for the memento through submitted comments.

What can you tell us about the “secret shopper” initiative? Where did the idea come from? What do you hope to accomplish?

​The “secret shopper” initiative was another joint discussion between the board of education’s Committee on Family and Community Engagement and the administration. Through this measure, we hope to find areas of development with our employees, as well as examples of what PGCPS customer service should be.

While these drop-ins will certainly follow any negotiated agreements with our four collective bargaining units (I would not support it if it did not), we hope to gain an even better insight on what the day-to-day actions, statements, and interactions are of stakeholders.

When do you expect to begin implementation of the secret shopper program?

​Once the handbook is approved and when trainings and implementations have started, as well as proper notifications have been made to our collective bargaining units, I hope that is when secret shopper program will start.

Will secret shoppers be employed by an outside contractor?

To my knowledge, no they will not. These will be internal PGCPS staff members who may conduct call ins and/or drop ins. At our Board of Education Parent and Community Advisory Council (PCAC), several members expressed their support in having external volunteers also conduct drop ins/call ins and relay their experiences back to the proper staff overseeing the “secret shopper” program.

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