Customer centricity is often associated with steps that companies in the private sector can take to build closer relationships with their customers and to deliver products, services, and experiences that are designed with the customer in mind. But customer centricity doesn't just apply to the business world. As a Peppers & Rogers Group white paper points out, a growing number of governments, associations, and non-profits around the world are adopting best practices from the business community and designing citizen-centric offerings and experiences for its constituents. I was reminded last night about the amount of progress still needed on this front.I attended a school board meeting in the community where I live in New York. Like many communities across the U.S., our school board has been struggling to address increasing budget gaps caused by drastic reductions in state and federal aid. Two years ago, the board made an unpopular but fiscally responsible decision to close one of the four elementary schools serving our town.
The decision was based, in part, on declining enrollment projections and an opportunity to save the school system a few million dollars per year in operating costs. While the decision to close one of the elementary schools ultimately wouldn't sit well with the people whose children were being affected, ultimately it was the school board's seemingly covert approach to the process that rankled many taxpayers. Many residents felt that the school board was making most of its decisions behind closed doors and did little to include the community in the process, much less listen and respond to its input. The process around deciding the fate of the elementary school was hardly transparent and many residents continue to view the board's actions with jaded eyes.
The board continues to look for ways to cut spending. On Friday, the board notified the athletic director for the high school that they are considering making the position a part-time role and that the board intended to vote on the measure last night. Word quickly spread of the board's ostensibly surreptitious plans via email and social media. By the time the meeting got underway Monday night, hundreds of irate citizens packed the cafeteria of a local school, pleading passionately with the board not to make such a hasty decision. The board include some brief wording about the AD position on its agenda prior to the meeting but there was no information about the AD's salary, the size of his benefits package, or the anticipated cost savings expected by changing the role to a part-time position.
About 20 residents spoke at the meeting in opposition of any move to make the AD position part time. The school district is one of the largest in the state, by enrollment, and there are simply too many athletic teams, schedules, and activities for an AD to effectively coordinate on a part-time basis, several residents argued. As it stands, the current AD works at least 60 hours a week. Residents raised other points about the potential financial impact that such a move could bring about, as a weakened athletic program could prompt some residents to send their children to private schools in the area. Meanwhile, prospective home buyers may see a destabilized athletic department as a factor in their decision whether to purchase in the community, potentially undermining the tax base.
More than anything, residents strongly defended the existing AD and his character, pointing to his passionate commitment to education, the community, and the needs of the students and how difficult it would be to replace someone of his caliber.
In the end, the board decided to table the matter. Two of the board members said they wanted to do more research before reaching a decision. On the surface, it would appear that the board listened to and responded to its customers, the taxpayers of the school district, who have charged them with making the right decisions on behalf of the students and the community. Let's hope that customer centricity wins out and that the voice of the customer is carefully considered in the board's final decision.