A Commercial Approach to Promoting Educational Technology

I do believe there is a lot we can learn from the commercial world when it comes to promoting the use of educational technology in schools. In this article I draw on the example of how one company's approach to getting repeat business may hold lessons for the ICT leader.

The company in question is one called Viking Direct, a huge office supplies company in the UK. We tend to buy quite a bit of our stationery from there because (a) it's usually cheaper than other places and (b) you can often get same day or next day delivery.

We recently received a catalogue from them which had this printed -- not merely stuck on -- the front cover:

"Mr T Freedman

On 3 February 2008 you ordered a pack of folders at £7.49 per pack. We have a special private sale price for you! Just £6.29 per pack. Just quote reference number ..."

Now think about that for a moment. What has Viking actually done?

  • They have kept a record of what I bought and when, and at what price.
  • They have printed an individual catalogue for me, obviously through the magic of mail-merge.
  • They have used their knowledge of me to try and tempt me back.

So imagine a message like this in a colleague's inbox:

"Dear Joanne

On 3 February 2008 you took a group of Y9 pupils into the computer room, where they used KoolFX to help design posters. We've now upgraded to KoolFX 2.0, which has 30 more wizards and is even easier to use. If you'd like to bring your class in again, just click here to go straight to the online room-booking system."

If you think such a thing might work, the mail-merge bit is pretty easy. The hard part would be collecting the information in the first place, because if you ask some people to give you too much detail when they want to book the use of a computer room, you may just put them off bothering. I would suggest doing one of the following:

  • Have a very simple electronic booking system, where very few questions are asked, and most of the answers or even all of them can be answered with drop-down menus. The information you need is teacher's name, age or year of group, the software to be used, the purpose of the session, and the date.
  • Install network monitoring software that will capture much of the information required automatically.
  • At a pinch, ask for the information and enter it into a spreadsheet, say, yourself.

You may also need to "sell" the idea, otherwise it can seem very Big Brother-ish. There are two good reasons to monitor how the system is being used:

  • To ensure that the software you purchase is actually the software that teachers want to use.
  • To ensure that the system is being used cost-effectively, ie that you haven't wasted lots of money on resources that people don't use.

I know both of those reasons sound the same, and in fact they are alternate sides of the same coin. But there is a subtle change of emphasis. In the first case, the issue is, to get commercial again, customer satisfaction. In the second, it is about best value.

The example given here is quite simple: you are asking for what is known in the business world as a "repeat order". Repeat business is a very good thing to have, as any business person will tell you. A key thing to bear in mind is that if you set your sights on repeat business, you have to invest time and effort into the customer's very first experience of using your services.

Otherwise it could well be their last.

This is a slightly amended version of an article first published on 14 May 2008.