The Rising Digital Expectations of Clients


By Mal Lee

Business digital transformation research underscores the critical importance of organisations continually meeting and astutely building upon their clients’ digital expectations. The customer experience is at the heart of digital transformation (Forrester, 2015). The same imperative will increasingly hold with a school, and the school’s capability to continually meet and accommodate its current and prospective clients’ (present and future students and parents) rapidly evolving digital expectations.

In a digital and networked society where the young and their parents have normalised the use of digital technology to the extent that it has become virtually invisible, the expectation is that they will naturally use their current technology in every facet of their lives and work. Indeed, people are shocked when they cannot and are scornful of those enterprises that do not provide fast, ready and sophisticated online access. The increasingly sophisticated use of digital technology has become the norm and no longer differentiates between face-to-face and online experiences (Westerman et al, 2014).

The early adopter, pathfinder schools globally have long recognised this reality, have normalised the use of digital technology in every facet of their teaching and administration, are providing an integrated digital client experience and, vitally, have positioned their schools to evolve at a pace where they can continually accommodate their clients’ rising digital expectations.

Schools cannot hope to meet, let alone build upon, their clients’ rapidly evolving digital expectations (both known and unanticipated) unless they have normalised the use of digital technology, are invisibly using that technology in every teaching situation, have it underpinning every school operation and are working with a digital and socially networked mindset.

The strong indications are that, in 2016, most Australian schools are not yet in that position; they are not able to meet the current let alone rising digital expectations. In mid-2015, the author assisted with a survey of 35 state primary and high schools. Results revealed that only around 30 percent believed they had all teachers using digital technology naturally in their everyday teaching.

As stressed in previous articles, getting 100 percent of teachers to naturally use the technology – to move the school to a digital operational base – is but a step on the path readying the school for bring your own technology (BYOT) and achieving digital normalisation, the creation of a mature school ecosystem and placing the school’s use of digital technology on par with that of their clients. Indeed, the digital transformation research by the likes of Westerman et al (2014) and Solis (2015) highlights how sophisticated the digital masters are becoming in accommodating their clients’ digital expectations.

It is appreciated that a number of schools are still firmly of the view that only professional educators and government know what is best educationally and, as such, it is essential that students and parents follow the school’s and government’s dictates. These schools see no merit in addressing their clients’ needs or expectations, educational or digital. Their view is similar to that taken by a cross section of industries that have all but disappeared.

Schools and their communities can take that view, but the strong signs are that the gap between their clients’ expectations, educational and digital, and those schools will grow, with clients increasingly taking their custom to those schools that they perceive meet their rising expectations.

Clients’ Expectations

With digital normalisation, the clients in general terms, naturally and largely unwittingly, expect the school to mirror the evolving digital practices of society. There is the expectation, particularly among students and younger parents, that:

  • children will use the current digital technologies they already use 24/7/365
  • internet access and bandwidth in the school will be on par with that in the home
  • digital technology will be used naturally in all teaching and learning, from kindergarten upwards
  • students and parents can email their teachers
  • students can use their smartphone to photo board notes
  • the school website will provide all the latest information
  • the school will have an effective integrated digital communications suite, like all other organisations
  • the school’s use of digital technology will evolve, becoming increasingly sophisticated, while always readying the young to use it astutely

There is also the expectation that the school’s teaching will build upon the young’s normalised 24/7/365 use of digital technology, recognising the nature of learning and teaching they do outside of the school walls and that teachers will adjust and individualise their teaching accordingly.

Possibly largely unwittingly, they also expect the curriculum to employ and enhance current, but also rapidly evolving, technological practices and not be constrained by a dated, formal digital technology curriculum that teaches digitally aware clients the ways of the past.

There is likely to be the expectation that digital technology will be used naturally and astutely to enhance teaching of the many interpersonal, intrapersonal and cognitive skills essential to an apt holistic education.

In saying ‘possibly’ and ‘unwittingly’, the reality is that the clients’ digital expectations will continually grow and change, and will be impacted by their local school setting. Four years ago, apps were largely unheard of; today, they are an integral part of modern society. Schools that have normalised the use of digital and are striving to meet their clients’ digital needs will engender in the school itself and likely ‘competing’ local schools appreciably higher digital expectations than those found in a traditional paper-based school.

Building upon Clients’ Expectations

One of the new arts to be conquered by leaders of digital schools is the reading and continual building upon of their clients’ digital expectations. The continued viability of a school will increasingly be tied to its capability to meet its clients’ expectations (Lee, 2015).

That challenge is made more difficult by the pace and uncertain nature of the digital revolution and the school’s requirement to identify and address the current digital expectations, those of the near future and, critically, those as yet unidentified.

In identifying the attributes required by students in a digital and networked world, while schools cannot foretell the future digital tools that will be used, they can and should have an ecosystem agile enough to readily accommodate the emerging technology and changing practices.

In shaping that ecosystem, business management research, for example that by Solis (2015), points to the need for schools to:

  • view the road ahead through their clients’ (students and parents) eyes, comparing their digital expectations with those provided or planned, understanding in any school population that the digital expectations of their clients will be spread.
  • undertake that mapping through a digital and networked mindset (Bhaduri and Fischer, 2015) and most assuredly not an analogue.
  • identify the moments that will matter and resonate with current and potential clients. It is more than creating the moments of truth, even amazing moments of truth that markedly exceed the clients’ expectation, but rather having an ecosystem that continually provides clients with memorable experiences. It is more than the first encounter with the school; it is providing both the children and parents many years of magic moments. It is those moments, those happenings, that prompt the parent to share the experience on Facebook.
  • identify the current and potential out-of-touch points and practices employed by the school that might jar with clients’ digital expectations. For example, does the school still insist on using only paper communication; does it have a dated, bland or painfully slow school website, limited bandwidth, unreliable low-end computers, poor Wi-Fi coverage or a front office that does not answer the phone? Some of these things could be outside the school’s control, but all can be off-putting.
  • have an effective and efficient integrated whole-of-school digital client experience that seamlessly integrates the school’s marketing and accountability into the school’s everyday teaching and operations.

It will be the lack of school leadership, not funding, the school’s situation or the technology that prevents a school from meeting its clients’ digital expectations.


If a school is to remain viable in a digital and networked world and hopes to ‘compete’ with the digital masters, first and foremost it must normalise the whole school community use of digital technology. But equally – and for many this could be a first – the school needs to get serious about addressing the clients’ expectations and, in particular, their rising digital expectations.

Schooling globally is transitioning from its traditional paper-based mode to a digital form, catering in the process for a parent clientele that has only known the traditional school, which understands the young should be schooled for a digital world and who, like their children, will need to be ‘educated’ in the workings of a digital school.

It requires astute school leadership to provide that ‘education’, a willingness to seriously address their needs and digital expectations, and to genuinely collaborate with them in growing their understanding of 24/7/365 schooling, in teaching their children in a digital and networked world and growing ‘their’ digital school.

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Mal Lee
Mal Lee is a former director of schools, secondary college principal, technology company director and now, author and educational consultant. He has written extensively on the impact of technology and the evolution of schooling.

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