Behind the Cube: Back-to-School Edition

Aug 28, 2019 · 7 min read

The back-to-school season brings many exciting opportunities and challenges for educators — and as technology continues to become more prevalent in the classroom, these challenges are changing. Educators must balance getting to know a new class of students and making them feel comfortable in a new space while also navigating new digital learning tools and systems.

At McGraw-Hill, our back-to-school season is largely defined by our efforts to support educators as they encounter these challenges, so they can get back to fostering relationships with their new students. For the past few weeks, we’ve been focusing our Behind the Cube employee highlight series on just a few of our team members that work particularly hard during the back-to-school season.

Today’s highlight: Marty Ditello, Senior Manager, Digital Product Support

Can you describe your role at McGraw-Hill?

I lead the Digital Technical Support (DTS) Tier 1 and Tier 2 teams for our McGraw-Hill School Group. I have the privilege of providing daily support to our front line associates. My team supports customers on the phone, chat, email and also works internally with partners in DPG, Marketing, PIC, Sales, AgileOne, CSOM, and many other key areas.

I am ultimately responsible for ensuring that our team is trained on all products, processes, and systems so that we have employees scheduled to service our customers in the most efficient manner possible. I have an amazing team that I work with that coaches our team members daily, monitors/listens to calls, responds to customer comments and works every single day to improve every interaction with McGraw-Hill customers.

My role is to ensure we have solid processes that makes it easy to receive tech support in a cost effective manner. I review reports, metrics and customer interactions to look for ways to reduce cost, improve service level and enhance employee engagement.

Over the past two years we have made a conscious effort to cross train our team with departments and teams like PIC, Sales Support, and the Hall of Justice. This allows us to build a better product and tech support agent for our customers.

Additionally, the DTS teams have been performing Business Acceptance Testing acting as the customer to ensure our customers receive a seamless back-to-school season post enhancement release.

If a customer calls 800.437.3715, emails or chats for products in K-12 or even asks a question on, they are speaking to someone in the DTS team.

What does the back-to-school season hold for you? How do you prepare?

Back-to-school for me typically starts about the middle of October for the upcoming back to school year. I am evaluating lessons learned, areas where we stumbled and overall expenses to support the previous year. Over the next several months, I meet regularly with my team, my leader Nicky Shearer and we begin building a road map to success for the following year.

I’ve heard the term Super Bowl a few times within our walls, and I use the same words in my day to day business. Staffing for my team is our Super Bowl, if I am not properly staffed and ready for back-to-school, lots of other areas of McGraw-Hill may be impacted. For most of the year during non-peak times, we reduce our seasonal staff members from the previous year and we run with a core group of experienced tech support agents. During March or April, we have finalized our road to success for staffing and it is time to prepare to onboard anywhere from 75 to 100 employees in just 12 weeks.

While that might sound easy, there’s a lot that’s involved in accomplishing those numbers. We use five different staffing suppliers to provide candidates for one of those 75–100 positions. For 2019, 453 resumes were provided by our supplier team and reviewed,148 candidates received an interview and we selected the top 91 candidates.

After selecting the 91 candidates, we wait for background, employment, and education verification checks to all be cleared and then get them schedule for training. For the 2019/2020 back-to-school season we ended up with 85 great candidates from the original 453 applications submitted, or 18.76%.

What kind of support do you offer educators during the back-to-school season?

I am in a position of leadership, so when something didn’t go as expected, issues get escalated to me.

I immediately reach out to whoever escalated the situation and let them know that we’ve received the issue, that we are starting our investigation and set expectations for when they can expect to hear back from me.

I start researching what happened, assign the ticket to the most effective person on my team. I personally follow the issue, and ensure that updates are happening regularly and that the issue is escalated if resolution hasn’t occurred in a timely manner.

Educators can expect that my team will take ownership of the issue and work to get the issue resolved with high urgency.

What are some of the challenges you face during back-to-school?

Staffing is my number one challenge for back-to-school. Getting the amount of brand new people in the door needed to support our customers, ensuring they stick around for the full length of our peak season, and getting them trained with the right amount of information to help customers quickly isn’t an easy task.

The last thing an educator wants is to be on the phone for hours, attempting to get tech support.

We’ve got to train them on the top 80% of anticipated questions and how to find information for the remaining 20% they may receive.

How has back-to-school preparation changed over the years for you?

2018/2019 was the first year Digital Technical Support was part of the peak planning process. That year, there were several major changes occurring in the McGraw-Hill Platform and the planning started a bit too late to ensure a successful back-to-school season.

However, for 2019/2020, the cross-functional planning started in January and resulted in DTS actively taking part in business acceptance testing, which ensured 1) the technical support team understood and could explain the changes 2) that the changes were acting as designed 3) that the technical writers could develop help materials for customers.

Lastly, this year a platform communication role was added to the back-to-school planning team and really helped ensure all the great work of the various teams were getting into the hands of our customers to ensure they felt informed and prepared for both the end of year and back-to-school season.

What do you think educators need the most to have a strong back-to-school season?

In our realm, educators need to be prepared before school starts. We need to make sure they have their products, books, plans, students, and classes set up and ready to go before students arrive. If something is not right, we must remember to be patient, understand they are on a timeline (typically a lunch break) and that they need us to resolve their issue on the first contact to us.

What inspires you about working in the education industry?

In addition to working for McGraw-Hill, I also serve as a School Board President for a K-12 school in Columbus, Ohio that has more than 900 students. Within that population, I have five of my own children, nieces, nephews and countless kids of my friends.

I feel passionately that we are doing amazing things for students, educators, parents and our community as a whole and I absolutely love being in the education industry. These children are our future, the more we can do for them now, the better we will all be.

Describe a time that you felt you were able to strongly impact our back-to-school work, or make a difference in one teacher’s back-to-school experience.

I believe that one of the biggest ways I impact our back-to-school work is through employee engagement. When I joined the team in late 2017 I was tasked with improving employee engagement and reducing seasonal attrition rates for DTS.

It was clear, you not only needed the right amount of staff, but you also need a staff that is going to advocate every day for our customers. We have made great strides year-over-year with employee interactions, scheduling, accountability, leadership development and engagement, recognition, incentives and our overall hiring process for back-to-school.

Each year we have reduced seasonal attrition compared to the previous year and are now operating under goal! While doing this, we have also improved our customer satisfaction (NPS) to be operating almost 10 points above goal for this year.

For resources and support to help you start the school year with confidence, visit our Back-to-School Preparedness Page.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.


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We apply the science of learning to create innovative educational solutions and content to improve outcomes from K-20 and beyond.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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