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Inspired Ideas

Behind the Cube: Back-to-School Edition

If you’ve been keeping up with our Behind the Cube series, then you may have noticed that our last few editions have been all about the back-to-school season. We’ve been highlighting just a few of our team members who are especially involved in the back-to-school work that happens at McGraw-Hill, from customer success to digital product support to technical writing. Today, we’re continuing that focus by sitting down with a back-to-school expert.

I lead the Integration & Pilot Support teams within our McGraw-Hill School Group (PreK-12).

The Integration Support team offers direct assistance to our Integrated customers (primarily their admins) to ensure the Integration between their systems and ours are fully functional. We do this by training admins on how to use their integrated systems, troubleshooting unexpected problems that arise, suggesting best practices for districts to manage their rostering and content, reviewing error logs proactively to help resolve issues before the districts even notice them, and answering questions as needed. Most of this work is done via phone support and email.

My Pilot team’s primary responsibility is rostering any new pilots that the wonderful folks within the Sales team wish to setup. We receive the initial pilot request, ensure that licensing is in place (if not we help the Sales Rep. get what they need), gather all the necessary district/school data and roster the pilots according to their needs. As there are multiple types of Pilots, we also provide a guidance role by making suggestions based on district specific needs. Once all that is done, we test the pilot classes before sending out Welcome Letters to the teachers involved in the pilot. Along the way the team also serves as a source of information to anybody within McGraw-Hill who has a question regarding Pilots.

Additionally, my team also serves as an escalation point whenever there is a need for urgent assistance beyond the normal. Given my team’s unique blend of backgrounds and knowledge (DTS Tier 1, DTS Tier 2, CSOM, Engrade, DPG Hall of Justice, PIC) we are able to work to get issues resolved by partnering with various groups across the company.

Finally, we also work with other departments to cross-train during the non-peak season and are proud to take part in BAT as well as UAT testing for new products/platforms.

Ultimately, my role is to ensure my teams are fully trained, supported, and equipped to act as customer advocates in their areas of expertise (and beyond). I do this in part by reviewing various metric reports, looking for cost savings and efficiency gains while maintaining top-notch support, working directly with Sales and districts to address urgent needs, and providing feedback and coaching to guide individual skillsets for career mapping.

Preparing for back-to-school is a year long process for me. The teams I manage were put together just last year (April of 2018) in order to fill the growing needs of our increased integrated customer base. As a result, we are still learning the best way to service these customers while also preparing the team members for what comes their way.

Immediately after our peak ended last year, I put together multiple projects that were lead by members of my Integration Specialists in order to evaluate what we learned and what we can do better. The results of those various committees were much more focused and interactive training for future representatives, extensive documentation of how various integrations functions and the tools available to diagnose potential issues, new practices that let us keep integrations working smoothly even before a customer notices a problem, and a ton of other tweaks to what we can do. My team has been fantastic at finding a potential problem and figuring out solutions.

This year, while we have a full year under our belt and have many of our basis covered, there are still plenty of areas I’ll be reviewing with my team, and with related teams (Customer Success, DTS Tier 1 & 2, ALEKS, DPG, etc.) to find even more ways to get better. One thing we found to be very successful going into back-to-school was building more direct customer relationships by hand-picking districts that would benefit from an End-of-Year preparation/training call in the April-June time frame. Next year we will be servicing more than 1,800 integrated districts, so while we can’t do this for them all, the selection process of who would benefit the most will be the topic of several upcoming cross-departmental discussions.

There is also the matter of staffing for the back-to-school season. My team is comprised of 6 Integration Specialists who service the Integration Support needs throughout the entire year. During the back-to-school season, that number expands to more than 20. We prepare for this by working very closely with the DTS Tier 1 team. We train a number of the experienced representatives from Marty Ditello’s team during our non-peak months and for the months leading up to back-to-school feed them tickets that they work alongside Integration Specialist in order to build up their practical skill set (beyond the theoretical knowledge they learn in training). We also utilize this team of Hybrid Integration/Product Support representatives to review error logs during non-peak season so they can pinpoint and learn to troubleshoot errors in a proactive (rather than reactive based on a call/email) way. This gives them the knowledge to support our customers full-time during back-to-school.

I work closely with the Sales team and the Customer Success teams to provide leadership support when they have districts that need special attention. This can come in various forms such as an escalation they are receiving, a customer who is needing additional training regarding their administrative functions of the integration, advice on an upcoming pilot, or planning for their next school year’s rostering needs.

My help comes from putting the right problem solver (typically one of my Specialists) in direct contact with the district to work through the issue right away. Once the issue at hand is resolved and all are satisfied with the results, I begin to work on ways to make improvements to potentially prevent similar concerns in the future.

With an integrated customer, most of what can go wrong happens when the school year begins. After the initial rostering and integration is done at the beginning of the year, there are typically small scale and individual issues that arise as the year progresses. As such, the nature of back-to-school for us is troubleshooting the plethora of things that can happen when putting the new school year’s integrated systems online when they return from summer break.

What this truly means is that we have ~70% of our Integrated districts all going live with their new roster within 3 weeks of each other and a bulk of the issues they will see all year happen at this time. This is not only a matter of numbers, it is complexity. During the bulk of the year, most of the issues my team troubleshoots are at the individual or school level. However, during the back-to-school season, not only are we getting a vast amount of issue to work through, those issues are typically at the district level and are dealing with potentially complex integration concerns.

As I mentioned previously, both my Pilot team and Integration team are newly formed as of April of 2018. The preparation last year (2018) was all about learning how things work together, working closely with the Customer Success team, and learning how to function as a group.

In preparation for 2019 we have focused on how to refine our processes, building better relationships with Sales and the districts directly, and learning from what we saw in 2018 and early 2019. We also worked closely with the DTS teams in order to develop best practices for how to prepare future hybrid associates.

In the Integrated world, the educators biggest need is to be able to log in on day 1 with their roster, classes, and accesses fully functional. If something is awry, they need to feel confident that their admins have the tools and access to McGraw-Hill personnel to get things online ASAP so they can focus on educating their students.

As a father of two (7-year-old and 9-year-old) I am proud to play a small part in giving children like mine the opportunity to expand their minds.

I’ve seen first-hand in my own children a light shine in their eyes when they finally figure out something that has been eluding them, or when they win a reading-based game in their education software.

I’ve devoted a large portion of my adult life to educating in some form or another and I’ve always felt there is no more noble of a profession.

Working for a company that devotes itself with such passion to spreading knowledge and improving the world of education fills me with a real sense of pride.

I believe my biggest contribution to making a difference in a teacher’s back-to-school experience has been in the development of these new teams. Given that these were brand new teams made up of representatives with a vast array of backgrounds I wanted to find a way to bring such a talented group of individuals together to form a solid and unified team. It was through the efforts of each team member that we were able to turn a group of talented individuals into a team able to make a real difference in the lives of the admins and educators we all support.

I could list several individual calls with districts, onsite visits, and pilot process creations that have allowed educators to better utilize our services since joining in April of 2018. However, in the end, I’m most proud of the impact that the team as a whole has had on our customers.

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



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