To Make Up or Not to Make Up, That is the Question…

What to do about the parents who insist we should make up lessons anyway, even though our clearly stated policies, which they agreed to at the beginning, say otherwise?

There has been a lot of discussion about this lately. Some teachers give these parents an article (complete with an awful grammatical mistake which isn’t going to help our credibility) on how it’s unreasonable economically to expect teachers to make up lost lessons. This is fine if you’re talking to economists and business people. Or is it really?

What you don’t hear about is why it’s a good idea to make up lost lessons whenever possible. So while I recognize the myriad reasons why we should stick to our guns, er, the terms and conditions we pass out to our clients or put on our websites, I’m going to play the devil’s advocate and argue the other side.

There are lots of reasons I can cite why you should do everything in your power to make-up lost lessons, but the most important one is:

It makes good business sense.

Yes, we are running a business. We are selling a service, which by definition is something intangible and usually completely unnecessary to a human being’s survival. We all need food, basic clothing, a roof over our heads, and transportation. No one needs violin lessons to survive, no matter how indispensable we teachers know music and culture are to humanity. Therefore we are selling a luxury item and might want to remind ourselves that parents go to a good deal of sacrifice of time and money to provide this luxury for their children.

Also, we aren’t just any old service. We are selling a service from us. We are the commodity that we are selling – not the lessons. We have to make ourselves as attractive as possible, by our competence, our warmth, our humanity and yes, our compassion. We become a sort of part of the family and may remain that way for ten years or so. We may be the most important and influential teacher that our students will ever have, due to the length and intensity of our one-on-one relationship with them. Certainly we have to maintain a professional relationship with them but our relationship is completely different from that of a normal school teacher, doctor, lawyer, orthodontist, or school sports coach.

Now, you may ask yourself, what do unnecessary service/luxury businesses need to survive? Simple. What any good car or insurance salesman needs: good will on your part toward the customer. And trust on both sides.

Ever heard the phrase: the customer is always right? I am certainly not suggesting we go that far, but a modicum of this philosophy would not be such a bad idea for us to adopt, instead of the apparent need to protect ourselves from our clients. Remember, in the final analysis, the customers really are always right in that they can decide to do without our lessons and leave, which is rarely a pleasant experience for anyone and can be devastating for the students involved.

So what is the solution offered on the various internet fora discussing this problem? The overwhelmingly most frequent one I see is, “Get rid of the family.” Good riddance, you might say, but consider the following:

  1. Where is the compassion? Is anyone considering the poor student who has no fault in the matter?
  2. Isn’t it just a little egocentric to assume that parents are intending to treat you with disrespect (although I will admit that a very good case can be made for this on occasion). Instead this almost always isn’t about you – it’s all about them. They worry, just as we do in other areas of our lives, about getting value for the money they are investing. If they act out, it’s most probably due to other larger problems in their lives. Try to find out what’s going on instead of reacting. And give them time to get over what’s really bothering them.
  3. If you adamantly refuse to make up lessons, sticking rigidly your terms and conditions, realize that you are violating the first rule of good business practice: working with the client to get the desired result instead of dictating what you will and won’t do. This doesn’t mean that I don’t bristle when parents inform me how much they’re going to pay me because they missed lessons. I certainly do, but I tell them I will do everything I can to make up the lessons and in any case, we will all decide on this together and this defuses the situation. I have made it clear I will not be dictated to, but that I am open to reasonable discussion, which is all they really wanted anyway. Most of these people are driven by fear of something or someone. If you can allay this fear, you may find a pretty tractable person on the other end.
  4. Students missing lessons is not good for them, ergo it isn’t good for you either. The less you see of them, the less they practice. How likely are you to keep a student you don’t see enough?
  5. Is it possible that we are all such shrinking violets that we can’t handle a difficult parent? Can we not take one step aside and see what is really going on in the lives of these people instead of assuming they are acting out against us?
  6. On a more practical side, are any of us sure we are always going to have that long waiting list if we lose or send away students? Times are changing!
  7. Are you sure that a disgruntled parent that you sent away isn’t going to bad-mouth you? What positive effect on your business can that possibly have, no matter how much that parent is in the wrong? Rest assured, he or she won’t present you as the wronged party when talking to others.

I have found that parents I have dealt with are mollified not by my waving terms and conditions in their faces or sending them some awful article about how we teachers need time for soul nourishing walks in the park. They calm right down when I tell them that I am happy to make up the lesson as soon as I am able; that as soon as someone else cancels, I will notify them right away. If the time isn’t convenient for whatever reason, we can do it on the internet (which for some reason they almost always refuse). The lesson may or may not be made up (and often isn’t), but they know I am sincere and care about them. Sometimes I will make up a lesson I shouldn’t anyway, especially for long time customers who have always paid on time and rarely missed a lesson. It’s called public relations and customer care which is a smart practice if you want to keep the good will of your clients.

Also, it makes good sense from a health standpoint. If a parent has a choice between missing a lesson they know on principle you won’t make up, or bringing a mildly ill child to that lesson, guess which one they’ll pick? What I don’t want is parents bringing children with runny noses to lessons because they’re afraid they will lose that lesson otherwise. And as I’m getting older, this is ever a more serious consideration.

Going the extra 10 yards every now and then for a valued client isn’t going to destroy my health and it may make all the difference in the world to them, helps keep good will, shows them I care about their child, and that I’m in this business for a lot more than the money. That’s what you would want from anyone in a service profession, even from a car salesman. This gets you repeat business and referrals as well as a lot of personal and job satisfaction.

Rigidity is our enemy. I don’t make up every lesson, but I try and this is much appreciated. And no, no one is taking advantage of me. I want to keep my studio open and have found that this is the best way to do it for me. It has been decades that I have been operating with only spoken policies and I’m still here, physically and mentally intact, to talk about it. And yes, I raised a family, too – mostly alone.

We are in a service sector and the most important factor in our service is our humanity: our willingness to occasionally break our own rules and give a little extra service and understanding when our clients are having a difficult time in their personal and/or financial lives and having some compassion.

Throwing rules and regulations at people may help us in the short term but an extra lesson here and there is not going to kill us and it may go a long way to saving our students, saving and growing our studios and our reputations.

Everyone wants that teacher who is occasionally willing to go that extra mile. If you think of it, most of us probably had one or two teachers like that ourselves.

Post author: Eloise Hellyer

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30 April 2020

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