English Language Stays - How to Change those 'Rainy' Expectations into 'Sunny' Reali
The student or a group of students you booked for their language stay are leaving soon and you feel nervous already hoping all goes well. You dread those unpleasant phone calls from the unhappy parents when things don't go as planned, and you freeze every time the phone goes. Complaints keep you up at night and you feel a stressful lack of support from the school or the organiser you are dealing with. Does this sound familiar to you?
Well, what if I told you that there is a way to make sure every client is happy!
"...exactly ZERO calls from the parents..."
- says our French agent
Organising language stays and English language courses abroad for individuals as well as for groups can be difficult enough, without any extra added problems. But the reality is that there are always issues, no matter how much you recommend the place or the organiser to your clients. Most often, this is a result of mismatched and undefined client expectations.
So, can you create a perfect solution for your clients? Yes, you can and here are some practical tips on how.
1. Ask as many questions about what your clients need and what they are looking for
Let's start with the most obvious. In many cases our clients do not say what their expectations are. According to our survey derived from the feedbacks of our students and leaders they rely on the Internet, friends, family and media to tell them what to expect. A defined process of putting those expectations into definite terms can solve or avoid many issues. Point out the goals of their trip during every conversation with your client, your client will feel that you took care to listen to their needs and are mindful of what they wish to achieve by their stay. Ensuring a continuous confirmation that you and your client are on the same page and working towards the same outcome will create a feeling of respect and professionalism from your client - after all purposeful communication is the sign that we listen and we understand what our clients want and need. Of course informing the organiser of these goals is a huge part of the success. This is why at St. George's we send our agents and our clients forms and checklists to make sure our understanding of your client's needs and goals is clear to us.
2. Communicate the requirements to the organiser
This is yet another obvious thing you might say. You would not believe how many times 'the most obvious' requirements cause the biggest problems by just simply not being passed onto the organiser (and before that onto the agent). I cannot tell you how many times a student arrives without any medical information being passes onto us and only upon arrival realises he or she forgot to tell us about their allergy to pets or specific food. Have you heard of a 'sod's law'? Well that is the law which guarantees that your allergic-to-animals client will end up with a host family with pets, or the one allergic to milk will have cereals with milk for breakfast and cheese in their sandwich for lunch. Filling out checklists with your clients is a great way to avoid these issues before they happen. It might seem such a normal thing to them so they do not think of mentioning it but it will cause problems during their stay abroad.
Do not assume that us, organisers, are not interested in the details, it is the details that make a difference and avoid time consuming administration.
3. Be honest about what can be offered or achieved Communicate to your client how your agency works, what steps you cover, make a realistic list of promises. Tell them what they can expect from the organiser abroad. If you are not sure find out how they work, what their procedures are. The more personal knowledge you offer to your clients about the chosen organiser the more trust they feel towards you and the product and service you are offering to them. It is as important to inform them about what is not realistic as it is to tell them what is. Use examples, case studies, your previous work and experience to show that even if problems occur (and let's face it, there is always something) they will be in good hands and can consult the organiser and the agent with trust that they will help. St. George's has a series of guides and videos available to educate our agents about who we are, what we promise and deliver, how we do things and how we handle problems and deal with solutions. We also communicate with our agents throughout the duration of their client's stay to offer an informed feedback. Speaking to our students continuously creates an environment in which they feel they can be honest with us too. It also helps us to carry out a continuous satisfaction assessment and act without unnecessary delays should issues arise.
4. Anticipate your clients needs before they happen
This one is a hard one and only comes with practice and experience but think about it, no one knows your industry better than you do. And if you are lacking in years of experience don't worry, be mindful of your efforts. You should be able to pick up on some feedback from your clients about your performance. With many years of running an English language school and English language stays under our belt we encountered many different issues and they all come with signs. It is reading these signs that allows us to anticipate issues and put measures in to avoid them or rectify them before they form into a problem.
5. Communicate, communicate and communicate some more
As we said issues always arise somewhere along the line and it is only natural when dealing with people. However, it is not delivering a problem free stay that creates a realistic goal for an agent as well as the organiser but being able to put measures in place to firstly avoid them and secondly handle them satisfactorily should they happen. There is no magic trick for this, just a simple effective communication process. Your client will quickly forget about the issues when they feel part of the feedback process and their opinion matters, when their suggestions are heard. Part of our problem solving is to record every complaint, showing them that their say is important and include them in the delivery of the solution. This creates the feeling of ownership of the problem and the solution and makes them think about what would they like to be dealing with if they were in the shoes of the organiser. It is not always easy to deliver their ideal solution, however making them part of the process can quickly make them realise that their suggested solution might not in fact be realistic and therefore suggest a more feasible option or a compromise.
6. A symbiotic relationship between agents and organisers
This is the last but certainly not the least point to be covered. It is the mutual support and trust between the agents and the organisers that helps turning customer dissatisfaction into a happy and returning customer. Combined efforts towards the same goal make students and leaders feel like they are as important as they are. After all they are here to give us purpose.
There is no magic process to make all your client's disappointments disappear, however managing your clients expectations and delivering a caring client focused customer service does. This is exactly how St. George's team create a positive experience of our students and leaders, thus delivering on average at 98% student satisfaction rate (out of nearly 5000 students every year) with a return rate of 37% and rising.
Become St. George's agent and reap the benefits of happy and returning clients too.