How do you know which changes you will make for the next academic year?  More importantly, do you know how your clients will react to them?  While teaching piano is a pretty stable career choice, this time of year can be a little stressful in figuring out who will re-enroll & who will be moving on.  Especially if you are a “don’t count your eggs before they are in the basket” type of person like me.  While it’s always worked out in the end, I’ve realized that you never really know exactly who will stay & who will go.  Or, what if there IS something you can do to help your crystal ball be just that little bit more accurate? 

Checking in with the Masses

This tends to be the research part of my year.  With registration just around the corner, I need to know what rates I will be charging, how that effects my working hours (& childcare requirements), new programming to put in place for the fall, & what changes to the contract I will be adding.  Some of these details I collect over the course of the year & make a final choice at this point.  However, there is one important piece of this puzzle that is the focus of this post.  The client survey.

Why conduct annual surveys?

While we do our best to listen to client concerns & address them throughout the year, there can be concerns that fall through the cracks.

  • What if the client doesn’t share their concerns?  (More common when there is a “never question the teacher” viewpoint.)
  • The client feels that the matter hasn’t been fully addressed, even though YOU may have thought everything was solved.
  • The client doesn’t have the words to describe their concerns.

True, this is the more negative side of the responses.  More often than not, the responses I get are positive & filled with encouragement.  While they are nice for the ego, more importantly these responses let me know what I should NOT change.  I like to experiment with new ideas in the studio, but if something is working well … it would behove me to listen to my clients & keep that going.

Surveys also provide important insight into how my clients are feeling right before re-enrollment.  Do I need to spend some time with a parent or student working through a frustration?  Or, will I be thanking a parent for talking about their positive experiences in the studio with other people?

While I have attempted to allow clients to fill out surveys anonymously, ironically there is usually a name on the page.  Rather than fight it, I look at it as an opportunity & a sign that my clients are willing to talk.  For yourself, you will need to decide if your clients will open up more if it is anonymous or if the survey will just be a way of expressing what they were willing to share anyways.

There is another important reason to conduct annual surveys, but more on that later.

What do I ask?

This will differ from studio to studio & reflect the information YOU find most valuable.  For myself, the topics I include are:

  • Student motivation to:
    • Learn new things & feel confident in their abilities
    • Practice with & without prompting
      • Great indicator if parents are feeling burnt out & may drop lessons.
  • Presentation of material:
    • too quickly, too slowly, about the right speed
  • How often students play for fun?
    • Great indicator of whether they are enjoying piano.
  • Practice tasks: too many, too little, about the right amount
  • What types of activities or tasks were most beneficial?
    • Parents tend to write the ones their kids raved about.
  • Student musical growth:
    • How easy was it to understand & how useful was the information given to parents?
  • Considering individual learner needs & styles
  • Where do parents look for information?
    • If your studio website or social media is not on their list, this is a clear indicator that it needs a refresher to make it more accessible.
  • What information did parents find the MOST useful?
    • Whatever that is … Keep adding it to the newsletter & social media!
  • How often in the past year did they discuss the studio (or you as a teacher) with others?
    • Not at all … there is a big issue that needs to be solved or they may not be re-enrolling.
    • Often … I thank the client big time for sharing!
  • Parent & student suggestions for improvement
  • Parent & student description of their experience in the studio.

Now, this is a lot of information to ask for.  And, people do NOT want to spend a lot of time filling out a survey.  (Think back on the last time you told a market researcher it was a bad time to answer the questions.  For me, it was just last night.)

My best advice is to make it simple. 

  • An online survey can be filled out anywhere whereas a printed copy is a bit more time consuming.  Or, at least that’s the way it seems.
  • Use a scale that is specific to the question.  (i.e. highly motivated, somewhat motivated, not very motivated, not motivated at all).  I also add a short description after certain questions so that answers all use the same idea of what each scale degree looks like.  I am a little biased against numerical scales since I get frustrated in trying to figure out each scale number on surveys.  But, that could be because I am more of a words kind of girl.  Use what works best for you.
  • Keep it short.  Have someone you know go through the survey on their own.  Can it be completed in approximately 5 minutes, 10 minutes maximum?  Is there confusion about any of the questions?

Introducing upcoming changes

We all like to feel that we have control over our lives.  Parents & students are no different.  When I am planning on introducing a change to our studio that will have an impact on my clients, I give them some say.

One year,  I needed to raise my tuition rates by $10/month OR I could recoup the cost by introducing a $100 books fee.  Either way, I made the same annual amount.  The parents had no issues with the larger than usual tuition increase because they knew exactly where it was going.  It also meant that parents were able to budget for the increased monthly fee before they made the choice to re-enroll.  No one was put on the spot.

For next year, I plan on implementing a points system with badges (our current awards) & bonus missions (creative projects, etc).  I am also planning on taking a page from Lila Viss’ blog & simplifying my studio incentives with gift cards.  Gift cards will save me loads of time & energy getting prizes to students.  But, I know that without student buy-in the new system won’t be as successful.  So, here is where I will ask for student input.  I give them a list & they choose some information (i.e. types of gift cards, activities & behaviours they find most beneficial/interesting).  The points system will focus on the skill sets I want & the rewards systems will be simplified, but the students will get a say in some of the details.  We both win.

How do you check in with the masses?

What method(s) do you use to check in with your clients?  If you use annual surveys, what types of information do you find most beneficial to your planning?

Have a great weekend!

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