While June is a natural break in the school year, it seems inevitable that we will be saying goodbye to some students as they leave the studio … even during the regular academic year. Sometimes, it’s due to a move away from the area. Other times, priorities or financial situations have changed & lessons are no longer an option. And, other times … well, perhaps we are breathing a sigh of relief after a tough year with a particular family. (Though hopefully this last one is a rare occurrence.)
Regardless of the job I have had, I have always done my best to leave on a positive, professional note. The truth is, we never know where a referral may come from or an opportunity for our studio may open up. So, how can we ensure that clients leave our studio with good thoughts? Instead of risking a rotating door of clients?
The bittersweet move
One year, I had to say goodbye to an amazing family after only 4 months. But, the dad got his dream job in a different province & sadly goodbyes were going to happen. Sometimes families leave because of outside circumstances & there isn’t anything to change that fact.
Ideas for when it’s a sad goodbye:
‘Day of Celebration’ for their last lesson:
A mini-recital, going over the skills the students have learnt, & bragging on the progress of each student will leave parents glad they chose you!
Whether you teach in person or online, getting away from the piano to do activities your student LOVES makes this celebration even more sweet!
A personalized card:
Thank them for being a part of your studio & once again brag on the students’ accomplishments. It isn’t often we get handwritten cards these days so it makes it a little extra special. Plus, a card is much easier to pack than a gift … having more to pack may be not quite as welcome. I tend to give the card at the end of our last lesson. That way there is no risk of it not arriving before the move.
Even if you teach online, I would still recommend sending a physical card if at all possible. To avoid the card not arriving, ask if they will have their mail forwarded since you’ll be sending something special.
Offer to ask others for recommendations of other teachers in the new area:
Remember that they are sad about leaving you too & are worried about finding a teacher that fits their family as well as you. Even if you are unfamiliar with the area, social media has a wide reach. Ask on Facebook groups you are a part of or contact other teachers close to the area they are moving.
Send an email shortly after the move:
For the family above, I sent an email welcoming them to their new home & wishing them all the best. They appreciate a message from “home” as they made the transition to their new life.
Why go to all this trouble?
If you teach only in person, why go to all this effort for a family that is leaving not just your studio, but your area?
Moving works both ways. They left, but there will be other families moving to your area as well. Perhaps they meet. Or, more likely, while you were saying goodbye to the student & their family they talked about your studio to friends in the area. And, those friends mention you in conversation to others.
Priorities or finances change
They like you. They like lessons with you. But, for whatever reason things have changed & lessons are discontinued. It isn’t anything personal … it’s making the decision that works for their family.
Several years ago, I had a family that chose not to continue lessons after the year. The student was happy in lessons, the parents were happy with me … but, they all LOVED hockey. So much so, that they pulled their daughter from school in order for her to play a hockey game with her team mid-week in a city almost 2 hours outside of Calgary. Her parents realized that she couldn’t really commit to piano the way they wanted (she was often exhausted for our lessons) & it was time to say goodbye.
Why tell you about this family? Because they have referred other families to me several times in the years since they stopped taking lessons. We ended things on a good note & they remember that.
What if it is finances that change? Perhaps there has been a divorce or a parent has lost a job. In these situations, I think we need to show a high degree of understanding. Yes, we are losing income, but they are having a huge change in their everyday family life.
Ideas when priorities or finances change:
“Day of Celebration”:
You’ll notice this is one of my favourites. Again, let’s end on a positive … & takes the opportunity to praise the musical growth our students have had!
Another option is to plan a student led conference with your student so they can really wow their parent.
Handwritten card with a parting gift:
Focus on the positives & how much you have enjoyed teaching them.
Invite them back to the studio:
Remind them that once their situation changes or improves, they are more than welcome to give you a call to re-register.
Invite them to call/email anytime:
Remember that you have been a constant in their life & have provided a positive influence in the student’s life. Having that cut off can be sad for the child. Knowing they can contact you, helps with the transition.
Be more than “just another teacher”
I typically will send a message 1 – 2 months later just to see how things are going. There is no mention of coming back to the studio since this isn’t about getting a re-enrolment at that point. It’s about keeping a healthy relationship going.
When families feel they are more than just a pay cheque to you, they are more likely to recommend your studio to others. And, hopefully, if their situation changes they also come back to your studio.
The (mutual) break-up
Perhaps the break-up is mutual & perhaps it isn’t.
When you have had a rough year with a family, it can be oh-so-tempting to just let the door hit them on the way out. This is the worst possible way to handle this situation. A change in perspective is needed.
I think this is the most difficult situation in which we are saying goodbye to students. There could be feelings of hurt &/or frustration on both sides. A sense of relief that the weekly time together is coming to a close.
But, this is also the client that is MOST likely to give you a bad review online or speak negatively about your studio to others. So, let’s mitigate that to the best of our abilities.
Ideas for the mutual good-bye:
Handwritten card with a parting gift:
If you are feeling hurt, it can be especially difficult to find nice things to say. Think of positives that you have had over the course of teaching the family. Chances are that it wasn’t always bad (though it may seem like it). The goal here is for both you AND the client to focus on when things were better.
If you teach online, it could be tempting to just send an email. Your emails have probably dropped in importance so there’s a good chance it just goes into the inbox vortex. Instead, send a physical card. It’s a wonderful surprise & doesn’t require an answer which takes all the pressure of them.
Ask for feedback:
Yes. I know that this may feel like torture & that the answers you may get are not based on a reality you are willing to live in. (i.e. travel 80 min. for a 30 min. lesson & have makeup lessons at student home … um, no.) But, we ALL want to be heard … especially when we are upset. This may be all it takes to head off that negative review.
My wording: “I always strive to improve not only my teaching, but how the studio is run. What are some positives that you think have worked well? Are there areas that you feel need improvement?”
Notice that I start with the positives to frame their thinking before moving into the negatives.
Regardless of whether you teach in-person or online, I would do this via email. After having just said your emails won’t be as important this may seem odd. But, I’ve dealt with enough angry parents to choose that degree of separation where we can both think about our words before committing to them.
Let parents know to expect an email from you with a couple of exit questions to help you improve for future clients. If they want to vent right then & there, here’s your script:
“I am sorry, but I have another commitment right now. I’ll be sending you an email by [give deadline] so you can share those. That way I can give your feedback the consideration it deserves. Thank you for your willingness to help me improve.”
Remember the goal is for them to get those thoughts & feelings out. That doesn’t mean you need to change your policies if the ideas or feedback is unreasonable. Give it due consideration & see if it fits the goals & approach of your studio.
Say thank you for the time together:
Regardless of how things ended, they chose you to teach them. There was something about you that got them excited about this new venture. And, I’m guessing there was something about them that made you say yes to them joining your studio.
Our actions in this situation are to mitigate the negative emotions & remind all parties (the parent, student & you) that there WAS good in your time together. You are going your separate ways, but can still respect each other as you are saying goodbye to students & their parents.
Keeping clients long-term
There are times when we can avoid saying goodbye to students & their families. Click below to find out how to ensure your clients stay with your year after year!
Saying goodbye is never easy
While I really don’t like saying goodbye to students, it has gotten easier over the years. My priority is to ensure that any client who leaves the studio feels heard & valued.
With thoughtful ideas of how to make every client feel special, we can keep those referrals coming in for years to come!
How do you say goodbye to clients when the time comes? What image do you want to leave with those clients as they head out of your studio?
NOTE: This article was originally published on February 8, 2019. It has since been updated with ideas for both in-person & online teachers.