Well, I learned a very interesting idea from the Ritz-Carlton's book of customer care via Guy Kawasaki's Alltop.com (original article at Forbes magazine). Simon F. Cooper, president of the hotel company, explains how they exceed the expectations of their guests:
- "We entrust every single Ritz-Carlton staff member, without approval from their general manager, to spend up to $2,000 on a guest. And that's not per year. It's per incident."
Although I read the article last month, I was reminded of the 'learning from big business' theme by some recent blog posts and tweets by Johannes Ahrenfelt who was asking what can educators learn from industry in terms of presentation techniques and content design. Customer care is another area where there is much to learn, and one of paramount importance in EFL schools.
While it seems obvious that the quality of the teaching is the most important factor in delivering student satisfaction, most of the (valid) complaints I have heard at the schools where I have worked have focused on accommodation and welfare issues. Students spend the majority of their time outside the school and usually expect the school to help them with all manner of extra-curricular needs - bus routes, child care, golf lessons, bank cards that got chewed up in ATMs, boxes that got stuck in customs, etc. Planning services to meet such unpredictable needs is far from easy and it is very hard to explain something is outside the remit of your service provision when, very often, they don't understand what you are saying!
Enhancing the quality of the overall student experience has become a vogue topic with UK colleges and universities with the mantra popping up everywhere on home pages, policy statements, research articles and conference abstracts. Over the last few years, Will Archer's igraduate reports have provided FE institutions with regular student feedback on their academic and social life which has helped them focus on what the students are really concerned with. The most recent report put the difficulty experienced opening a UK bank account and the lack of decent broadband access at the top of university students' troubles - with little or no mention of academic issues. In my experience, EFL schools have similar issues.
But what can the small EFL school with a small budget do to improve something as vague and all-encompassing as the overall student experience? Well, following the model of the Ritz-Carlton would be a good start: set aside a student welfare fund. I know no EFL school is going to authorise front line staff to spend anything like $2000 per student but the budget available to spend over a year could be based on how much was spent (or should have been spent) fixing all the student welfare problems in the previous year. And not just the obvious student problems but agent problems, host complaints, accommodation provider mixups, taxi driver mishaps, and the like. Then throw in some extra for a few birthday cards, a present for the birth of a student's child, the cost for an emergency lock change if someone loses their keys, etc., and you're nearly there.
You're guaranteed to get good feedback and students will spread happy stories back home to their friends and family. I am sure the staff too will feel a lovely warm glow being able to help not just those who complain but those who actually deserve a helping hand or special gift. Trusting them to make the right decisions will make them feel empowered too.
Is that barking mad or does it make perfect sense?