I was brought up with the idea that the customer is always right. When I started helping out my grandparents in their shop, the customer was king. As I got older, I did some work experience and again, respected and gave the customers what they wanted. Now that I’m a teacher and I create and deliver courses to business professionals and deal with all the admin that leads up to that, I’ve begun to question whether they are always right after all. And if so, does that mean I’m wrong?
I worked in a corporate business English centre. You probably know how it worked. Basically, companies sent their staff for X number of hours as they got funding of some sort. The courses sold were business English as to get the funding and get through the red tape, they had to be.
Students did the needs analysis and diagnostic tests and they came to me so I could plan. At this point, I was told that Bob Smith had been sent for 40 hours of business English for his job as sales manager. Fine. But on his form, Bob put ‘holiday English’ and ‘to survive in Australia.’ So there I had a clash. Bob’s boss and the funding body wanted Bob to learn English for his job but Mr. Smith specifically asked for something quite different. Should I do what he wanted or his boss?
Bin the official route and do weekly lessons about tourism and holidaying. He would be happy and give me good feedback. A happy client makes a happy boss, my boss. And I’d keep my job. I would though be completely going against what he was getting money to learn and possibly against what his boss wanted him to learn so if there were any tests or post-assessment, I’d be in trouble.
There never were.
Tell Bob “no” and follow the official line. This would end up with bad student feedback but on paper, my course would look good and match the objectives from the funding body and the boss. An unhappy client would not please my boss though
Do something in the middle. Split lessons up or weave both into each one. This would help please Bob and keep the course professional and also stop him getting bored. 40 hours of holiday chit chat would easily get tiring. It would probably please Bob and maybe make him realise and enjoy some English about his job UNLESS he hated his job which does happen.
What have I done?
All 3. A happy client has always been my objective and in schools where you have no contract and your hours depend on good feedback, it is essential to make clients happy. The problem is that they don’t always know what they want or what it will be like. Yes, the idea of chatting about hotels for 40 hours may sound like a great weekly break but after 20 hours, clients might have had enough and then you’ll have the very common “so, we’ve done all that now, what would you like to do now?” Imagine a 60, 80 or 120 hour contract.
Are clients always right? No. Do they always know what they want? No. Even when they think they do, are they correct? No. This is our reality. Also that if we don’t cater to their needs fully, there is always another teacher ready to do so. For me, I try to give them what they want and need and get those “this is interesting, can we do this again” and “I never knew I was weak at that?” moments. In that way, it’s like ‘pass the parcel’ where every lesson you unwrap a layer and by the end of the course you hope to be the winner. It doesn’t work if just the client unwraps. You need to take turns.
Phil Wade is an English teacher with over 15 years of experience creating, managing and delivering specialized academic, exam preparation and Business English courses to groups of individuals. Besides teaching, he has also written classroom materials and eLearning for several publishers, companies and schools. From London, he currently resides in France.