Before we provide any specific advice, we should explain why not being owners of a language school we embark on advising them. In our opinion we are entitled to do owing to by experiences we have collected within 3 years since the moment we first implemented LangLion platform. Since that time we have met owners of several dozen schools both in their natural environment, i.e. in schools, and outside schools, during various meetings and conferences. This has helped us see a full cross-section of language schools: both in small towns and large cities, in small, almost family schools, as well as large and networked ones. This has given us the necessary knowledge to create new quality among systems used in language school management. As a side effect we have also gained the knowledge about effective management and development of language schools, which we would like to share with you at our blog.
With this article, we want to launch an entire series dedicated to management, development and promotion of language schools. It is our primary motivation to have in our portfolio the best language schools in Europe, on the creation of which we want to have genuine impact, also through this blog.
1. Improvement of the image
Improvement of the school’s image is the simplest issue, but at the same time one requiring the greatest consistency. The simplest because improvement can be achieved offhand; requiring the greatest consistency, because effects of the introduced changes can be perceived only in long-term and attention must be attached to such changes virtually each day. Our image consists of many various factors and even the tiny details can have extremely detrimental impact on perceptions of a given school by its customers.
We must make sure that there are no scratched walls, broken chairs or torn posters on the walls of our school. Those are trivial matters we can become accustomed to and stop noticing them on daily basis, but an outsider being in a given place for the first time will see those little things immediately and they are bound to shape the first impressions, which matter most! Let us think what a pleasant experience it will be for customers if there is something they can sit on in the hall/waiting room before they deal with the matter they came for, and can drink water on hot days. In such cases, even if they have to wait before we deal with them, they will be more understanding. It is truly beneficial to take care of the details.
The employees of the school are of no trivial importance for shaping up the image. This concerns both the course instructors and secretariat staff. Both new and the existing customers will appreciate a smiling and helpful lady in the secretariat. Competences alone will not suffice if they are not supported with a friendly attitude. We surely do not want the course attendees to feel like in an office of state administration? We should make sure that from the very entrance the students feel good and we should make our school the place they want to come back to. Even if purely official, personal human relations are extremely important.
Another frequently forgotten issue, but at the same time one of the most important ones, is the website of the school. Presently customers who come to us (even referred customers) will not neglect to check the school’s website and make the final decision based on that. The website creates the first impression about the school and it should be top priority for us to make it reflect the spirit of our school. Unfortunately, in most cases websites of language schools leave much to be desired. From appearance, being out-of-place in present times, through colour code, which is often tiresome for sight and obscures the main content, non-ergonomic navigation, which irritates the user unable to reach in a straightforward manner the desired piece of information, to slow operation of the server on which the website of hosted – all those elements are detrimental for the image.
Let us not refer the visitors of our site to other sources. If potential customers reached our website, it is our goal to keep their attention and encourage them to sign up for the course. They will not be helped much in making such decisions if the website instructs them to go to the secretariat for details, or informs them that additional details can be found in a leaflet. Let us channel their attention directly into decision to on sign up for the course – we can offer online registration and completion of the qualifying test at home. Such students will be already involved in the school life to the extent making it more difficult for them to choose a rival school.
Many websites inform about modern teaching methods, while the websites themselves look like that were made 10 years ago. Let us be coherent and consistent in all aspects of our actions. This is coherence and consistency that builds our image, and eventually the brand of the school. Let us entrust the design and implementation of our website to professionals. If in a given moment we cannot afford building a new website, it is worthwhile requesting consultation and – if we have CMS system – modify the site on our own.
2. Building genuine relations with the future and current customers
Doesn’t it happen sometimes that we forget about our students the moment they sign the contract only to remember about them again when it’s time to extend the contract? Let us think about our customers every day. We should be always able to offer something extra. For a start, it is worthwhile collecting e-mail addresses of the students. This will enable mailing to them a regular newsletter about what is currently going on at school, additional classes or teaching materials. During the course, it is worthwhile taking care of surprises, such as additional activities in less formal atmosphere, not associated directly with learning, e.g. let us organize joint watching of new films or listening to music in the language a given group is learning. This is an excellent method of learning and a way to tighten the relations. We can go one step further and make the students become familiar not only with the language but also the culture of the countries where a given language is spoken and e.g. organise a small tasting event of the food from a given country (in this case the proverb “the way to one’s heart is through the stomach” works extremely well:-)). Positive emotions and associations are central in the aforementioned examples. Emotions help build strong bonds between students and the school.
Let us open our school to outsiders. It turns out that organisation of open days is very effective. As an example, during summer holidays we can organize e.g. a day of Italian language, when course instructors – for free- teach basic phrases useful during holiday trips or talk about the culture of the country. This is particularly effective in smaller communities (within a city district or town). After such event it turns out that many of the invited people return to our school after holidays to become regular students.
3. Transferring the weight of management onto the “product”, not onto the administration
In the rush of current events, we frequently forget about the true mission and goal of our activities as a language school. We spend hours on administrative matters, instead of focusing on development of the offer of the school, analysis of the content of the classes, improvement of the quality of teaching or search for new methods of reaching customers. If we focus on the latter, we can develop and create a permanent advantage over rivals.
Reduction of administration to absolute minimum with the use of such tools as LangLion platform yields quick returns.
4. Introduction of innovation
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Introduction of innovation does not necessarily need to be revolutionary. It is worthwhile starting with search for small facilitations, which may result in a complete change in the perception of our school by the students. An excellent example is afforded by a school that started with a change of the grading system into a pictorial one and ended in coming up with an extensive motivation system, resulting in students’ involvement which is unbeatable in its region.
5. Using new marketing opportunities
Internet brings – unparalleled until recently – opportunities as concern reaching new customers. Most school owners are aware of that but very few know how to use those tools effectively. Usually the undertaken actions are limited to launching of a website, purchasing of the positioning and advertising service in Google search engine (i.e. adWords). This is far inadequate. We should measure the effects of our activities, starting from study of the effectiveness of each channel, through modification of particular elements of our website or advertising, to measurement of the so-called conversion, i.e. how many customers a given channel or altered element brings to us. For a start, it suffices to connect our website to Google Analytics. The collected statistics, even from just a few days, will definitely bring many interesting conclusions (it is worthwhile checking which subpages are most frequently visited or on which pages the user stops watching our school’s website). An excellent example is afforded by the online campaign of Barack Obama, where owing to measurements of own actions and drawing conclusions therefrom, his election staff was able to obtain additional USD 60 million for the campaign. More detailed info on the topic can be found at the following link: http://blog.optimizely.com/2010/11/29/how-obama-raised-60-million-by-running-a-simple-experiment/. We do not have to do that with the same precision. It suffices to try various options of communication with our recipients and check what one is effective.
A fanpage at Facebook is a well highly element of online marketing, actively used by language schools. Owing to less formal nature of that medium, this is an excellent method to build relations and reach new customers. But let us not be misled by this less formal form of contact. Administrators of fanpages forget that this type of communication must be managed professionally. We can obviously be much more relaxed at Facebook but we should forget funny films or kitten photos etc. Our post must be always somehow related to the activity we pursue (and this concerns also any post with funny undertones).
A fanpage is frequently used by customers to file complaints or express dissatisfaction. We should on no account engage ourselves in any polemics, explanations, or fights on the public forum and we should try to move the communication outside our fanpage as fast as possible.
6. Non-price competition
Previous proposals were related to things do to, but the last one will be about the thing NOT to do, if we want to develop an advantage over rivals. Discounting the prices is a dead-end solution, particularly in the case of language courses. This is a product where customers think of quality first, with price coming only second. Let us not try to be the cheapest ones. Let us offer the greatest value for a given price instead. Such approach will let us shape prices in long-term without looking particularly back at rivals. Additionally we know examples of very good schools, where reduction of prices resulted in outflow of customers. Students concluded that is the school is the cheapest one, it must also offer the poorest quality.
We are aware that the situations described in this article were covered quite superficially, but in further posts we will try to go deeper into the presented topics and provoke a discussion with you. This article was meant to sow the seeds and inspire you to make changes for the better. Please bear in mind that most of our proposals do not require any huge outlays – and remember that regardless of the business outlook, there is never bad time to change for the better. We also encourage you to express your opinions in the comments. What are your methods to develop a competitive advantage?