Rescheduled lessons. Giving your students a makeup lesson. No call-no shows.
These are real concerns for the piano teacher.
Some teachers feel like a doormat. They don’t know how to say no.
Other teachers take the nuclear option… and absolutely forbid giving a makeup lesson.
How can we find balance between the two extremes?
In last week’s post, I revealed the “emotional game” of makeup lessons. I showed why taking a stand on makeup lessons and rescheduled lessons feels so difficult.
In today’s post I reveal my lesson rescheduling system.
This system has increased customer happiness, reduced teacher-parent conflicts, and reduced my admin and teaching time. Additionally, I will show you how to use it in your studio.
A Shocking Story from Nordstrom’s
Have you ever shopped at Nordstrom’s department store?
I have not.
However, I worked at Nordstrom in my early 20’s. I played the piano in the downtown Nordstrom in Indianapolis.
I enjoyed playing for twenty hours each week. I loved sneaking in pop songs played in cocktail or improvised pseudo-classical style.
As part of my onboarding process at Nordstrom, I had to take the full employee training. This training included the customer service training.
I found myself utterly dumbstruck at their customer service policies. The policies were extremely generous.
The trainer gave us several hypothetical scenarios.
In one scenario, sales people were instructed how to deal with customers attempting to return merchandise. What do you do if customer came in with a red wine stain on a $200 dress shirt? You take it back. Even if the customer says that they never wore it.
What do you do if a customer came in with a shirt that clearly was from another store? You take it back. Even if the customer said they bought it at Nordstrom.
We were told exactly how to speak to customers, even if they were being rude.
Now, I have a very strong sense of justice and fairness. Everything about this feels WRONG to me!
What about you?
The Power of Offering a Premium Service
What is Nordstrom thinking?
You might already be one step ahead of me here.
While I was making chump change playing the piano, business men and women were buying $1000 pairs of shoes. They came in on their lunch breaks and bought $200 dress shirts.
Nordstrom is a premium brand. Everything about their image says “class.”
The men and women at the cosmetics counter look sharp in tailored black clothing.
The salespeople wrap packages perfectly. They find complementary accessories for every outfit.
When you make a purchase, the salesperson walks around the counter to hand you your packages. It is luxury service.
According to Wiki Invest, Nordstrom made a gross profit of $5.77 billion in 2015. They did this with just 323 stores in the United States.
Their profit per store is the envy of many other retailers.
What’s the point?
Nordstrom is playing the long game. They do not care that a few cranks might try to rip them off by returning a stained shirt.
They know that over the long run, they are making a high profit margin because they are offering premium service… while charging premium prices!
Premium service = Premium prices and fantastic loyalty.
What Piano Teachers Can Learn from Nordstrom
It is so easy for any business person to think of themselves first and their customers second.
Sadly, many people in business think only of their own interests.
I have taken the Nordstrom attitude to heart when it comes to my lesson reschedule and makeup lesson policy.
When constructing a makeup lesson system, I wanted to keep my customers in mind.
For that reason, I have an unrestricted rescheduling policy. Students can reschedule for whatever reason at any time – provided I have “the night before” notice.
As you can imagine, I field a lot of requests for reschedules and makeup lessons.
How does that apply to giving a makeup lesson? Well, I wanted to make it convenient and free of hassles.
In this case, I asked myself what would best serve my customers while keeping hassles to a minimum – for both myself and the parents of my students?
A Good Problem To Have
In early 2010, my studio size increased from 50 students to 70 students.
My old rescheduling system could not handle this increased demand. I was spending hours each week trying to fit in makeup lessons. I was calling parents, emailing parents, and playing phone tag. It was a mess.
I estimate that I was spending 2-3 hours per week on the phone.
I knew that something had to change, but I didn’t want to end offering students a makeup lesson.
I sat down to brainstorm one day and came up with a simple solution. It was simple and low stress. I was actually a little upset that it took me so long to come up with it.
I will introduce it here, discuss objections, explain the impact on my studio, and then show you how to implement in your studio.
Introducing: The World’s Best Solution to the Piano Makeup Lesson Problem
I created a simple Google calendar with every lesson on my calendar.
I marked them (by default) as “0 open spots”. You can see here what the calendar looks like:
Whenever someone cancels a lesson, I mark the time as available / open.
When parents contact me for a makeup lesson, I send them my permanent link to the calendar. I instruct them to bookmark the link. This link gives all families in my studio a real time look at my schedule. I preserve everyone’s privacy by not including names on the calendar.
When parents need to reschedule a lesson, they look at available spots on the calendar. When they find a spot, they email me with their selected time.
It took me about 30 minutes to build the calendar (since I was unfamiliar with Google calendar at that time). Weekly maintenance on the calendar is less than 10 minutes all told.
I will give a detailed explanation of how to set up this calendar near the end of this post.
I will then explain the impact that my policy and scheduling system have had on my Studio. Before I do that, I want to address some objections that are commonly given to an unrestricted reschedule policy.
But! But! But! (or, Answering a Few Objections)
I begin this section by stating that – at one time or another – I exhibited most of these attitudes.
If you think I’m being unfair or singling you out, please understand that I point the finger at myself first.
What I’m saying is…. keep an open mind!
“These parents aren’t respecting my time!”
Though problematic, I won’t even comment on the “me vs them” thinking. Rather, I’d like to point out that we teachers might have a possible blind spot.
Is it perhaps fair to say that (from the parent’s perspective) you aren’t respecting their time either?
The 3PM – 6PM time is prime time for children because most children are available at that time.
This is why soccer, basketball, baseball, volleyball, swim, academic club, debate club, student government, and countless activities are scheduled at this time.
Look at it from the parent’s perspective. Those other activities schedule groups of children or teens. We teachers only have to schedule one child per spot!
Can you not understand a parent’s frustration?
I have previously written that empathy is one of the best business skills that you can have. That certainly applies in this case.
“But other activities like sports don’t offer reschedules or swaps”
That’s because of the structural impossibility of offering it.
With a little imagination, teachers can overcome that obstacle. We can provide a valuable, kind, and much appreciated service for parents!
“But this will cut into my personal time!”
I respect this. The boundary between your personal time and your working time should be sacrosanct.
However, I do have a thought… and bear with me.
In the United States, private teachers make anywhere from $30-$100 dollars per hour depending on where you live. Group teachers can even make north of the $100+ rate by employing proctors to help with a class of 4 or 6 students.
Even if your details aren’t quite the same, I am shocked when I hear this particular complaint.
I will quote one of the best blog posts that I’ve read on the topic of piano makeup lessons. This post handles far more objections than I have the space or inclination to address here:
“We work less hours than K-12 teachers and earn more per year for it, and yet we still act like victims when asked to give students time that they’ve already paid for!”
The purpose of this point isn’t to say you should give up personal time. The point is that they have paid us for the time…. we should be using our creativity and ingenuity to find a solution!
Once again, do remember that I am pointing the finger at myself.
The Benefits of a Generous Piano Makeup Lesson Policy
I will now show you what happened when I implemented the calendar in my studio.
When I implemented this new rescheduling system, I noticed that:
- My admin time dropped from 2 hours to about 10 minutes per week.
- Parents began thanking me profusely for the change
- Lesson reschedules did increase – but I never had to work outside of my “normal” hours nor did my admin time go up
- Parents seemed more grateful. Before the change, parents talked with a sense of entitlement about makeups and reschedules. After the change, parents began to apologize for rescheduling lessons. At the very least, they said thank you for the service
- Parents stopped chasing me down for scheduling the makeup lesson. I put the ball in their court.
- Parents let go of a lot of missed lessons. This one surprised me. I was no longer a convenient excuse for them not getting their makeup lesson. If they overscheduled their child, it was clear that I was not the reason they were 3 lessons behind. I put many available times on the calendar, but they were unable to attend because of their schedule.
- Parents wouldn’t wait to contact me about lesson reschedules. This also surprised me. It makes sense though. By contacting me earlier, they were getting first crack at getting a good time on the makeup calendar.
- One other benefit that took me a while to understand: I became the easiest thing for parents to schedule. No other activity or sport had such a simple solution. I earned so much good will – and parents told me. Sometimes repeatedly!
- Wasn’t sure where to put this one in, so I will include here: A swap list doesn’t help parents. It might solve YOUR rescheduling problem. But, it pushes yet one more thing onto your customer’s “to do” list. Again, we could go around and around arguing about who is to blame for overscheduling or being inflexible. I would prefer to rise above that argument and just solve the problem for everyone.
So, let’s talk about it! This solution:
- Is simple
- Reduces your work load
- Saves parents time and effort
It’s effective. It shows parents that you care about their time, their happiness, and your relationship with them.
The Calendar: The Key to Making This Policy Work
If you are ready to start reaping all the benefits of this system, then set aside 15 to 20 minutes, as I show you how to set up this very simple system.
- Go to Google Calendar.
This is pretty self-explanatory. The page should look like this.
I’m assuming you have a Google account (either for Gmail, Google+, or Gmail). If you don’t have a Google account, take 1 minute to make one.
- On the left side of the page, click My calendars and select “New Calendar”
Give your calendar a name…. and voila. Calendar Created!
So, now you have an empty calendar.
Well, we actually need to populate it with your schedule.
But, we also need to change a few settings so that other people can see it (i.e., your students).
3. Let’s start with the settings first:
This will bring you into the settings menu.
There are a number of settings that we need to change on this page. I have marked them on this handy (but long) graphic!
4. After changing those settings, there is one more settings menu we need to visit. This is the most important setting, actually. It’s what makes your calendar visible to your students!
And then select this box.
Do not worry about the ominous warning that your calendar will become public.
I am not a privacy nut, but I do take a reasonable number of privacy precautions in my business and personal life.
I have tried to find my own calendar in public Google searches. Even when I type in the exact name of the calendar, I have never been able to find it in a public search.
Why? Because no one cares.
And, even if they did, all they would see is a bunch of information that has no context. It doesn’t even include the names of the students involved. Are you still concerned? There is still a way to use this tactic.
Go down here to this part of the Calendar sharing screen:
Enter in the email addresses of all your students one by one. Only these people will be able to see your calendar. It’s a bit tedious, but you will be assured that your calendar is completely private.
5. Finally, we need to share this calendar!
Click on this tab now:
And scroll down to calendar address.
Click on HTML.
A popup box should appear with a long, ugly link.
Click the link.
Your Calendar’s unique, identifying link will pop up in a new window. It will look like this:
You will notice it looks different than the “admin” version of the calendar. This is what others will see. They will not be able to edit the calendar. That’s good!
6. Take that link and go to
Enter your link into this box and enter an alias below:
For instance, you could call your link “StudioCalendar” or some other friendly name.
You could include your studio name or the initials of your studio.
Once you’ve done that, click “Make TinyURL!” You now have a pretty version of that link!
7. Last step. This will save you a bunch of time in the future.
Create a new bookmark on your bookmarks bar and enter your new “Custom Alias” in the bookmark.
In the future, when you need to send the link to a parent, you can just go to the bookmarks bar, right click with your mouse, and hit copy.
Simply paste into your email to the parents. It’s very handy!
Introducing the Calendar to Your Studio
When you introduce something valuable to your studio, you should release it with fanfare.
Remember, most people are really inside their own world. They can’t see the perspectives of others. You actually have to show them the value that you bring to them. You have to spell it out.
No, I’m not talking about hype or sleazy self-promotional emails.
I’m just saying you should never miss an opportunity to show that your value is more than just as a music teacher. You aren’t just providing a great education. You are making mom and dad’s lives easier by offering convenient and stress-free customer service.
This is just great business. Here’s my recommendation:
- On the last day of your teaching week, send out an email explaining the change in how the makeup lesson will be rescheduled. Emphasize that things will be easier now and that you are doing this to make everyone’s lives more convenient. Also point out that it will be easier than ever to reschedule a lesson. Go into great detail.
- The first time that someone contacts you, send them this email:
To make scheduling a makeup as easy as possible, here is a link to my entire makeup schedule. There are many available makeups each week, as indicated by the terms “1 spot” or “2 spots.”
Simply look at all the available days and times and tell me which one you would like to take:
[INSERT YOUR LINK HERE]
A FEW NOTES:
* This calendar is updated frequently – if you wait to reply to this email, do check the calendar again to make sure that the spot is still available.
* If you cannot do the makeup the week that you miss the lesson, you could double up on a future week. Even scheduling lessons on back to back days is perfectly fine for the student.
Thanks! [YOUR NAME] [YOUR PHONE NUMBER]
- BONUS TIP: Are your policies too lax?
The makeup lesson policy I’m recommending here is fairly loose.
However, I do recommend one restriction. I have this restriction in place only to make the calendar system work better.
I do require people contact me the day before to reschedule a lesson.
I don’t allow makeups for “no call / no shows”.
You could use this change as an opportunity to tighten up your piano studio policy at the same time.
You could frame it in such a way that the calendar won’t work as well if you do not have adequate time to fill empty time slots. Therefore, this benefits everyone.
Of course, people are going to complain… you are taking away a benefit that you previously offered.
People might even quit. That can be a scary prospect.
My best recommendation for having a spine of steel is to be great at attracting new students. It is easier to take a firm stand if you have a predictable number of new calls each month. I gave 14 heavy-duty tactics for increasing your lessons requests in my Facebook guide.
Implementing this entire system will take less than an hour.
By using my makeup lesson system, you will decrease your stress, while increasing customer happiness.
You will increase your free time, and decrease the amount of lessons that you have to reschedule into family or personal time.
And, I think that this will even cause a few teachers to reconsider their “no reschedules” policy.
The truly great thing about this system is that it will work no matter what your policy is.
Do you do group lessons for makeups? This will work!
Do you have a swap list? You can scrap it and use this much more efficient system.
Even if you have a large music school, there are creative ways to use this system to make it work for you. Contact me if you would like to see the custom solution I’ve come up with.
Are you going to implement this system? Do you have concerns? I’ll never know if you don’t tell me! Leave a comment below and join the community.
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