When someone walks in your store or calls to ask about music lessons, chances are they’ve already given it some thought—and are ready to take the next step. At least that’s how Carol Cook of The Music Room sees it. At The 2017 NAMM Show, Cook shared how she and her team work with potential students to get them signed up for lessons. She also discussed ideas for strengthening lesson programs. “We’re always changing and trying to make ourselves better in this arena,” Cook said.
Here are her seven steps for creating or enhancing a successful lesson program:
1. Interview the customer. Drop what you’re doing and get that customer where you can speak with them. Ask a lot of questions, and get them talking. According to Never Split the Difference author Chris Voss, listening puts you in a power position. Ask questions about what kind of music they like and so forth. Avoid rattling off prices and policies, and instead, appeal to their emotions. Also, ask for the sale. Don’t send customers out of the store without getting them signed up. They came in for a reason.
2. Schedule a personalized appointment. This works for Cook because the customer makes a time investment. When a potential student calls, schedule an appointment at his or her convenience. You’ll also get price shoppers, and you can redirect—you don’t have to answer the price question right away. Consider saying, “I would love to tell you about our program. Is it for you? Is it for your kids?”
3. Explain your program. When people come in for an appointment, you get to talk about your program and how it’s designed.
• Give the customer choices. Cook gives her customers two enrollment options: Floating or Weekly Recurring.
• Explain the main differences. If you’re a floating student and you schedule one lesson at a time, you can reschedule that lesson if you give 24-hour notice. If you’re a weekly recurring student, there are no makeups. Cook says, “If you want to have the promise of a reserved time slot, we’ll do that for you but we’re charging you for that time slot. If you want to have a little more flexibility in your schedule, then floating is the way to go.” If the customer gets to make the choice, it reduces the possibility for backlash about makeup lessons later.
• Ask for a decision. Ask, “How would you like to enroll?” before you give the customer too much information. Cook said that she doesn’t tell them about the great benefits of Weekly Recurring lessons before customers make a decision because she doesn’t want them to think she’s trying to talk them into it.
4. Establish administrative practices. Cook mentioned that offering auto pay and house accounts has been useful in optimizing cash flow and eliminating delinquent accounts.
• Auto pay. In the service industry, it’s accepted. (“We take payment for lessons automatically on a card. Which would you like to use? Or, we can also set up a bank draft if that’s better for you.”) Cook shared that she rarely gets push back. For those who resist auto pay and want to control their payments, Cook captures their cards on file, lets them pay by cash or check on their own schedule, and tells them that on the 23rd of the month their cards will automatically get charged. If they’ve already paid their balance, nothing will hit their card. Cook offered that it’s an olive branch for these customers.
• Establish customer house accounts. Cook said she tells customers, “You now have house account-charging privileges. That means that your teacher can put items, such as new lesson books or strings, on your house account, an invoice is emailed to you immediately at the time of the transaction and the purchase is settled on the last day of the month. You don’t have to worry about it.” This is especially helpful for teachers who don’t like to sell. Cook stated it’s also a great way to add on sales when necessary.
5. Explain customer benefits. Cook shared a few items from her list of benefits for Weekly Recurring students:
• Dated, weekly written assignments. Teachers give these in a dated book.
• A customized goal- and skill-based plan for every student, every six months. This shows where they are and where we want them to be.
• Incentive programs, such as referral programs, loyalty point programs, perfect attendance rebates and house accounts.
• Lessons that begin and end on time. (This is important.)
• Knowledgeable and experienced instructors.
• Performance opportunities. Parents want to be able to experience what their kids are learning, and kids want to perform. At The Music Room, teachers handle their own recitals, and Cook compensates them with a stipend.
• Family discounts.
6. Get a signed agreement. At the end of the appointment, get customers to sign an agreement. It’s important to list all the positive benefits they’re going to receive and reiterate your policies. Cook scans and gives customers the original agreement in a nice folder with her business card.
7. Follow up. This is a critical step. Call the customer and ask how it’s going. This goes a long way. It shows that you care and are invested in his or her progress. Cook employs junior staff members to handle this. Also, send ongoing communications that recognize students, and continue personalized calls every six months. Your staff can handle this, but make a few calls yourself as an owner. It makes a big difference.