A Tattoo-Worthy Studio Experience

The phone call will forever be cemented in my mind. A parent from my music school called and she was angry with her child’s teacher and wanted to quit lessons at our school.

I spent half an hour on the phone with the parent, calmed her down, and promised to switch her child to another teacher in the studio that might be a better fit.

I did what I could to salvage the relationship, but I also learned an important lesson: managing student/teacher and parent/teacher relationships in a music school would be much different than when I was teaching solo.

The Studio Experience

I had always found it relatively easy to develop a strong student loyalty when I was teaching one-on-one from my living room. Most of the students were referrals so they knew other kids in the studio and I could chat with their parents almost every week. Many parents sat in on lessons, at least occasionally, and observed firsthand that I really cared about their kids. I was involved in every aspect of their experience with my studio.

But when I added other teachers to the mix, it was a different story. I would take the initial calls and set up lessons, but then students got matched with teachers other than me.  Sometimes I wouldn’t even meet them or their parents in person until a concert. My interactions with studio families made up only a small part of their overall studio experience.

The other teachers also certainly cared about the students, too, but there was something about the professionalism of a music school that made the relationship between the studio and the studio families just a little different.

I would need to get a lot smarter about monitoring this experience if I wanted to keep a happy, loyal following of students who would stay with our school for years and years.

Stages of Studio Experience Awareness

I came across this thought-provoking article by Ettore Pastore, a consultant to large financial institutions. In the article, he describes the different stages of a company’s awareness about their customer’s experience and urges managers to take a more proactive approach to managing this experience.

Although Pastore’s article is aimed at huge financial institutions, he shared a table that got me thinking about what we, as music teachers and studio owners, can do to improve our customer experience. Pastore developed the framework below and I translated his table into music teacher speak:

Stage of Awareness/
Course of Action
Studio Activities
Studio Logic
Student Perception
  • Respond to complaints
  • Offer discounts to keep students around
“We can’t afford to lose any students!” “I called to quit, but they convinced me to stay.”
  • Identify potential quitters
  • Intervene by offering new music or bribes
“I think this student is about to quit. How can we keep him around? “I was thinking of quitting, but my teacher gave me some new, fun music.”
  • Identify reasons for quitting
  • Solve negative events
  • Do nothing wrong
“Make sure students do not have any negative experiences.” “I have no reason to quit.”
  • Promise a unique experience
  • Adapt lessons to deliver the promise
  • Do something exceptionally well
“’Wow’ our students so they become loyal advocates.” “You should meet my music teacher!”

A Shift in Thinking

In the scenario I described with the angry studio parent, I was definitely operating from the “React” category.

I don’t think I’ve ever tried so hard to keep a student from quitting. It was worth it, though, because I knew the circumstances surrounding this family’s experience were a result of unfortunate timing and not the norm for our school.

I feared her customer experience was bad enough that letting them go could be damaging to our reputation and I wanted to have a chance to show them what we were really like. I put much more effort into monitoring that student’s experience in the future.

Overnight, I shifted to a “Preventative” mindset.  Instead of waiting for problems to arise and reacting to them, I tried to come up with ways to make sure that problems didn’t arise in the first place.  Fewer negative events means fewer students who want to quit, or parents who want to withdraw their children from the studio.

What Pastore’s article urges managers to do, though, is to go a step beyond that. To “Differentiate” the business. Instead of just satisfying students’ and parents’ expectations, we can strive to “WOW” them so they become raving fans of our studios. The kind of fans who, as Pastore describes, would tattoo your logo on their bodies because they feel that level of loyalty.

OK, so convincing all your students to get tattoos might be an unrealistic goal, but does this get you thinking? How can you make a student’s experience in your studio so incredibly unique and special that they can’t imagine going anywhere else (or letting their friends go anywhere else!) for music lessons? Can you make them at least loyal enough to show their love with temporary tattoos at the pool this summer?

How is the customer experience in your studio?

What would it look like if you adopted a Differentiation mindset?


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