Studio owners, it's that time again! Another new season is approaching and before we head back into the studio it's time to give some thought about the precedence you'd like to establish as you start fresh and move forward. As we all know, year after year, return clientele is the way to keep your business thriving and a recognizable staple in your community. However, there is a fine line between keeping your customers satisfied with the quality training you are providing their child and succumbing to parents who might think they have carte blanche when it comes to questioning protocol you have put into place.
So, how do you handle the unruly parent who thinks they know best? Well the first thing to accept is that you will come across this at least once in your studio career so be prepared for it (and if it's only once, then you are one lucky studio owner.) The second thing to keep in mind is that this kind of behavior or unsolicited advice is coming from a parental place of wanting the best for their child and so you do need to cut them some slack. Everyone wants the best for their children, especially when it comes to education. With that said, the way you set the tone and follow-through are going to be the key indicators of impressing upon them what they can get away with and what you will stand your ground with. Here are some scenarios and things to think about so that everyone is on the same page with the same well intended mission for the dancer's training in the new season!
- The disgruntled parent : This is a general scenario which can be triggered by an infinite number of things. My advice is to make the parent feel as though their feelings and concerns are of the upmost importance to you. Reassure them you'd like to discuss the situation and schedule a private meeting in a timely manner. The quicker you address it the quicker you will be able to diffuse the problem. There is always a way to let them be heard and hold your ground in the end. Most of the time it is a matter of miscommunication, which can be talked out. But, if it's not, there is always a diplomatic way to politely say, "this is the way it is, and this is what we believe is best for your child at this point in time."
- The parent who wants to observe classes: First off, while some owners feel it is necessary to allow parents to watch class on a regular basis, I don't agree; regardless of the age or level. Class time in the studio is meant to be a focused environment without distraction. For the younger ones, seeing their parent can trigger all sorts of emotions ranging from crying outbursts to just not being present in the class. For older ones, it can be more of a sense of self-consciousness; in terms of constantly checking back to look for parent approval vs. focusing on class content and the teacher. Make it known right at enrollment, that this is not permitted. Some parents, however, feel they are entitled to this privilege if they are paying tuition. Consequently some directors feel it necessary to have monitors for parents to watch outside and some have windows with blinds so the teacher can decipher when it's an appropriate time to let people view. Others opt to set two, parent visitation days a year where they can come and watch a full class to see what their dancer has been working on. Each option is viable and should be determined based on your clientele.
- The parent who wants a feature or solo for their child: This is a very interesting scenario and needs to be dealt with delicately. We all know, every parent thinks their child is a star. As well they should. But not everyone is ready for the feature or a solo. A parent who has a child that has been coming to you for a number of years may get to the point where they feel others are surpassing their child, there is favoritism, or they are simply just not getting the recognition they deserve. Again, a private meeting is in order (perhaps with the child present or calling them in with the parent at the end of the meeting.) Explaining to parents your guidelines for offering such privileges and the way in which you determine such is important. Everything should be decided upon the basis of the particular child's point of training. Otherwise, the child is being set up for failure before they are ready. Reminding parents that you and your faculty are the experts in determining this (which is why they brought their child to your studio in the first place) is crucial. Having them trust you with the scope of their child's progress is key. At the end of the day, we can all find a place to highlight each child in a particular piece, especially if they are disciplined, hard workers and have made strides in their progress. This should be a reward, not a given. However the truth of the matter is not every dancer is meant to have a feature or a solo and if a parent and student are merely looking for instant gratification, then perhaps your studio is not a good fit for them. While we never want to lose business, sometimes it is best to let them seek that kind of enabling and placating elsewhere. Otherwise you will start to get a reputation for letting parents like this bulldoze and start to run your business.
- The gossiping parent: Parents that have an issue (or just naturally like to complain about something) and don't communicate with you directly and quickly can brew some negative energy which needs to be nipped in the bud before it spreads like wildfire. Without fail, all the other parents suddenly know about it before you can finish your first demi plie at the barre. There are also parents who will go the route of cornering your teachers to try and get information out of them, complain to get what they want, etc. The worst part is that this will eventually trickle down to the students and run like rapid fire there as well. The repercussions of this can cause animosity among students and parents, an unhealthy form of competitiveness among the dancers and just a whole lot of anarchy amongst the ranks. This can make your life very difficult. Most importantly ruin the team spirit and unison you have been building. Again, my suggestion is to IMMEDIATELY get to the bottom of this. There are always eyes and ears around the studio to let you know when something is up; whether it is other parents not partaking in this who report back, your teachers, your front desk staff, etc. This is the time when you can initiate a meeting and set them straight and call them out on it, all still with a smile and charm. Let it be known that you are keenly up on everything said and done within your business and ask how you can make them feel better about their issues. Chances are they will back peddle and realize their own negative behavior!
The bottom line is, your business is YOUR child and you need to nurture it and know what is best for it the way any parent would. Be diplomatic, flexible, accommodating, responsive and understanding; but never lose sight of what you know is best for your studio and ultimately the success of your students! Stay true to that and you'll have return students and happy parents for years to come who respect you and your practices!