Rachel GermanFor center owner Rachel German (Murrysville, PA), strong customer satisfaction has been key to her business’ success. “I treat my business like a five-star steakhouse,” she tells us. “We have a premium product, so we have to provide excellent customer service. These parents are paying you good money for their child’s success, and we have to follow through on that.” In the second installment of this series, we’ll cover Rachel’s customer service best practices from multiple angles, outlining her secrets to keeping parents and students happy and invested in their experience at Mathnasium.

Keeping Students Smiling

Murrysville StorefrontRachel cares deeply about her students and their wellbeing. As such, she does what she can to help them feel at ease from the get-go. “You have to engage the kids right away,” she says. “From that initial assessment, when I sit down with the child one-on-one, I’ll say, ‘You tell me what’s going on.’ Ultimately, it’s the student who’s going to come in and do the work, so I want to hear about his experience with math in his own words, not just rely on what mom told me.”

To forge that special connection with students, “you have to get to know them,” Rachel continues. “Know what interests them. Those first few minutes before their session starts—use this time to connect with them. It can’t just be all about math. It’s also about their new puppy, or what they’re doing for spring break. I know all my students fairly well, and I do my best to create a big family atmosphere here. [For example] a lot of our kids play sports. So I’ll talk to them every time they come in. ‘Hey, how was your ball game last night?’ ‘Did you just come from soccer practice?’ It just makes them feel welcome.

“At the end of the session, we do encourage them to play a game,” she adds. “Does it always happen? Of course not. But we still believe that they need to do something fun and have some time to interact with other children. We have students who don’t have other kids to play with at home. They know at the end of their session they get to play with kids here, and that makes them feel good.

“Another thing that we do is celebrate their successes,” Rachel tells us. “If someone gets an A or a B on their test and they were getting Cs and Ds, we’ll give them extra punches on their punch cards. We might even say it out loud and congratulate them. And when parents come to pick them up, I’ll say something like, ‘Did you know he got a 95 on his test?’ We make a big deal out of it.” Rachel keeps her rewards cabinet fully stocked with items that really appeal to her students, including $10 gift cards to a variety of stores for her older students (though she finds that these kids are generally more self motivated).

Assigning the Right Materials to Meet Students’ Academic Needs

From there, Rachel and her staff make it a priority to stay on top of what their students have going on at school, taking these factors into consideration when making minor adjustments/additions to the learning plan. “We’re always asking the kids about their schoolwork. ‘When’s your next test?’ ‘What do you need to do to prepare?’ We’ll supplement what’s going on at school with Mathnasium material. If they have a test coming up on fractions, we’ll pull our own fraction material. The kids love that. They know you care, and you’ll take the time to put together some material for them so they can prepare for their upcoming test. It gives these students more self-confidence—they’re more convinced that they’re going to do well the next day once they’ve worked on Mathnasium material the night before. And, after a test, we encourage students to bring in their work so we can go over it with them.”

Providing students with the right materials at the right time is absolutely critical. As such, “Our whole team is very involved in ensuring students are working at a level appropriate for them,” Rachel tells us. “It’s our job to get to know every child and customize the learning plan specifically for them. I communicate this regularly to my Instructors. So if we have a fourth grader in here and we recognize that the multiplication prescriptive in there is too hard, we’ll make a little note on a post-it and place it at the front of the binder. Then we clip a magnet to the top of the binder so we know to address it the following day.”

Hiring the Right People

Murrysville Teacher and StudentOf course, it doesn’t hurt to have the right people on staff: bright, talented, and upbeat people who love math and truly have a heart for kids. Rachel looks for people who can teach all levels of math. “And I mean all levels,” she tells us. “I will not hire anyone who cannot do high school level math. I have way too many high school students who need help with geometry, honors geometry, honors trig, and calculus.”

For Rachel, the trial session is the most revealing element of the hiring process. “After the phone interview and doing some research on [a candidate] online, I’ll bring them in for a three-hour shift. I want to see how [potential hires] do on the floor. And boy, does that tell you a lot! [Doing well on the math literacy test and acing the formal interview]… all of that doesn’t mean beans if you can’t teach, and if you don’t have a rapport with the kids.”

On occasion, the day after a potential Instructor’s trial teaching run, “the kids will say things like ‘Hey, Ms. Rachel, are you going to hire that guy?’ I’ll ask them why, and they’ll tell me if they like [the candidate] or not. And you know what? They’ll usually express some of the same feelings I have. I have so many kids who have been here from the beginning… they feel like we’re a family, so they’re very concerned about who’s coming in, and whether the new person will fit in with the rest of us,” Rachel explains.

To appeal to the wide range of students that come through Mathnasium of Murrysville’s doors, Rachel keeps a variety of personalities on staff. “I’m more of the outgoing type, and we have a person who is fairly soft-spoken as well. Another Instructor makes jokes all the time,” she tells us. Overall, she sets high standards and proudly reports that she has “the best team ever right now!

“Admittedly [having high standards has] caused me stress in the last few months as I was looking to find my next qualified Instructor, but that’s ok,” Rachel adds. “You have to be picky. You just have to. It’s your business. That’s why I only hire the best.”

Accountability and Parent Communication

Rachel is 100% accountable for her students’ progress and she makes sure parents are aware of this through continuous updates. Parents receive quality written communication from Rachel, starting with an email covering the initial assessment and the learning plan to supplement the face-to-face conversation she has with both parent and student regarding these results. “Three weeks after that, we’ll send a progress update, just to solidify that the program’s working and their child is improving. After that, we send a written progress report out roughly every two months.”

Overall, “I constantly interact with parents when they come into the center,” Rachel says. “If we have a parent here picking up their child, I’ll almost always go up to them at the end of the child’s session to tell them what’s going on. Every time they come through, I’ll tell them something. Whether it’s good or bad, the parent needs to know! That makes them believe in me and in the product that I’m offering.

“I think being honest from the beginning is key, ” she continues. “I’ve made my mistakes. One child in particular… I assessed him at the wrong level and the material we gave him was way too easy. So I fixed it, and then I told the parent the truth: ‘I think he doesn’t like coming because the material is too easy. I’ve taken a look at his learning plan and addressed the issue.’” While parents definitely appreciate and are receptive to the written updates, Rachel reports that it’s these one-on-one, face-to-face interactions with parents that have truly solidified the great relationships she has with her customers.

As a Result…

Murrysville int 2Because of Rachel’s staunch commitment to providing a quality Mathnasium product and experience, she began benefiting from referral business almost immediately after opening. “I had my first referral about a month after we opened—and this customer still continues to refer people,” she says. “She’s brought four kids in here already. And she tells me all the time, ‘I talked to so-and-so and they’re going to be signing up.’ A couple of these referrals didn’t show up, but the point is, she’s talking to people. She’s at the soccer field and at restaurants telling people how great we are and what a great job we’re doing with the kids.”

Parents aren’t the only ones raving about Mathnasium. Rachel’s students are talking too—the high school kids in particular. High school students of all ability levels flock to Mathnasium of Murrysville, and their enthusiasm has gone viral. “One of my students—a junior in calculus—once told her mom that she loves it here so much, she wants to stay here forever,” she tells us. “When they first start, some of my high schoolers are so hesitant to come because they see us as a place where the failing kids go. But once they come in and see their friends across the table, they feel reassured. Oh, the kid who gets A’s goes to Mathnasium? The kid in honors geometry is here? Now, these students feel confident because they come to Mathnasium. They know that when they walk in the door, someone’s going to be able to help them with their homework assignment from class. These kids have seen their grades improve in school and they’ve started talking not only to their parents, but to their friends. I’ve had high school kids walk in with a check to sign up, just because their friends told them about how great Mathnasium is.” Currently, about 36% of Rachel’s students are in high school; she tells us that she attributes a great deal of these enrollments to customer referrals.

Looking back, Rachel says, “I do find it funny some days, like wow, I can’t believe referrals took off like that from the beginning!” That said, Rachel’s gearing up to take her business to even greater heights. “I knew from the beginning that I wanted to open more than one center. I believe in this way too much to just have one!” For her, excelling in this business “all comes down to teaching your students well, communicating with parents, and keeping your customers happy.” Armed with this philosophy, she’s looking forward to using Mathnasium as a vehicle to make a positive impact in the lives of even more students in her community. “Everyone has his or her own definition of success, and from my perspective, I still have a lot of work left to do,” she concludes.