BestOfPosterWe caught up with center owner Daryl Gage (Chesapeake, VA) on the heels of his first place recognition in a citywide consumer’s choice “Best Of” competition in the Children’s Education/Tutoring category. Last week, the Mathnasium Matters spotlight shone on Daryl’s exceptional team of Instructors. Now, read on for more on the customer service practices Daryl’s implemented that have parents and kids leaving his center with giant smiles on their faces.

Chesapeake owner enrolls new studentFor Daryl, unwavering passion for the Mathnasium product and mission statement and a strong commitment to seeing each and every student achieve their personal best are the cornerstones of his approach to customer communication. “When I first meet and talk with parents about our program, I don’t see it as ‘sales’,” he tells us. “I truly enjoy meeting with parents and listening to their concerns. It’s great to just sit them down and hear them out. When they come in, I just step right up and say, ‘Welcome. How can I help you?’ I’m very positive. After all, nine out of 10 times, I have a solution for them. I want to zero in on what the student’s issues are. As parents talk about their child, I listen and ask them the questions I need to ask, such as ‘How are they doing in their other subjects?’ Sometimes if the student is doing poorly in one subject, it pulls other grades down too. Is he or she the type of student who takes pride in doing well in school and is bothered by difficulties in math? You can really leverage information like that as you talk to parents about the program [as well as] when you start working with the child.

“Then I sit down with the parents and hand out the parent pack. I show them what’s in there page by page, and talk about what we do: comprehensive assessments, [individualized instruction in a group environment], how well our Instructors are trained, homework help, etc.,” he continues. “I tell them, ‘Well, as far as math is concerned, the buck stops here. What we want to do is turn this around, not just temporarily, but permanently. It’s going to take some commitment on your part. What I want to do is turn your child into a non-routine problem solver and a math student with a deep and broad understanding of what’s going on in class instead of one that’s just memorizing what’s going on.’”

While expressing his confidence in the program, Daryl remains mindful about setting accurate expectations during this initial conversation. “When I first talk to a parent, I’m explaining Mathnasium and what we can do to solve their problem. During this process, the information I give them will play a very important role in defining their expectations, so what I say has to be complete and accurate. I have to make sure that I’m not establishing expectations that would be impossible for us to meet.”

Parents find comfort in Daryl’s enthusiasm and his willingness to listen wins them over. “To me, they seem like they’re generally really thankful that someone’s willing to listen! It’s so frustrating for them when they’ve tried everything and their student is still struggling.”

From there, Daryl makes it a point to be available to parents whenever they have questions or concerns. “I practically live here at the center!” he says. “Also, I can receive email and check my center’s voicemail wherever I go. Basically, I don’t let anything fester. I return calls and emails as soon as I can. Sometimes web leads are surprised because they’ll send in their information and I’ll happen to see it and give them a call back three minutes later.”

Daryl and his staff are also very proactive about keeping parents informed about their children’s progress. Instructors are encouraged to walk up to parents when they come in after a session and give them brief, informal updates about what the child accomplished during his or her Mathnasium hour. “We don’t want the parents to be on cruise control! [These regular updates] keep them engaged so they know what’s going on.”

If a parent informs Daryl that a student isn’t doing as well in school as expected, Daryl approaches the situation with care, concern, and an attentive ear. “I spend time with the parent to go over [factors that we have control over that may impact their child’s performance],” he continues. “Has the student been missing sessions? Has the student brought in homework and previous tests and quizzes? Usually if we go over those with the student it helps them a lot in school so I definitely encourage parents to remind their kids to bring those in. I also go through the binder with them so we can all see how the student’s progressing through the learning plan. I then [reestablish expectations] by reminding the parent that it can take time to see significant results. We don’t offer a quick fix and their child isn’t going to improve overnight.”

Daryl approaches customer disputes and misunderstandings with the big picture in mind. He believes in exceeding expectations in customer satisfaction without being a total pushover. “If I have to prorate a month for a parent because they can’t come for the whole month, I will. I want them to feel as though they’re getting the total value for their money. I don’t try to quibble with them,” he explains. “Even if they end up leaving for whatever reason, I want them to have a positive flavor in their mouth of why Mathnasium’s here and why we do what we do—even if the program didn’t work as well for their kid as they thought it would. I still want them to see us as a great place and not blame us if things don’t work out for them.”

Chesapeake instructors working with studentsA key element of customer service is ensuring that students fully enjoy the time they spend at Mathnasium and that they see the merit and value of coming to the center. For Daryl and his team, getting the kids to warm up begins with a friendly greeting, patience, understanding, and a strong dose of positive energy. “We try to keep things fun, but it’s the type of fun that’s productive too. Also, I remind my Instructors that many times, students come in and their confidence is so low when it comes to math. We need to approach students with kindness—show them that we know why they don’t understand math, and that it’s ok. We’re going to help them turn this around. I think this is why the kids feel good about coming here—the fact that someone’s finally slowing things down and moving at their pace. We don’t give them challenges they can’t face or moving them right along because we don’t have enough time.

“The time students spend here is their time,” he continues. “They can slow the train down, they can stop, or they can back it up. They can ask the question a thousand times until the answer fits perfectly in their brains and they can retain the facts.” Always ready to go the extra mile, “The Instructors know that it’s ok for the student to stay an extra 15 minutes if they’re still in the middle of something by the time the hour’s up. I tell the parents that if they come in to pick up their child at the end of the session and they see their child’s still working at a table, it’s ok to check in and walk up to the table and say, ‘Hi, I’m here.’ And that’s when the Instructor will let them know whether the student’s done or they have a few more items left to do and need a little more time. We want to give the students the extra time they need especially if they’re working on homework—we don’t want them to leave unless we’re sure they understand their homework and have done it properly.”

Daryl’s dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed. Mathnasium of Chesapeake has seen slow and steady growth over the years. “Last fall, we finally hit the 100-student mark. Every time I turned around, it seemed like I was signing someone up! Then throughout the winter and spring, our numbers went up to 130 students,” Daryl recalls. While most of his students initially heard about Mathnasium through driving by his highly visible location or his marketing efforts, these days, “word of mouth has become more and more a part of our growth. I have a referral program where I give parents gas or gift cards as a thank you for referring their friends, and with one mom in particular, it really seemed like I was giving her a gift card a couple of times a month! Kids and parents are talking and it’s invaluable advertising. It took a while for this to really build, but once it started rolling, we started seeing a lot of people come in through referrals.”

At its core, Daryl’s success comes from the fact that he has his priorities straight. “Once I’ve defined expectations for a parent [when first meeting with them], I see it as my job to try as hard as we can to exceed those expectations,” he tells us. “When you do that, you can’t help but have happy parents and successful students. I want everyone here to see results and leave satisfied. And really, we’ve seen tremendous success here over the years. It’s overwhelming. I don’t want to use the word ‘magic,’ but really, it does seem like that sometimes. They come in here failing miserably and we completely turn them around. All of a sudden, they’re A and B students. Knowing that the program is really effective gives you a lot of confidence as you work with parents and kids!”