I’m not selling anything today, just having a moan about a former client of our Italian language school, whose name and identifying details I will not, naturally, be mentioning, even though he has clearly bad-mouthed me all over his part of Australia.
Neither will I go into the details of his particular gripe, but the gist of it is that, for whatever good or bad reason, the student decided to quit his course mid-way through, then demanded his money back.
Whenever someone has a problem with their course, and it does happen, we hope they will tell us what it is, and allow Stefi and the team to do whatever they can to put things right.
A word with the teacher, so they are better able to meet the student’s preferences, a change of class, some extra (free) help from the tutor, basically whatever it takes to make the client happy and keep them learning.
Sometimes these situations are unpleasant. Usually they get sorted out. Often the student will tell us at the end of their course that they’re so glad they stuck with it, and promise to enthuse to all their friends what a good school we have, how lovely the teachers are, and so on.
Stefi hates for anyone to be unhappy, so puts a lot of effort into making sure our students aren’t.
One thing she can’t do, however, is fix things for someone who has already, firmly, definitively decided to quit (for whatever reason, good or bad.) She’ll put it right if she can, but if the student has gone, there’s no much more she can do.
And as regards giving the course fee back, as this particularly insistent Melbournian asked, first politely, then every more unpleasantly, like every business, we have Terms and Conditions, which we ask students who book courses, sometimes months or years in advance, to read and agree to. For instance:
No refunds will be made for Italian language courses which are interrupted or not finished (unless the circumstances are exceptional, for example, serious illness, death in the family) in which case the school reserves the right to issue a credit equal to the value of the part of the course not used. Such a credit can be used as payment for a future Italian language course.
We often give the credit mentioned, we almost never give a refund, and absolutely never do so once a course has begun.
Language learning has its ups and downs, and people who sign up for a GROUP CLASS are expected to compromise – for instance with regard to the needs and preferences of other students, the teaching style, which varies from teacher to teacher, week to week, and the students’ own situations, which are out of our control.
Perhaps one just doesn’t like learning Italian as much as they expected, maybe another would rather stay in bed on a Monday morning, could be that the buddy of a third, who they planned to study with, didn’t turn up, so they’re feeling friendless.
Whatever. Stefi will fix it if she can, but if the student has categorically decided to quit, then there’s nothing she can do. The course fee will not be refunded.
So anyway, we heard about the problem only on a Friday afternoon, when reception was closed and we were on our way somewhere in the car, with Roomie baying in the back seat.
Stefi wrote a nice email, outlining all the things she would do to put things right for the remaining part of the course (most of it.) Emails were exchanged over the weekend, and again during the first days of the following week.
Nothing would do, though, only a refund.
It was an unpleasant, stressful situation, but these things happen when you run a business. We try to be fair to everyone, in the way we write the Terms and Conditions, and in the way we interpret them – such as treating everyone equally.
We will NOT be bullied. Why should an insistent, confident, professional male get a refund this time when a less-assertive, elderly lady didn’t get one last time (so finished her course, and was, in the end, really happy)?
Mid-week the guy turned up at reception and started rehashing the whole saga. Poor Stefi had to sit and listen politely, but could only repeat that we’d be happy to offer a credit and rearrange the course for another time, but would not refund the fee, especially as the student had not told us there was a problem BEFORE deciding to quit.
Overhearing this stressful conversation, I came to stand quitely at Stefi’s side, to offer her moral support, then to intervene, repeat that our policy was not to give refunds, and explain why.
It didn’t help, of course.
I was “hiding behind the terms and conditions”, “people in Melbourne would hear all about it”, and finally, when the guy saw I wasn’t going to be browbeaten as easily as my poor wife, I was called an “a***hole”.
I don’t think I’ve ever been described that way at work before, though I dare say there must have been occasions when I deserved it.
Not this time, though.
I’m the Director, the buck stops with me, and when someone has to deal with rude, unreasonable people, it’s correct that I do it, rather than hiding behind a computer and leaving the job to others.
Unfortunately, I have a temper, and this time, on hearing the A word, lost it.
I replied that the guy should eff off out of my school, and when he did so, shouted angrily down the stairs after him.
And so the good people of Melbourne did hear about this incident, one side of it, at least. This morning Stefi got an email from an Italian school there that has been sending us students since 2014, saying they would no longer recommend us to their students because of our (my) unprofessional behaviour.
They had removed our details from their website, they said. Goodbye!
Which Melbourne school would ditch a trusted long-term partner on the word of one student, without even asking for an explanation first?
One that is easily-bullied, I assume.
And therefore one that, in turn, I can no longer recommend by linking to (for free, mind you) from the club’s Australian Course Finder page.
That’s petty, I know, but not to worry, Melbournians, there seem to be plenty of other options for you to choose from.
And now you’ve heard this sorry tale from both sides.
People everywhere: do please be aware that if you book a group language course, more or less anywhere in the world, you should NOT expect a refund if you, for whatever good or bad reason, decide to quit mid-course, or shortly before.
Read the small print. It’s there for a reason. Most businesses have responsibilities, employees, rent to pay, and a booking is a booking.
If a school organises a class for you, you have every right to expect that it’s done properly, and in accordance with the description offered in advance. If not, things should be put right, a credit offered, perhaps.
But you also have a responsibility – to ‘frequentare’ (andare assiduamente in un luogo), as Italians say.
Did you read/listen to Saturday’s FREE bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news?
There’ll be another FREE bulletin tomorrow.
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