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Ensuring Business English Training Quality – Part 1

By Mike Hogan

Think of your favourite service provider. What do they provide you with? Why do you like them so much? And what makes you eager to tell your friends about them? Now think about your least favourite service provider and what it is about that provider that makes you want to rant to your friends about them. These questions can help us start thinking about the topic of quality and what it means for us.

Essentially, service quality is the key to maintaining and growing business. The better the value your customers and clients are getting, the easier it is to grow your business. By ‘your business’, I am referring to both freelancers, who are essentially a one-person business, and to school/training organisation owners. I would first like to think about what exactly quality is and how it relates to price before considering the perspectives of the client and the trainer/ provider. 

The relationship between quality and price
Quality is defined as “the standard of something when compared to other things like it” (OALD, 2010). There will invariably be a number of providers of business English training in your area, whose services differ in both price and quality. Bearing that in mind, let’s consider the relationship between quality and price by looking at the illustration below. 

It is important not to get trapped into thinking that cheap is ‘good’ and expensive is ‘bad’. The ‘average’ market position(1) of mid-price and mid-quality is neither here nor there. It’s run-of-the-mill: OK on quality and neither too cheap nor too expensive. Alternative market entry points could be low price and high (2) or low quality (3). These positions may enable you to gain market share quickly, but you won’t survive long. The option of medium to high price and low quality (4) is deadly, especially if you want to build a business and reputation, and may be better suited to hit-and-run sales strategies.A medium price with high quality offering (5) is a good strategic option, although it is worth stepping back a moment and thinking about which position your main competitors occupy and where your services are, relative to theirs.



The client
Now let’s think about the client. By ‘client’, I mean the person who is ordering or paying for the service. This is generally someone in Human Resources Department of your client company with a role in Learning and Development. They will, most likely, not be the end recipient of your services. Essentially, what they are looking for is peace of mind. They want a provider they can trust, who offers the right balance between price and quality. However, the client is not only buying training; they should also be getting support in terms of experience and expertise. 

There are a number of assumptions which are sometimes made by clients, e.g. “A group size of 15 is fine, right?” and “We need standardization. All courses must use the same materials.” Assumptions like these often fail to consider the realistic conditions needed for successfultraining outcomes. It is important to talk to your client, find out about their needs and their training goals, and create a collaborative relationship focused on helping the employees achieve their linguistic and communicative goals. You can then use your experience to advise them on any false assumptions they may have. 

It is also important to know the limits of what you can offer and be realistic about them. Don’t try to be all things to all clients as you’ll quickly overstretch yourself and could find yourself in a reputation-damaging situation where you can’t deliver what was promised.

The Trainer and Provider
We work in a profession with incredibly low barriers to entry. In some cases, being a native speaker is enough to teach in-company business English classes. Some schools or clients require trainers to have a formally recognized qualification, such as the CELTA which takes one month to complete. Others are happy to accept trainers with solid business experience and no formal qualifications. Of course, the quality of teaching may be excellent in trainers with little qualifications and experiences, and, conversely, many years of experience and qualifications don’t always mean higher quality of teaching. The European Profiling Grid (www.epg-project.eu), scheduled to be launched later in 2013, is being designed to help level the playing field. This is a tool for mapping and assessing language teachers internationally and I believe it will create more transparency in terms of teacher experience and ability, and also stress the importance of Continued Professional Development (CPD) in our profession.

The next area of consideration is the relationship between quality and reputation. Looking at Steve Jobs of Apple or Richard Branson of the Virgin Group, we can see how their names are inextricably linked to their companies because they truly care(d) about making a positive difference for people who need products and services like theirs. They care(d) enough to risk their own personal reputation on the quality of their products and services. Think about it: Do you care enough about the services you offer to put your reputation at risk?Think about the following:

What do people think when they hear your name, or that of your school?

What do you want them to think?

Are you being referred?

In order to remain competitive and successful, we need to believe that we are delivering the very best we can, and do it, too. We, trainers, are the ambassadors for our industry and can make a difference in raising the bar on quality. We shouldn’t promise to deliver expertise in all areas of training, but should instead focus on what we can do excellently. We need to differentiate ourselves in this competitive market by building niches for ourselvesand displaying the highest levels of professionalism.We need to present ourselves professionally. This includes having an excellent service mindset on top of excellent quality, continuously collecting feedback, evaluating and benchmarking ourselves, and brushing up on our own presentation and negotiation skills.

In Part 2 of this post I will look at quality from the perspective of the learner and the training materials.

Hornby, A.S.: Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (OALD), 2010, 8th edition