It’s an uncomfortable business
Working in education is a tricky and often uncomfortable business. Especially if you want to get paid… And if you work in education sometimes even just using words like money and customers make you feel uncomfortable. You’d better click away now if you’re offended already.
The “Customer” is not a straightforward matter
Still, it gets worse, one part of the problem is trying to figure out who your actual customers are. And this might sound kind of strange, but it’s not a straightforward matter. And your main customer might not be who you think it is.
If you’re like me, you have different kinds of customers. All at the same time. These different kinds of customers often have different (and possibly contradictory) needs and expectations.
Paying versus value creation
So how do you figure out who these customers are? Well, you can start by asking these two questions:
1. Who’s paying?
2. Who are you creating the most value for?
You might not need to, but sometimes you may need to decide if your main customer is EITHER the person or organisation that you are creating the most value for, OR the one who is paying you the most. This can be important depending on what key deliverables are for your work.
There is not always a tension between who’s paying versus who you’re creating the most value for. But sometimes there is. People have different needs and wants. So, how will you deal with this? There’s only one answer:
- Embrace the tension
One way to start thinking about this tension is to follow the money. Ask yourself the question again: Who’s paying?
If your education programme or training is mostly (or completed) funded or subsidised by a government department or similar agency then you better start thinking of them and treating them like a valued customer. Their investment is paying for or subsiding your delivery, outcomes, and probably ensuring that you can pay the rent.
There’s nothing like the promise of continued employment to incentivise your work…
However, there’s still the issue of value creation. One way of defining a customer is to determine who you are creating the most value for. Which of these groups are you creating the most value for?
- The funding agency or other investors?
- Your learners, i.e. the ones in front of you in the training environment?
- Your learners’ employers?
- Your learners’ learners, staff, or clients (if you’re working with tutors and trainers like we do)?
So… are your learners the ones allowing you to pay your bills and meet payroll? For us, it’s more like our learners (and their learners) are the combined end-users of the training that we deliver. They don’t pay, but we do create value for them.
Our customers then are actually a combination of our learners’ employers and a government funding agency (these two groups pay for the training together) as well as the learners themselves (who are non paying customers).
So… understanding who your customers are and getting paid in the education business is a bit more complex than just shipping widgets.
It’s seldom a simple business transaction. The main thing to realise is that organisations and government departments that fund education and training are like venture capital investors. And learners can be customers too, even if they are non-paying customers.
Finally, after you’ve figured out whatever complicated and often contradictory mixture of customers you’re attempting to create value for, you also need to ask these questions for each customer group:
3. What do they really want?
4. Are you really delivering the right results?
5. What’s the return on investment for each?
6. Who’s getting the best return on investment?
So, tar and feather me with the brush of economic reductionism… These last questions make me uncomfortable. But they’re great questions to keep asking.