Tuesday, 29 September 2009

New Skills for a New Season

This story is no longer valid.

Well, spring has sprung, and, as always, a mixture of weather has accompanied the blossoms blooming and trees coming into leaf.  I could do without the cold gray drizzly day thing (although once in a while those types of days can be okay if you want to shut yourself away with a nice book), but spring itself is a reminder of things anew (and, let’s face it: without rain, plants wouldn’t grow).


Thursday, 24 September 2009

That Time of Year Again

From about 15 September until about 20 December of each year is a time of mixed feels and emotions for me.  Personally, I am a Christmas nut.  There’s something about the lights and the carols and the tree (which has become “trees” in the plural when my partner and I moved house way back in 2005, much to his dismay) that I love.  I think if Jacqui hears me humming or singing “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” one more time from about 1 November onwards, she will smack me.

As I’m typing this, though, at work, we are going through an amazing yet difficult time of year.

I have a folder of international exam applications on my desk.  Jacqui’s handed me a list with 2009 students on it a few moments ago; on it, the heading states, “Please write your name as you want it to appear on your diploma.”  It’s frightening because it seems like only yesterday when this intake started in February 2009.

As I enter students’ names into the CIDESCO or ITEC database for examinations, memories flood my mind.  Maybe the first time I read a certain student’s essay, or how excited I was that another student was going on a cruise for her honeymoon (her first cruise).  And it makes me sad to think that in, what will seem like a flash, I’ll be presenting the freshly-printed diplomas bearing their names to Noel and Don for them to sign, and, then only a matter of hours later, dressed up and in front of hundreds, reading out their names so they can, outfitted not in their everyday uniforms but in glamourous evening dresses, receive their diplomas that they worked so hard for throughout the year.

It is a truly sad but exciting time.  You see, we’ve taken a journey with these students, them and us together. We’ve helped lead them to their future career, and, once finished with us, we’re not going to see them every day.  All the good times will be only memories.  Sure, we see lots of our graduates again, but we never have that intense day-to-day interaction we’ve had with them as we had before.  The only thing I can liken it to is having dozens of cousins or daughters heading off into the big, bad world after deciding they want to move out of their parents’ place and face the world on their own.

But the experience repeats.  Like I said, it seems like only yesterday that we received their applications, interviewed those students, but the process is starting again.  We’re receiving 2010 applications.  Jacqui and I are gearing up to interview prospective students for 2010.  A new lot of faces will line these halls come February, and by late September, I’ll be back at square one with mixed feelings.

Once you are a student at the National School of Aesthetics, you join a family of thousands of others who have walked these halls, learned this knowledge, faced these assessments in the years before you.  But, after you leave, we still remember you, enjoy hearing from you.  Even yesterday, I heard from a student we had back in 1999 and another student who graduated in 1998.  (They always say, “You might not remember me…” but I usually do!)  It’s still wonderful to know what’s going on in your world.

So, with the final trials and tribulations facing our February 2009 students in the coming weeks, culminating in the wonderful graduation ceremony and ball in December, and the first trials and tribulations facing our potential February 2010 students in the coming weeks, culminating in their orientation in February next year, it is a truly mixed-bag of emotions time-of-year.

Scott Fack is the Director of Operations for The National School of Aesthetics, the South Island’s leading beauty therapy, nail technology and spa therapies training provider.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Customer Service

In these hard economic times, good customer service is very important.  Right now, I’m reading a book about how some companies, like Apple Computers, are very design-focussed to make sure the customer experience is the best it can be.  And so, to be honest, I have been trying to look around and see how, if we need to, we can change things in the school to make customer service, and more importantly, our customers’ experiences with us, that much better.

In the book I am reading, Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company, the authors use a classic example of bad customer service.  To paraphrase: a couple had used the same insurance company for decades.  They’d paid their bills on time, never missed a payment, and, each time they saw a commercial for their insurance company on TV, they nodded their heads and smiled because they felt this insurance company cared about them and their business.

They moved house.  They told the insurance company that they were moving, went through all the proper channels and procedures in order to do this.  But, they didn’t receive a bill like normal.  After calling customer service, they found out, for some reason, the bill was still going to the wrong address.  The minute they found out, they sent payment to the insurance company right away (without even having a bill), and the customer service person made the changes to their file to ensure this wouldn’t happen again.

A few days passed.  The couple received a quite nasty demand from the insurance company for payment of the bill.  They called up customer service again, and the representative told them that yes, the payment had been received and disregard the letter.  (Because this was an American couple, they were using cheques to pay their account, and the theory was the cheque and the letter crossed paths in the post.)

Unfortunately, this did not resolve the issue.  The couple continued to get ever increasing threatening letters from the insurance company, despite their following payments being made on-time, and their decades-old history of never missing a payment before.

I probably don’t need to tell you what happened next.

Fed up, the couple cancelled their insurance and went to another company.  The relationship between the couple and the insurance company, which was decades-long, was broken by the break-down in customer service to resolve the issue.

(Incidentally, on a side-note, the insurance company never followed up to find out why the couple had cancelled their decades-long relationship with the company.  Nor did the company attempt to rectify the situation with the couple to entice them back as customers.)

This struck a very specific chord with me on Friday when I had to deal, as a customer, with another company, a new supplier to us.  Actually, two other people at the school dealt with the supplier’s owner previously, but the first no longer wished to deal with her due the negative way she was treated, and, the second person, to her credit, grinned, bore it, and tried to continue to work with the supplier.

As an interjection, I have to state that I bore witness to the conversation between my colleagues at the school and the supplier because of the aforementioned problems.  At no time were our staff members rude or off-hand.

In this instance, I spoke with the owner of the supplier as Noel was out of the office, the second person who had dealt with her was pre-occupied with another task, so the duty fell to me to help.

I honestly have to say that the way I was spoken to and dealt with by the supplier’s owner was very lacking in customer service or any sort of human relations at all.  Her attitude was condescending; her manner was off-hand; and her comments were ignorant, unprofessional, unethical and, well, for lack of a better word, rude.  (Ironically, she started to lecture me on how we should behave in our industry, yet was not demonstrating that behaviour in the slightest!)

In all the years I have been involved with NaSA, I honestly cannot say I have ever dealt with a more unprofessional professional in our industry.  I must say that I was honestly shocked and offended.

So what could have been a blossoming relationship between our two companies, the school and the supplier, was destroyed by this attitude.  And I wasn’t the only person who received this from the owner of this supplier: my aforementioned colleagues also had these problems with her as well.

In the conversations, I was very polite, despite the way she was treating me and my colleagues (her customers); I thanked her for her and her company’s help over the short few months we had dealt with them; and I stated we no longer required her company’s services.  (I made sure I had a witness to my conversations so this witness could back up to Noel and Don that at no point had I been unprofessional, off-hand or rude.)

The supplier did everything above and beyond what she could have done in order to lose a loyal customer, a big account that could have grown to order more and more supplies over the years as the trust built up.  And, as a school, a fact many suppliers don’t notice is we’re basically free advertising by exposing our students to their products.

Going into the positive customer experiences, I go back to the Apple computers example from the book I’m reading.  Their products are innovative, easy-to-use and design-savvy.  Their stores in the US are a combination of minimalist yet functional, with products on display for you to play with and use, and for sales people and techies alike to demonstrate the functionality of the product.  Teams are clearly marked by function (for example, sales wear light blue t-shirts), and some Apple stores offer classes on how to use their products.

When I was in the USA recently, I visited two Apple stores in two different locations, both on not-really-busy weekdays.  But Apple’s customer service shone through.  I was greeted at the door and asked if I needed any assistance.  Sales assistants who were available also greeted me and asked if I needed assistance.  Three monitors on the back wall scrolled with client information (if you want a meeting with an expert on any Apple related item, you could book it), and these appointments were booked for two hours in advance on a very slow day!

We had a question with regards to a problem we were having with one of our Macs.  The sales person didn’t know the answer, admitted this, but brought over a technical person who talked with us about the problem and brought up solutions.  Getting back to where we were staying, we implemented these measures and voila! The problem was fixed.

So, if you are a current professional in our industry reading this, take these stories to heart, and think about your reaction to the customer experience.  Every customer, no matter how hard or difficult or easy or pleasant, needs to have good service; this is vital to keeping your business going (whether you own it, operate it, or work for someone else).  Reports about bad customer service from dissatisfied customers travels a lot quicker than reports of good customer service from satisfied customers.

Noel and I were talking about this very thing the other day (before our fall-out with the aforementioned supplier), and he came up with a novel way to deal with customer dissatisfaction.  If a customer’s dissatisfaction gets to an all time low, say to the customer: “What would you like me to do to resolve this?”  It’s a very poignant remark and puts the power back in the customer’s hands.  (In saying this, there is a limit, I am sure, to what you can do to help unrealistic clients, but surely most customers will be realistic in their demands.)

According to this New Zealand Herald article by Colin Kennedy, there are three major things customers want for good customer service.  They are:

  1. Helping the customer willingly.
  2. Listening to the customer and establishing the customer’s needs.
  3. Ensuring the customer’s needs are met.

And, looking at the examples, the insurance company and our once-supplier did not follow these protocols, while the Apple store did.  They are three very simple things, yet it is amazing how some places fail to follow even one of these three.

If you are a current student, or client of our clinic, or another customer of ours, and you do have any issues, please come to us, as we are more than happy to assist as best as we can.  I sign all my emails that way, and it is an honest and sincere invitation.

Scott Fack is the Director of Operations for The National School of Aesthetics, the South Island’s leading beauty therapy, nail technology and spa therapies training provider.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Sailing the Ocean Blue

One of the options qualified beauty therapists, nail technicians and spa therapists have employment-wise is work aboard a cruise ship.  The largest single recruiter for these positions aboard cruise ships are Steiner, a company who first put a hairdressing salon on Cunard’s Queen Mary way back in 1967 and soon thereafter aboard the Queen Elizabeth II.  Over the years, they reckon they’ve recruited over 50,000 people to work on cruise ships and land-based spas around the world.

I’ve known quite a few of our students who have gone on to work for Steiner, and all of them I’ve spoken to had a good time.  Hard work, they’ve told me, but overall it’s an experience they have cherished.  One of my closest friends, at the time in her early 50s, went to work for Steiner aboard a smaller, high-class cruise ship spent its time split between the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, jetting over the Atlantic Ocean in the process.  Being on a smaller ship, the crew were obviously smaller in number, and this made their relationships with one another more like family than anything.  And that bond seems to resonate with various other people I’ve spoken to who have worked on ships.

The National School of Aesthetics has the luxury to work closely with Steiner, with holding interviews on our campus as well as distributing literature related to Steiner to people requesting it New Zealand-wide.  We also gain some perks from this by visiting spas on-board various ships docked in New Zealand and overseas, and also while sailing on some voyages, to gain insight into how a shipboard spa operates, any new technologies or techniques available, and to take this information back to interested students and staff alike.

With this relationship between Steiner and the National School of Aesthetics built strongly around trust and mutual-cooperation, to my knowledge, our students tend to be picked at a higher rate than other South Island providers.  At one point, 10% of one graduating intake applied for, and were accepted by, Steiner.  And, we enjoy hearing feedback that our students tend to be of a higher standard and calibre than students from other institutions.

So if you are seriously considering working on a cruise ship as a career opportunity, and you want some of the best training available to prepare you for that and many other career opportunities (if you haven’t already trained with us), feel free to contact us, and we’ll help you as best as we can.  Or, if you want more information on how we work with Steiner, feel free to visit the Steiner portal on our Web site.

Scott Fack is the Director of Operations for The National School of Aesthetics, the South Island’s leading beauty therapy, nail technology and spa therapies training provider.

When I moved from the US to New Zealand way back in 1996, I thought transporting my degree would be an easy feat.  My mind held the notion that my homeland, like many of the other nations around the world, had discussed tertiary education requirements, compared them, and made standards about recognising them when someone moved from one country to another.

I was very wrong.

One of my American friends in New Zealand had applied, when she arrived to Aotearoa’s shores, to have her US qualification recognised.  Eight years later — that’s right, eight whole years later — she was told by The Powers That Be that her US qualification wouldn’t be recognised.

She’d paid a lot of money and spent a lot of time going back-and-forth to find out the degree she struggled for four years with, put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into, would not be recognised in New Zealand.  This meant she couldn’t work in the industry she’d trained in in New Zealand unless she gained a New Zealand qualification.

She wasn’t happy about that — I doubt that many of us if we were in her situation would be — and her and her partner and their family eventually moved back to the US.

While there is a greater degree of transparency now with the world’s globalisation due to the Internet’s growing influence on our daily lives, a great deal of uncertanity still exists with transfering qualifications from one country to another.

That’s the beauty of international qualifications.  As ITEC puts it, international qualifications “are easily transportable nationally and internationally.”  They set a standard not only within a country but also between countries as well.

And the standards are recognised by industry because industry is consulted by these international governing bodies on an ongoing basis.  The international examiner comes to the school and wants to see if our students meet the requirements of their syllabus.  They are truly independent; schools like ours hold no sway over who passes and who fails.  So these are truly independent and truly international.

When a student asks me why he or she should sit international examinations, the shortest but most thoughtful reply I can come back with is, “You never know where you will be 5, 10 years down the track.”  I didn’t.  If you told the 1992-me that I’d be living in New Zealand by 1996, I would have laughed at you and maybe called you “nuts”.  But, by 1996, I was living in New Zealand, so the words ring true.

I didn’t have the luxury of an international qualification that I could transport easily between countries.  Instead of going through a multi-year process before being possibly told “nope, we don’t recognise your degree that took you four years to complete” (it’s a four year system in the USA), I decided to apply to a New Zealand university, sit the number of papers required to pass a New Zealand degree, and graduate with a degree recognised in New Zealand that way.

When you are enrolled in one of our courses, we will discuss international examinations with you: requirements, which ones offer which subjects, and so on.  Even before we start the course, even at the interview stage, we make you aware of international examinations and qualifications.  Another piece of advice: start saving the day you know you are doing the course.  This way, you’ll be prepared to invest in your future as fully as you can when you apply for international examinations a little after half-way through your training.

You don’t know where you’re going to be in the future — I didn’t — so we highly recommend international qualifications.  If you want to discuss international qualifications in more detail, please feel free to contact us at the school, or feel free to visit the Info area on our Web site for more details.

Scott Fack is the Director of Operations for The National School of Aesthetics, the South Island’s leading beauty therapy, nail technology and spa therapies training provider.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Why Researching a School Is Important

In the US, where I was born and raised, we start aiming for getting into higher education in our junior year of high school.  This would be when we are about 16 or 17 years old.  We’re encouraged to research the area we want to continue on into, the schools and universities on offer and make an informed choice.  I think some people, like my friend Anne, had the maturity, drive and know-how on how to do this; she wanted to be an archaeologist, and she knew where her future was and how to get there.

Me?  I wasn’t so sure.  I loved drawing, really liked art, but I had broken my hand when I was 8 and didn’t feel that I had the passion that others in my classes had for art.  There were a lot of choices for places to go and do further study, and prices, location and class sizes ranged greatly.  Also, the focus of the providers were very different as well: some focussed on many different things (universities and polytechnics) while others were exclusively focussed on art.

I have to admit, I didn’t research things very well.  If I could compare it to an activity, it was like being blindfolded, aimed in the direction of a dartboard, and, with a dart firmly in my hand, told to throw in the direction where I thought the dartboard was after being spun around several times first.

Now, this wasn’t the fault of my parents, or my careers advisers at school, or teachers, or siblings, or any other family members; this was my sheer laid-back attitude about the whole thing.  See, everything had landed in my lap in school and high school.  I got good grades, didn’t really have to study and didn’t find things extremely challenging.  How hard could university be?  Or why would choosing one university over another matter?

At 18, wide-eyed and full of optimism, I went to university, one not very well-known for art.  It was a public university, so the fees were low, and there were tens of thousands of people who attended classes there.  It would have been easy to get lost in the crowd, or join into a multitude of organisations and participate my heart out.  It was the only campus I visited out of the dozen or so places I whittled my final list down to. The reason I chose it was because it was close enough to home that I could easily commute if I wanted to spend the weekends with my family, and because I was paying my own tuition and didn’t want to get into the student loan debt trap, it was inexpensive.

I got what I paid for.

You see, while I made some great friends and met my first true love there, I didn’t find the atmosphere conducive to learning.  There were some great teachers there, but many more also-rand teachers there who were just going through the motions to get paid a wage so they and their families could survive.  The class sizes were huge — ranging from 40 at smallest to over 1,000 in the largest — and yes, you were just a number there.  I wasn’t Scott; I was student 123-456-7890.

I was telling Noel the other day how I changed my major from a Bachelor of the Fine Arts in art to a Bachelor of the Arts in English.  My hand couldn’t keep up with all the drawing I was expected to do (if you recall, I broke it when I was 8), and the teachers were more interested in who was cool and who wasn’t than in teaching us art.  So, I went to the main office to talk about how to transfer my degree to a different subject.

I was thinking maybe Art History or something related to art, but the people in the BFA Arts office were totally uninterested.  They didn’t care whether I dropped dead in front of them, quit university, lit myself on fire and did the hula, decided to do a triple-major… they just didn’t care.

So, after a lot of soul searching, I changed my major to a BA in English because, that’s what my friends were doing, and I was good at reading and analysing things.  And, to be honest, I enjoyed it and could use it for a wide range of different career paths.  I’d finally researched what subject would give me the flexibility to gain a job in a variety of industries.

But the transfer to a new major still didn’t help.  The public university was soulless, lacked that personal touch or even interest in my welfare or my career or even my major.

In the end, a lot of Fate’s forces conspired to make me change universities.  And, to be honest, I think subconsciously I got sick of being treated like a number, or like I was walking around with dollar signs, invisible to me and my friends but seen by the university higher-ups, floating above my head somewhere.  So I decided to transfer universities.

This time I did my research.  I asked friends, family, high school teachers, any one I could find about the different options available to me.  Universities from the East Coast of the US to the West Coast were offered.  In the end, I narrowed it down to private universities because, from what my friends at private universities told me, there was a major difference between the public and private.  Sure the fees were more, but you got a lot more bang for your buck.

In the end, I picked the university my uncle went to gain his Master’s degree from because he, like so many others I talked to, highly recommended it.  They were known for their English programme, so much so they had an exchange programme going on with Cambridge and Oxford in the UK.
Even in the first week when I arrived, the dean personally contacted me and asked me about options for my career.  Did I want to spend a semester over at Oxford?  He felt I had the talent and the drive and the know-how to do it: something he felt some other students there didn’t have.

My classes were smaller.  Instead of 40 to 1,000 students per class, we had, at most, 20 in each class.  This helped form better debates, talk more in-depth about the topics we were studying, helped us all form critical views and participate more so we got good value for our money, and a great education that would prepare us for the world out there after graduation.

My teachers had a lot of interest in me and my well-being.  They knew me by my first name, knew the classes I was taking, always had the time to sit down and talk to me about any issues I was having or even just to talk, scholar to scholar, about anything.  I felt I could be open and honest with them, could mine the knowledge in their heads to help improve mine, and I finally felt challenged to think and analyse, like I belonged, and like I wasn’t just another student walking around with dollar signs above my head and like an individual.

I was Scott Fack, not student number 123-456-7890.

That’s the kind of atmosphere we try to build at our school.  We want to deal with you as a person, not as a number or “just another bum on another seat”.  We try to help you achieve your goals, especially to train you the best we can to prepare you for the beauty, nail and spa therapies industries.
We have small classes and remain dedicated to small classes so you have more one-on-one time with your tutor.  You aren’t lumped in with 16, 22, 40 other students at the same time, or seen with dollar signs floating above your head.

We’ll challenge you.  You’ll have to work hard to achieve and succeed.  You’ll have to use your brain, your knowledge, your know-how and get in there, work hard, but that’s what you are paying us for.  And, after all that hard work and perseverance, you’ll hopefully graduate and get out there into the world, using your knowledge to help others.

And that’s a big difference.  Yes, you may pay more for your education.  Yes, you may have to move from another city or town to study with us.  But that’s a small sacrifice for a much better education you’ll receive that will prepare you that much better for the wide world out there and the industry you are passionate about.

Research your chosen career.  Talk with those knowledgeable and passionate about the industry.  Speak with your family, friends and/or loved ones about your career, about your goals, about your dreams and aspirations and get feedback.  Most importantly, ask questions from the providers you are comparing against one another.  Find out facts and figures, and what’s involved, and what’s expected of you, and see how that matches up to your dreams and aspirations.  Most importantly, look at who is out there in the industry you want to get into, those people who are really successful, and find out from them what you should look for in training.
As our Code of Ethics says, “Be the best you can be.”  That’s a challenge I wish I had when I started my tertiary education career.  And, taking my story on-board, this is the challenge I issue to you.

Scott Fack is the Director of Operations for The National School of Aesthetics, the South Island’s leading beauty therapy, nail technology and spa therapies training provider.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

The First Blog: 2010 Calling

This story is no longer valid.

Hi everyone, and welcome to my first blog for The National School of Aesthetics.  I hope to bring you many exciting bits and pieces from my viewpoint at the school through this blog and my postings.

Where to start?  Well, I wanted to say first that the students we have attending the school in 2009 are great.  We have a lot of very focussed students who will be assets to the beauty therapy, nail technology and spa therapies industries.  If you’re an employer reading this, keen on employing one of our students, contact us at the school, and either Jacqui or I will help you.

In the Operations side, where Noel, Jacqui and I work, we’re gearing up for 2010 applications and enrolments.  If you’re a person interested in enrolling in 2010 for one of our courses and are going through the full interview process, make sure you impress us with your application.  Like most tertiary schools in New Zealand, we have been, and will continue to receive, more applications than we have funded spaces available.  So, make sure your application is completed fully, and stands out for us in a good way!  In saying this, we don’t need a million pages; we need to see you can complete an assignment to a better-than-average standard while meeting all the criteria.  And this is what your application is to us: your first assignment.

2010 is an exciting year for us at NaSA; we turn 25 years old.  It’s hard to believe we’ve come so far, but the journey isn’t over.  Over the years, and even now, we had, and continue to have, a great team.  Noel and Don are still here on a day-to-day basis, ready to help students and staff alike.  And both are qualified beauty therapists (and, in Don’s case, qualified nail technician), so they’re able to help with the technical stuff too.

I think, if we built a time machine and went back to that little cottage on Stanmore Road back in 1985, first, we’d shock everyone there, but second, and more importantly, if you showed the 1985-Don and 1985-Noel how much the school would grow and become the quality-driven powerhouse of beauty/nail/spa training it is today, they’d be flabbergasted.  And it’s a testament to their hard-work and dedication not only that NaSA has succeeded in the industry (when many at the time NaSA opened said it wouldn’t) but also that our graduates, from 1985 until now and into the future, succeed and will continue to succeed with such a solid foundation of learning as they enter the beauty therapy, spa therapies and nail technology industries.

And that flows on to the many wonderful clinics New Zealand-wide and internationally who accept our graduates for employment.  Of course, without them, we wouldn’t be here either.  So, much of our success in celebrating our 25th birthday in 2010 also can be attributed to them and their support over the years.  A heartfelt thank you.

Well, I think that wraps up this blog post.  I hope to bring you more focussed, subject-oriented blogs in the future.  If there’s any subject you’d like me to discuss, feel free to contact me, and I’d be more than happy to look into it.

Scott Fack is the Director of Operations for The National School of Aesthetics, the South Island’s leading beauty therapy, nail technology and spa therapies training provider.