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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Students Aren't Customers? Really?

This meme crossed my path in my feed recently:

I get where this is coming from.

The idea is that we as martial arts instructors are experts in what we do, and we are the ones who understand what our students need from us better than they do.

It's a warning to avoid catering too much to the people who want an easy path to rank and recognition. This is especially a problem for those of us who teach kids - the constant pressure to give in to parents who don't want their little dumplin's to have to work hard to earn things.

In that sense, this is 100% true and I agree wholeheartedly. Watering down what you teach to satisfy the whims of what poorly-educated parents think they want is a bad idea for you, your style, and your students. Nobody ultimately wins.

You can't treat martial arts instruction like you're mass-producing widgets.

At the same time, though, I think there's a problem with this mind set - the idea that our students are NOT customers.

Our students (and their parents, in the case of kids) are customers.

When we say "Martial Arts is a Business", we tend to quickly associate what we offer with industries that are all about serving large masses of people with the lowest price goods without a thought for excellent customer service or the quality of product. Hey, we DO use the term "McDojo", don't we?

The thing is, these are not the only models of successful businesses in the world.

What about industries where the quality of the product and the excellence of customer service is what they're known for, versus the mass-appeal value brands like Dollar General or Wal-Mart or McDonald's?

Are we in the martial arts world really offering the largest quantity of people possible a minimally-acceptable product at the lowest price in the most efficient way possible?

Gosh, I hope not. I mean, I know there are martial arts schools who do exactly that (and we all know who they are), but that's not the only way to succeed, is it?

If that were true, there would ONLY be Wal-Marts and Dollar Generals and McDonalds in the world. But we know that's not true at all.

Isn't teaching quality martial arts more akin to selling BMW's or Ritz-Carlton or Rolex? None of these brands water down their quality or their passion for what they do to cater to the common denominator, and you don't have to do that, either.

All of these brands DO treat their customers really well. And they make boatloads of money and are incredibly successful, without compromising the quality of what they offer.

One thing luxury, quality brands do is that they don't try to serve everyone as they are chasing revenue. They usually specialize in a unique product or experience intended for a specific audience, not everyone with a pulse.

Isn't that what you should be doing?

Shouldn't you treat your students well? Give them respect, deliver what you promise to them, help them achieve what they can achieve in the martial arts? Isn't that the hallmark of excellent customer service?

Isn't it smart to cater to a specific audience, versus everyone who can slap on a gi and walk in the door? Not everyone IS a potential student, after all. Some people just want the cheapest, easiest thing they can find - is that who you want on your mat?

Treat what you do like a business, but a GOOD business. A high-quality business.

Businesses who don't pay their bills on time, don't collect fees due to them and don't bother to keep good books and pay taxes, are always late and/or miss appointments, ignore communications like emails and phone calls (or return them late), don't deliver what they promise to deliver, cheat their customers, don't do any marketing to find new students, and treat their current customers as if they should be grateful the owner is willing to speak to them much less allow them to purchase what they sell will CLOSE THEIR DOORS.

How many martial arts teachers do you know that do one or more of the things in the list above? Especially the miss appointments and bad communication thing?

There is nothing wrong with an instructor trying to teach for a living, and if you don't treat it like the business it is, you're going fail. You'll end up in debt and not pass on what you know to worthy people to follow you, which is what you're SUPPOSED to be doing, after all.

Just remember you're a luxury brand offering a one-of-a-kind service. You're not McDonald's or Wal-Mart. You're a fancy, hip local restaurant in the cool part of town, the one everybody goes to on special occasions or to impress friends and relatives.

Excellent customer service doesn't require you to compromise on what you teach, or to give students and/or their parents everything they ask for. Luxury brands know what their customer wants better than their customer does. That's what you should take the quote by Sensei Loffler above to really mean.

Do you think that customer service is important to being a martial arts instructor? What does that look like, to you? Do you think it's impossible to be successful without compromising your style? Let us know in the comments!

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