There are a lot of cliches about customers: The customer is always right. Customers are king. One advertising tycoon even went so far as to point out what should have been painfully obvious: “The customer is not a moron.” Some are better than others but they all exist for a reason.
You can’t have a business without customers, and thankfully, education agents are alive to the importance of nailing the customer experience. Cohort Go’s new The State of Education Agents 2019 report is full of vital insights but one stands out. More than any other motivator, agents from all over the world say nothing is more important than satisfying their customers. Not commissions, not free trips, not even pay rises or professional development.
In a survey of 405 agents operating in dozens of countries and serving the world’s biggest education markets, one-third rank customer satisfaction as their biggest motivator. It’s not a surprising result; the agent business couldn’t exist without students. But it is heartening because it goes a long way to addressing one of the key concerns some people still have about using an education agent: What are their commissions, and how do they influence their choices? The Cohort Go research shows that, while commissions are important, customers remain at the heart of agents’ decisions.
Diving into the data
According to the study, customer satisfaction (34.32%) ranks at the top for twice as many agents as every other motivator. Even when bundled together, the two main financial motivators - commissions (15.31%) and pay rises (15.56%) - are less important. Almost one in five (18.77%) agents say the opportunity for professional development is their most important driver and 16% say other incentives such as travel vouchers score highest on their list.
The results come from asking agents to rank their most important motivator from one to five. These results should go a long way to addressing concerns some students have aired around agents’ priorities, particularly the relationships between commissions and recommendations.
In contrast, when asking agents how important financial incentives are to them, nine in every 10 defines them as either extremely important (43.21%) or important (46.91%). Still, these results should go a long way to addressing concerns some students have aired around agents’ priorities, particularly the relationships between commissions and recommendations.
How does this compare with current attitudes?
The new data points are interesting because they so strongly reject one concern that still has some students in some parts of the world thinking twice before using education agents. An extensive Canadian report from 2014, while heaping praise on agents in a few key areas, also noted some mistrust that agents would act in the best interests of students and not themselves. Overall, the students were worried about unresponsiveness to student queries, unclear financial terms or fees, and inaccurate or misrepresented information.
The Cohort Go data also back up the prevailing industry viewpoint that commissions are an important motivator that benefits everyone, without being so dominant as to cause major problems. Some in the industry are opening the door to changes to commissions in some areas, but others insist current systems are strong enough to keep agents on track. These data suggest agents’ own self-motivation will go a long way to ensure they are doing the right thing by their customers before looking out for commissions or pay rises.
Is this the right approach?
While it’s hard to say definitively customer satisfaction should be your biggest motivator, many signs indicate it should. In 2017, World Education News and Reviews found an incredible 55% of students heading to the US picked their agent based on word of mouth. That means every satisfied client is potentially worth several more down the track. Return business is also not unheard of: one student was so happy with the service they were offered, they came back to the same agent three times.