Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Letting students know who our most reliable tutors are

I think it would help you guys to know what the most common complaint is on Cafetalk. And that is...
"Tutors don't respond to lesson requests"
That is, quite frequently lesson requests are left unanswered and students are left feeling very disappointed as a result. Imagine you're a student. You just came across Cafetalk and you find all these great tutors. You pick someone you think you might like and request your very first lesson. You're all psyched up and motivated. But then 24 hours later you receive an email saying "Sorry, your tutor could not confirm your lesson request." This is the all too familiar message that is automatically sent out from Cafetalk when a lesson is not confirmed before the expiration time set by the student. If the student is new to Cafetalk we usually lose her at this point. Figures show clearly that students who have a bad first lesson (including unanswered lessons) don't come back. So the gist of this message is ... confirm your lessons promptly and you'll probably be rewarded. The other announcement I'd like to make is that from now on we will be posting a list of tutors who have good response and confirmation rates on our student blog. The confirmation rate shown here is basically the percentage of completed requests to total requests. I know this is a little unfair because some lessons have to be canceled for reasons beyond the tutors' control. So before you start bombarding us with complaints please rest assured that we will try to improve the logic of this indicator to make it more accurate. Anyway, it's just a start. Currently students don't have any means of knowing which tutors are more likely to respond to their requests and which are likely to just ignore them. This kind of list should help them out a little. We'll be posting more of these "top xxx" type lists on both our student blog and in the Cafetalk system in the future. "Tutors who offer unique lessons", "Tutors who can teach concentrated lessons during the Summer" are just a few of the ideas in the pipeline, but if you would like to propose a list topic please send them in through the comments.


  1. Hey Guys and Gals.

    There are many factors to be considered when getting together for the first lesson. Some of these considerations should be made clear to potential students at Cafétalk in the posting of the mentioned list.

    Firstly, the "free lesson" concept is an excellent sales technique; however, I have had several trial lessons that were the only lesson the student had with me. Perhaps the student did not like my style of teaching, or they were unsatisfied with the quality of an Internet connection. Perhaps the student was simply looking for a free lesson with no intention of signing up for more....there are many "free" English plans on Internet, Cafétalk must stand out from those. Students who are willing to pay a minimal price for the first chat are more likely to be students who will pay for continued lessons, perhaps.

    Time zone differences play an important part. I live eight hours behind Japan, so it has occurred, twice, that the appointment is requested at the beginning of the weekend but I don't see that it has been automatically cancelled until I check in on Monday.I try to check every day, but sometimes on Sundays one just does not feel like sitting in front of the computer.

    Related to the above, students often ask for their classes during the period when traffic on Skype is highest. Although Internet connections in Japan can be quite advanced and rapid, in other countries the importance of wide-band rapid connections is often second to how much is charged. When Skype is overloaded with callers (at 10pm in Japan there are usually more than 15 million people using Skype) a tutor in a country with a more "primitive" connection may not even be able to connect. This is no excuse for not replying to a lesson request, but on the other hand, it may be related to tutors not accepting certain classes because they fall within that Skype-overload time frame.

    Students need to be aware of their objectives in using Cafétalk as a tool to improve their English. A more helpful filter would put tutors on the front page based on their ability to meet those objectives. A student whose objectives are to have a friendly chat can browse through a filtered list of tutors who offer just that. Another student may want specific help in preparing a presentation for for a business meeting. Tutors that are marked as being particularly helpful in that area could be browsed through by the student. A student who is not aware of his/her own objectives might be disappointed to find that a tutor is not really active at Cafétalk, has simply signed up as a tutor but does not dedicate time to helping Cafétalk work.

    Finally, a student satisfaction survey might be useful. Once a student has had a first class with a tutor, there might be a short, five question survey concerning the experience, the results of which could be included in the teacher's informational page:
    How was the Internet connection?
    Was the tutor friendly and helpful?
    Did the tutor offer any materials?
    Was the Internet used in the class?
    Would you recommend this tutor to friends?

    An automatic list of "this teacher never responds to lesson requests" will highlight those tutors who are not active at Cafétalk; however, it does not reflect the reasons that a response was not made. While students have high expectations of their tutors, tutors should also have high expectations of their students. They must work together to make the class work.

    Actually, I personally think that tutors who "never respond" should be contacted directly by Cafétalk and told that after a certain number of "no responses" their profile will be blocked from student view, thus eliminating the problem, separating the chaff from the grain so to speak, until they can give a reasonable explanation for their behavior. What sets Cafétalk apart from the other on-line language services is the contact with real people: tutors must do everything in their power to maintain that contact, contributing to that difference.

    Mr Spears.

  2. Wow, thank you Mr. Spears. You bring up some very good points. The solution to some are already in the pipeline. Others hadn't occurred to us. I think your comment deserves a detailed response, so please give me a few days to answer.
    In the meantime, if anybody else has comments please let us know.
    Thanks again.

  3. Another thing I know from a different page: add the mean time it takes a teacher to respond to a lesson request to his profile page and the percentage of requests he replied to. This way students can avoid unresponsive teachers. On the other hand, give teachers the choice to deliver requests to both a PC and cell phone mail address, so they can avoid missing requests.

  4. Hi Christoph,

    Adding the mean time to respond would be a great idea. Right now there are some technical difficulties to overcome, though. The first one being that we should count "replies" (using the messaging system) when we calculate this as well. Otherwise it won't be fair to tutors who did not "confirm" the lesson but did initiate correspondence with the student. So there's a bunch of programatic changes that has to accompany this. I'll definitely put it on my to do list. Come to think of it, I should make my to do list public so you know what's in the pipeline. The other thing you should know is that there is a Cafetalk Version 3 (current one is v2) under development at the moment. The programmers are all volunteers so developement is a little slow but we expect to be able to release it sometime early next year. The new version should have improved usability and we're looking to incorporate as much of your feedback as possible. So stay tuned for more news on version 3.

    Lastly, as for giving tutors a choice to deliver requests to both PC and cell phone, there is an option to put *two* email address on your profile. If you register your cell phone address as your sub most automated messages will be sent to your sub account as well.

    Thanks and cheers.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Hello Fernanda,

    Thanks for your feedback.
    I just wanted to be clear about one thing. The ranking on the student blog has nothing to do with the "rating" that you get from students. Rather, it's automatically calculated from your lesson history. Basically it's your completed lessons over the total number of requests for a period of time. It's meant to be one of many objective indicators students use to make informed decisions.

    That being said, to answer your first question - currently only students have the ability to rate students. But I'm hoping that V3 of Cafetalk will have bi-directional ratings (just like the shopping site ebay if any of you have used it before). How to make a better rating system is a very big topic so I'm going to save the details for another post.

    And as for adding automatic reservations I think it's a great idea. I would define this as "recurring reservations" though. I know what you mean. Many students often have lessons with the same tutor at the same time on the same day of the week, and it's a pain scheduling it into the system each time. Unfortunately, it's too far reaching a change for the current system. But let's definitely make it a candidate function for v3.

  7. Hey guys and gals!

    It is true that the students have the option of writing a short "review" of their experience with the tutors at Cafétalk. However, I have only had two reviews in the two years I have worked with Cafétalk, both of them very old. They are also in Japanese, so, even though I have translated them using Google, I am not quite sure if they are totally positive about me (though I think they are!). I've also hinted at current students to take the time to write a note about me, but I think that some do not want to do so because they can be identified by thier tutor. So, a quick, automated survey with four or five important "yes/no" questions might be easier, especially if it can also protect the identity of the student. Much like the "quality survey" that sometimes pops up in Skype. If it is short, quick and easy to fill out then I think students will be more likely to fill it out. And teachers who do not speak Japanese will more easily be able to interpret it than the written reviews.

    Finally, though in my profile I have the response time set to 96 hours, for some reason the system automatically cancels a request after only 48 hours. Perhaps that is the limit set by the student, but I think a student can not know how long it will take any tutor to be able to reply to a lesson request. Maybe the student does not even know that the request will be so quickly cancelled by the system. Requests should not be left hanging for days and days, there should be some kind of limit, but I wonder if 48 hours is too short of a limit. Just a thought there.

    Nice to see more tutors participating in the blog, let's get this conversation rolling!

    Mr Spears.


Sometimes your comments might get "lost" due to update failure caused by a bad connection or a timeout. To prevent accidentally losing your comment we suggest you write it in a text file on your local PC, then copy and paste it in the comment form. That way you'll have a copy in case something happens. Also please note that we'll even publish comments that are critical as long as they are constructive. All your feedback are valuable to us!