Intensive Courses are NOT Fairies!

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about intensive driving lessons, but recent events have brought these to my mind again. For over 6 years now, part of my business has been looking after not only my own driving schools, but other driving schools across the country.

This involves call-answering, as well as marketing and website development. Along the way, we have helped and worked with several specialist intensive driving schools and one or two that do both weekly and intensive driving lessons. This gives me some insight as to the operation and pros and cons of the intensive market.

Seeing is believing

One of the most common things I hear when talking to driving instructors about intensives is “I don’t believe in them.” This often makes me chuckle as they really do exist! They’re not fairies, you know (sorry to all the fairy believers who I’ve just upset).

I think what people mean is that they don’t believe intensives work, or they are not good for the pupil. The simple fact is, they do work – some of the time for some of the people. But they don’t always work, and they don’t work for all of the people. Now I know the last two sentences say the same thing in effect, but I think it’s important to realise they can work but not always. Got it? Right! I will move on…

There are driving schools and instructors up and down the country who are successfully delivering intensive driving lessons and have been for a long time. For some learners, it’s the best way for them to learn to drive because of work or other commitments. For some, learning this way in a large block is simply more preferable, and they would not want to learn if they had to do it weekly.

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I know many prolific blog writers who write all their posts in one go, then schedule them to be posted weekly. It’s just the way some people work. I’m not aware of any real evidence (apart from the training of military personnel) that indicates that intensives are any less safe or make worse drivers. The research that does exist revolves around military personnel, but I think this is because they use the one-size-fits-all model and train everyone intensively. The argument for works equally against in the military-type training. Some people simply do not benefit from this type of intensive training.

Are they a problem?

Well, sometimes they are. And when they are a problem, the problems are often worse than with your normal weekly driving lessons. Let’s take for example a pupil who is not feeling well. They wake in the morning, as we all have, streaming with a cold. Now if this were a weekly one or two-hour driving lesson, they would only have to cancel one lesson. Many of us consider whether to charge for cancelations and often give the benefit of the doubt for good rapport and customer relationship. But in an intensive, one cancelation could could cost a whole day’s worth (or more) of income.

This gets harder. The same feelings occur and thought processes must be dealt with by the driving instructor but now it’s a whole lot more money. Possibly make or break. Few can absorb such a high loss of income, so charges must be made. Herein lies the biggest problem because now you need to get ready for a complaint.

Likewise, the pupil can’t afford such a loss in income and just like you, will not give up easily. Often parents get involved pleading for their children and the whole thing becomes a mess. Then you’ve got a dilemma.

Coupling this with the fact that the pupil probably has their driving test on the very near horizon and there may not be enough diary time to make up the lost hours. The pupil might have taken time off work for the course, compounding the problem and adding stress. Talking of stress – we all know how that can lead to illness.

Pressure can also bring on stress when the pupil knows they have an impending deadline, particularly when they feel they are not going to make that deadline they’ll start to get stressed and then start feeling ill. They then need to cancel, and this circle starts again. This is just one of the reasons why pupils may need to cancel. Other outside factors such as death or illness in the family, work commitment or child commitments changing are a few more. The fact is that if there is a problem, it can be amplified massively learning intensively.

Then there’s the instructor

We’ve all had that rare problem where we’ve had a car breakdown or our own illness or family problem. With weekly driving lessons, we call the pupil and cancel or re-schedule the driving lesson for the following week. Like the pupil though, if we need to cancel an intensive driving lesson, we are talking about a whole a day – or more.

Get ready for the phone to ring with a complaint. Here in the office we have dealt with so many of these. An instructor whose father died, an instructor who had a heart attack and another who had a serious car crash, the phone rang for all these with complaints. All pupils/parents expecting the driving lessons and tests to still go ahead. Now, it might be possible to sort another car out but even the best companies take a day or two, but do we have driving instructors on standby? Err no! Again, to be fair, the pupils end up stressed and worrying about their time constraints etc.

Suffice to say, the usual problems you get with weekly driving lessons become worse for intensives. The slow learner will appear slower, the unreliable pupil appears more unreliable. They take a lot of managing and we have found you need the right driving instructors.

Something I would insist as a driving school is that instructors are not paid until the course (or at least parts of it) have been completed. This would certainly have solved so many problems with the intensive driving schools we have worked with. Schools have paid instructors before the course has even gone ahead and for one reason or another the driving instructor has not completed or even started the course and has refused to give the school owner back the money. Possibly because in their opinion the pupil let them down, but many have resulted in huge complaints.

The school can’t give the money back because they don’t have it, the instructor can’t or won’t pay up and the pupil usually initiates something called a chargeback to the credit or debit card they paid with. The bank reclaims the money back to the pupil without question and the driving school then have ten days to prove the pupil had the driving lessons or defaulted in some way (often this is difficult to prove). This is even more difficult if there is no contract between school and pupil – and even worse if there’s no contract between school and instructor. This is all followed of course by a damming review on social media.

When things go well

Needless to say, the above paragraphs aren’t the usual sales copy we write to sell intensive driving courses. Because the truth is, it’s not all doom and gloom.

As I mentioned earlier, some pupils really excel with this type of learning. The process for many is good. Rather than spreading the process over many weeks, the likelihood of an illness or other problems is smaller, simply because they are taken over a shorter timescale.

There is as much riding on this for the pupils as the driving instructors. We have seen so many pupils excel with this type of training. Passing tests in a short number of driving lessons simply because the style suited their individual learning style. They learn in record number of hours and feel the experience was fantastic. This leads to great reviews and other people see how ‘Fred passed an intensive with only 15 driving lessons’ (is that lessons or hours?) Then the phone starts ringing because this looks good.

driving school review
Intensives can lead to good reviews…

Ah, the pupil’s expectations

I’m sure many of the problems I’ve covered here come from the pupils’ expectations. We have all seen the adverts, ‘Start Monday, pass Friday!’ This is often a marketing ploy and with my marketing hat on, a good one. There is a demand for this type of course, as people see the timeframe as a problem, so why not fill the demand and create a solution for the problem?

However, pupils believe they will all start this Monday and pass five days later on the Friday. The adverts don’t stipulate which Friday – or for that matter which Monday they will start. Pupils see that their friends have done it so it must work for them too.

Remember though, it does not work for all the pupils all the time. A pupil books a 30-hour course, because “that’s all they can afford.” They get half-way through the course and it’s apparent they will need more driving lessons. Dilemma ahead as they can’t afford more. Up go the stress levels, on comes the illness and here we go again. The problem here lies with the pupil being too over-optimistic to setting expectations too high when booking. Trying to realistically give an answer over the phone to our most frequently asked question “how many driving lessons will I need?” is impossible.

How many driving lessons will I need = 3 x 3.14/9.7 x age x the length of a piece of string.

The joys of Marketing

There is undoubtedly a huge demand for intensive driving lessons. Throughout my career as an instructor I advertised these as I found they were a very frequently searched keyword on the major search engines. They brought in many pupils asking about intensive driving lessons, most of which I signed up. How many intensive driving courses have I delivered? NONE, not one.

They have always gone the same way for me. I ask them if they have their theory booked. Normally this is a no, so I suggest we do a few lessons leading up to the theory to get their hand in and ‘make the intensive easier.’ They normally go for this and when the theory is passed, just carry on with the weekly driving lessons. Simples!

Then there’s another aspect to cover. Like anything, if there is a niche market, people do expect to pay more. Some driving schools seem to get confused on this with block bookings. I know it’s common practice to discount blocks of driving lessons, we do this ourselves at 1st 4 Driving owing to the amount of great marketing reasons to do it, but we don’t discount intensive driving lessons.

I have known schools charging and filling diaries at £50 an hour for intensive driving lessons. Of course, it’s hidden in the total price with the driving tests included. I’m sure pupils just don’t do the maths and work out what they are paying for, but they are in a niche market. They get their driving instructor’s sole attention for the week of the course. It’s a market winner and will remain so for many years. They can fit in very well with an instructor’s lifestyle too, as often they are Monday to Friday 10am-4pm.

Intensive driving lessons are and always will be controversial. Like Marmite, you either love them or hate them. What is important though, is the way they are managed. They need to be managed firmly and tactfully. Never promise what you can’t fulfil and remember the reality of expectations. Contracts are a must for both instructor and pupils just in case of problems. I have seen this go right many times and also go wrong. When it goes wrong in can go wrong big style and the stress it causes……have I mentioned stress?…

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