Empowering Your Front Lines
A member sees a flyer and asks at the front desk about personal training. A potential member calls to inquire about membership options. A member calls to reserve court time. Each of these situations has many possible outcomes. The worst? The front desk staffer doesn't know the answers, fails to find out the answer, or doesn't collect the customer's name and number — and the opportunity is lost.
In these transactions, what acute losses could you suffer? Consider the median fee for personal training packages, your joining fee and monthly rate, or the hourly price for court time. What long-term losses could be incurred by errors? What revenue may have been lost on a potential long-term personal training client, an annually renewing membership or the upgrade from an exercise membership to a tennis membership? Additionally, what negative word-of-mouth would you receive because of such poor customer service? It takes hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to get customers in the door, yet it can take just one bad incident to lose them.
Your business is peopleYou are not in the fitness business — you are in the people business, providing fitness services. Front desk staff, or customer service officers (CSO), are your front lines, and are either an asset or a liability, depending on how you hire, train and empower them to do their jobs.
Do you know how any of the above scenarios would be handled at your facility? Finding out can be an eye opener. Though you can supervise your staff, no one can be there 24/7. To get an idea about your current state of customer service, regularly schedule secret shoppers and callers who will log records of calls made, and gauge employee responses to scripted inquires. This will allow you to compare what is actually happening to what you want to happen. The next step is to respond to the information you glean. As a manager, these spot checks should be a planned part of evaluating how well your current training process is working.
First, find the leaksCustomer service problems most likely occur with new or part-time employees. They simply don't have the experience or practice. The more full-timers you have on staff, the better you can train, retain and compensate them. Yes, it may cost you more in wages, but, in the end, it may provide more gains. Take note of the Nordstrom philosophy of customer service. This popular department store instructs employees to make it right for customers in creative, sometimes costly, ways. The message is, you will not make a buck on everything today. But, after the bigger waves and ripples are over, long-term relationships are built.
Do you allow your staff to read magazines or books, surf online or paint their nails while at the front desk? Do you allow them to chat among themselves in front of members? Is there a TV in the lobby that distracts staff members from making eye contact with each and every person? Analyze these behaviors to help you provide the level of customer service that supports your mission. Does your current service take you closer or further from your goal?
Then, prevent themHire for fit with your team, not talent, advises Tim Sanders, author of The Likeability Factor and Love is the Killer App. Knowledge is important, but commitment to service is paramount. You can't train enthusiasm or social skills. How does an applicant fit in with your culture and your mission? Also, think twice before you hire for appearance. Sanders, a leadership coach for Yahoo!, reports that, although attractiveness influences likability, research has proven that the number of times a day a person smiles affects it much more. Do your customer service representatives have the ability and desire to remember names? Are they friendly, happy and upbeat? If you, as manager, are notified that someone is waiting to cancel their membership, tone of voice can be important to you and how you respond to the situation. Not every task is pleasant, but getting the message about it doesn't have to be a downer, too.
Once you've determined how you want situations handled, and that you have the right person for the job, set up a solutions-based training system. Define the best choices of action and, if those don't work, determine other options. The idea is not to limit employees to one reaction, but to suggest possible responses to situations with choices that are a fit for the challenge at hand. Reinforce that you won't be with your CSOs every minute of the day, and that they need to know that a "make it right" attitude wins. In other words, hire great people and get out of their way.
People pay for servicePeople are willing to pay for great customer service. Lexus and Nordstrom, icons in the business world, serve as examples. Even knowing they are paying for it, customers "wow" at receiving extra gifts and occasional surprises. Car owners purchase a $60,000 vehicle, receive a dozen roses from the dealership in thanks, and are impressed. Customers pay $200 for a hair color and cut, and still delight in a complimentary travel-sized shampoo and conditioner when they leave. Remember, it's all about long-term relationships. People are no longer loyal to brands; they are loyal to enjoyable experiences that make them feel good.
Following wages and equipment, a business' biggest expense is often advertising or marketing. Spending marketing dollars to attract customers does no good if poor customer service can't keep them. This suggests that the budget for employee training should be equal to or greater than the advertising budget.
Consider Starbucks, whose Green Apron Book describes the culture by which Starbucks partners (its word for employees) should live and serve. Starbucks doesn't need to advertise; it is widely recognized, and customers want to repeat the experience they have there. Your fitness center should mean to your target market what Starbucks means to coffee drinkers. Provide the solutions, positive experience and human touch that people will drive across town to experience. People could buy a $1 cup of coffee at a convenience store, but 35 million customers a week go the extra mile for the Starbucks experience instead.
Create new customer service expectationsWhen training employees, be mindful that they may not know what good customer service is. In this fast-paced, convenience-based society, many staff members will have established their idea of customer service from someone standing behind a counter punching in their order, or delivering the pizza to the front door. To lift these low expectations, provide specific suggestions and literal examples of good customer service. At the same time, be wary of creating a list of "standard operating procedures." The industry standard for service is so low, you may all too easily reach your goal. "Standard" is average, and to provide good customer service, your fitness facility should be well above average.
Customers don't mind waiting if the wait is acknowledged. They don't mind not getting a final answer if they know that you haven't forgotten about checking on their question. Follow-up calls to alert customers that you are working on a solution for their problem go a long way. However, rapid but incorrect responses do more harm than good.
Train employees by giving them a good customer experience themselves. Change the way you address them. Don't call childcare staff "babysitters"; they are Child Care Experts, just as Starbucks hires "partners," not employees. Inform employees how they fit into the overall mission. Acknowledge staff members the way you want them to acknowledge customers. Send flowers for birthdays or on the anniversary of their hire date. Take time to make eye contact and say hello to them while you work. Encourage them to have fun at work, while keeping the customer before anything else. A fun environment spills over. Happy, well-trained employees make happy customers.
Facility of the Week
Ithaca College Athletics and Events Center