To keep your customers happy, offer exceptional service that focuses on reliability, responsiveness, reassurance, empathy and tangibles.

Customers have so many options these days. If you don't offer what they want, they'll go down the street to another fitness center. According to Kristin Anderson and Ron Zemke in their book, Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service, researchers consistently find that it costs five times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep one you already have. To keep your customers happy, offer exceptional service that focuses on reliability, responsiveness, reassurance, empathy and tangibles.

Reliability

Demonstrating reliability means keeping the service promise. Do what you say you'll do. If you make a personal promise to get follow-up information for a client, follow through and get the information. If you make a promise through marketing and advertising efforts, follow through on it.

If a promise is broken, rebuild your reliability by apologizing, admitting that something went wrong and finding out what your client needs now. Leave out the excuses; clients don't want to hear them. Finally, don't over promise. Reliability means keeping promises you make, and making promises you can keep.

Responsiveness

Doing something at the right time or in a timely manner is being responsive. When you set deadlines, be realistic. If you know a remodel will take longer than promised, or the treadmills you ordered will be late, be up front with members.

Once you set appointment times or delivery dates, they are what the customer uses to measure your success or failure. Create acceptable, realistic expectations, and meet those expectations.

Reassurance

Members will trust you because of the competence and confidence that you display in your work. Build competence through product knowledge. Know the features, advantages and benefits of your fitness center. Build competence through company knowledge. Broaden your knowledge beyond just your particular job. Build competence through improving your listening and problem-solving skills. Listen, understand and respond to the specific needs of your members. Reassuring is more than just mastering a few "people skills." Reassurance requires style and substance.

Empathy

It is important to be able to understand how a situation might make a customer angry. As a service professional, you need to differentiate between what happened and to whom it happened, and how to bring things back to normal.

If you respond with sympathy, you can become worn out. When you respond with empathy, you are emotionally aware and sensitive, without becoming emotionally involved. Empathy allows you to be calm and in control, and professional and caring at the same time. Using empathy will let your members know they're being heard, and make them feel like they are important.

Tangible

When prospective members enter your facility, they begin to form an impression about the services before even receiving them. They are evaluating your intangible services based on the tangibles they can see and hear. Tangibles play a big role in making your services memorable, for better or worse.

Take pride in every aspect of your fitness center that your members see and touch. Make sure those parts of your facility are clean, safe and comfortable. Take pride in your own appearance, as well as in the materials you give to your members. Tangibles give something solid to which customers can tie impressions. When they describe your services to others, they will focus on their observations of these tangible objects.

Practice makes perfect

Perfect these characteristics of exceptional service, and you'll keep your members and clients happy and coming back for more.

REFERENCE

Anderson, K., and R. Zemke. Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service. American Management Association: New York, N.Y.,1991.