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The 'Issue' Is Customer Service

The 'solution' is knowing what your customers want, providing them with superior service and ensuring that you're making the grade.

Since the invention of the Internet, we now have information at our fingertips to help us find the answers to just about everything - including how to run our businesses. There is even a website,, that credits itself as "The World's Number 1 Customer Service Site." On it, I found an article written by Jim Clemmer, an author and keynote speaker on management, that lists the "nine factors that are probably blocking your attempts at being focused on the customer." While these factors could apply to any type of business, they most certainly apply to the fitness-services business. Rather than list all nine, I've condensed them into a few sections that should help you to plan a customer service improvement strategy.

Lack of segmentation of markets and customer groups

Clemmer states that businesses try to be everything to everybody, rather than carving out a customer niche. Package that with little or no customer data, and not only do you have a fuzzy picture of what to offer members and how, but you don't know what they want or if they're happy with what you're providing them. According to an article on The Radial Group's website (, "Experts say that keeping an extra 5 percent of your current customers improves your bottom line by as much as 95 percent." The group, which specializes in business expertise for the wellness industry, recommends conducting customer surveys to act as "early detection systems" as a method to help you keep that extra 5 percent. To conduct a truly useful survey takes nine steps. First, determine your survey's goal, and narrow your goals to make the survey manageable. Perhaps your goal is to learn what members think about your programs or personal training. The key, says The Radial Group, is to "ask yourself if you would clearly know what action to take based on either favorable or unfavorable answers in each area." Second, decide which factors you want to measure. You need to measure concrete factors, such as facility hours, product prices, staff quality, etc. But, make sure to avoid general topics that pose questions that could mean different things to different people, such as "Do you think XXX Fitness Center is a good choice?" Third, decide when and how often you'll survey customers. "Customer satisfaction surveys are generally transactional," says The Radial Group. "They're conducted after a certain number of visits to your business or to a specific department in your business." For instance, you could survey members who have completed a package of personal training sessions. Fourth, choose your topics and limit them to no more than 10 questions. Fifth, write the survey questions. Use closed-ended questions that ensure the respondent either gives a yes or no answer, or replies to a specific choice of answers. Sixth, if you are going to ask preference questions, choose a scoring method, such as "on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being unsatisfactory and 5 being excellent." Seventh, test your survey by trying it out on a few members or staff to see what they think of it and whether it makes sense. Eighth, decide how to administer the survey. You can conduct web surveys or paper-and-pencil surveys. And, last, decide how to motivate customers to participate. You may decide to share the information you've gained or to give them a small gift in exchange for completing the survey.

Organizational mayhem

Clemmer quotes Rosabeth Moss Canter, a Harvard Business School professor, as saying, "Despite the recent media coronation of King Customer, many customers will remain commoners. ... [M]ost businesses today say that they serve customers. In reality, they serve themselves." The problem, says Clemmer, is that "many executives don't understand what outstanding customer service really looks like." For instance, they push new products and services on customers, rather than involving them as active partners in the research and development stage. Management also treats employees as the source of service breakdowns, when, in fact, it most likely originates from the top. The 85/15 Rule, states Clemmer, says that 85 percent of service breakdowns originate in organizational systems, processes or structures. This is most likely caused by the fact that management often have little interaction with customers themselves, leaving that to the front lines.

Acquisition vs. retention

Customers aren't treated as people, says Clemmer. "Thinking of someone as a customer implies providing service, partnership or some form of equality. However, when customers become 'policyholders,' 'consumers,' 'patients,' 'passengers,' 'taxpayers,' 'accounts' or 'advertisers,' they often become less human." The Radial Group outlines six principles of customer service:
  1. Provide a safe and clean environment. This may seem obvious, but take a look at some of the comments in Guy Brown's article, "Ego-Surfing for Improved Service". If you think you're doing a good job in this area in your facility, try a little ego-surfing for yourself.
  2. Scripting is no substitute for sincerity. Forget the front desk people who are too busy talking to their friends on the phone or gossiping to the employee next to them to care about the member checking in. Employees who use "robotic repetition of members' names and scripted phrases like 'Can I help you?' and 'Enjoy your workout' are just as customer service unfriendly." Customers know when someone is sincere and actually cares about them.
  3. Sell what you "have," not what you "had." Your facility's sales and marketing materials have to reflect what you truly offer to members. The Radial Group says, "We frequently find that health clubs who complain about getting lots of customer phone calls to check on class schedules are still giving customers - you guessed it! - outdated group exercise calendars!"
  4. Tell customers why business changes are good for "them." If you make a change in your facility, whether it's equipment, programs, staff, etc., tell members why it will help them, not why you needed to do it for your business. Members don't care about what's good for you; they care about what's good for them. After all, they're the ones paying.
  5. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. We're all too familiar with how much of an inconvenience it is when we go to the doctor to only sit there and wait well past our appointment time. Fitness professionals deal with clients who cancel at the last minute or who arrive late. You should charge for that time, but be prepared to offer the same in return to the client when your staff is late.
  6. Be consistent in what you say and what you do. "Don't adopt marketing slogans and taglines just because they sound catchy and cool," says The Radial Group. "Make sure that your customer communications really do reflect the experience they're likely to have with your business."

Customer service solutions

Fitness facilities need to plan their business around their customers, not their offerings. The following three articles aim to give you some solutions to improve your customer service. As Clemmer says, "Business is a lot like tennis; those who don't serve well end up losing."
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