Give employees the tools to avoid technological frustration and get the most out of your software.
There's an old joke about a man who calls a computer helpline because his machine just won't work. The technician patiently goes through a series of detailed, scripted questions, but after an hour on the phone, he's not even close to a solution. The monitor is black, the keyboard doesn't work, and the caller lost his cool 30 minutes ago. The technician abandons the troubleshooting script and asks, "Do you see a green light blinking on the CPU?" The answer is no. "Now look at the back of the CPU," the technician continues. "Do you see a cord plugged into the machine?" The caller sees the cord. "Now follow the cord. Is it plugged into the wall?" Of course, it wasn't plugged in. Ba-dum-dum. The above scenario is unlikely today, as professionals are required to have a fairly high level of computer competence to succeed in the workplace. They're even expected to try their hand at solving problems or fixing glitches before asking for professional assistance. But as computers get more high-tech and software gets more complicated, many frustrated troubleshooters still end up feeling like the joke's on them.
Troubleshooting = power?The word "troubleshooting" implies a kind of power in the problem-solving process. Identify the trouble, get it in your sights and pow! You solve it. But many people don't feel powerful when faced with a feisty software application or complaining computer. In fact, instead of feeling empowered by the troubleshooting guides that come with today's technology, many users feel just the opposite. Luckily, there are some measures managers can take to help employees troubleshoot with more success and less frustration.
Training dayIt's safe to assume that most of your staff members are computer-savvy. It's not safe, however, to assume that they all possess the same level of knowledge. For every technology whiz on staff, there is probably someone who can't do much more than use email. Managers must taking it upon themselves to be sure that their entire staff is prepared and educated about the specific machines and software that their fitness center uses. Simply trusting that employees will read through the manual on their own won't cut it. Less experienced users may feel intimidated by unfamiliar techno-jargon, or uncomfortable asking a question if they are confused. In a group tutorial setting, these kinds of issues are less threatening. Consider creating your own materials for the training session and making it mandatory for all employees. Also create a contingency plan to get new employees who miss the tutorial up to speed. Michael M. Dehn, president of InnovaTech Software, Dallas, Texas, endorses this approach. "We also produce a set of tutorial CDs walking users through each feature of our system, which is helpful, especially when new employees come on board and were not available during the initial training."
It's not you, it's meComputers can't talk, software can't take you out to lunch and email won't come to your birthday party. But people still feel a connection to their machines. They get attached - some people even name them - because computers make their lives easier. Except, of course, when they don't. Then the honeymoon is over and a break-up is on the horizon. Unfortunately, the break-up line, "It's not you, it's me," may be over-used in the world of relationships, but it's under-used in the world of technology. The truth is, user error accounts for the most common computer and software problems encountered. It's easy (and tempting) to blame the machine for freezing or running slowly, but a regular maintenance schedule can prevent this. "Most of our best customers actually produce an operational manual (usually five to 10 pages, plus samples) of common tasks to be done each day/week/month with screen prints and sample reports procedures," says Dehn. "This will assist staff in easily performing regular functions."
Beef up securityIt's also essential to keep your fitness center's network secure. "It is important to utilize any security that is available to ensure that only authorized persons have access to confidential information," says Robert Riches, president of ASF International, Highlands Ranch, Colo. Identity theft is a growing concern, and your facility may open itself up to liability issues if someone obtains personal information from your computers to commit a crime. Keeping computers safe from bugs, worms, viruses and other insidious technology ills should also be a high priority. They are more than annoyances; they can paralyze your operations, and the fixes are time-consuming and can be expensive.
Is help a call, or click, away?Even with the most attentive maintenance schedule, there are bound to be moments when users reach for the troubleshooting manual. And if no solutions are found there, it's time to get some outside help. Not every fitness center has a technology specialist on staff to take the reins, and employees are often responsible for contacting a service technician via telephone or the Internet. So, which avenue of tech support is better? "We recommend calling when you cannot figure a problem out in less than five minutes," says Dehn. "Our customer support hotline resolves 90 percent of inbound customer calls within five minutes, and 95 percent within 60 minutes. Since most clients do not read the manual, this is the quickest solution, and provides a teachable moment for the user. The software companies with the best service record will encourage this." Riches agrees: "I think that most providers would welcome any calls from their clients." Those who go online for help have a host of options, including email, expanded lists of troubleshooting guides and tutorials. "Some providers also have live chat available," says Riches. "This is a very useful tool because it is quick and the club is able to get answers without calling, leaving messages or waiting on hold, or sending email and waiting for a response."
Quick and painlessWhether you choose to call or click, take the Band-Aid approach: Keep it quick and painless. "It is most helpful to be able to describe concisely what you are wanting to do, what you have tried (and did not work) and any error messages (if applicable)," says Dehn. Also have serial numbers handy to avoid last-minute searching. Get the most from your machines When your computers are functioning and software is installed, the last common mistake users make is not using their technology to its full potential. "The only way a piece of software is going to provide a return on investment is if the managers understand the application and how it can be used to solve business problems," says Dehn. "They must then create the procedures that will generate increases in productivity of their team. Simply buying software does not improve productivity. Strategic implementation does." Riches recommends focusing on tracking tools for member usage. "One of the most critical things clubs should do is utilize any attendance tracking tools and any tools to keep in contact with the members," he says. "This is an extremely important factor in keeping the member paying. Keeping in contact with the member and making sure that they are constantly reminded of the value of the membership and keeping them from getting out of the routine of attending is one of the most important things that will keep them paying." Once your fitness center's technology is working for you (instead of against you), time will free up for more important matters. Spend it analyzing attendance reports, sketching renovation plans or revamping your programming schedule. Oh, heck - why not tell a computer joke or two?