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25 Tips for Improved Member Relations

There is more to good customer service than knowing members by name. Here are 25 tips for improved member relations that you and your front-desk staff can implement.

In the fitness industry, customer service ultimately is a question of how well the uniqueness of the service experience matches the uniqueness of the individuals. This experience all begins when members enter the front door. And, it begins by ensuring that your front desk staff have the right training, as well as the opportunity to make the members' experiences enjoyable.

Employee training

Training employees to provide stellar customer service requires some creativity. It will take time, energy and incentives. Finding the right person, especially for the front desk position, is important; a fitness background is not necessarily a singular best criteria. A service-oriented "people person" will be willing to learn what they need to know and do to assist members. You want employees who can think on their feet, multi-task and keep a sense of humor. Also, front-desk employees have to know that they have some degree of latitude to diffuse potential problems before they arise, and to surprise guests with an unexpected service extra.

Take your level of customer service up to the "pleasant surprise" of your patrons by applying the 25 following tips, examples and ideas for creating a guest experience that will bring them back again.

The element of surprise

1. Offer a complimentary service or product to each 20th member who enters the fitness center each day. If you have a high profit margin on water, sports drinks or nutrition bars, for instance, let it be "on the house today." The moment of pleasant surprise makes for an extremely satisfied customer.

2. When checking in at the front desk, members often ask for a towel because they've forgotten theirs. Rather than charge them the daily towel service, waive it for the day, and be sure staff takes the opportunity to inform members about the advantage of monthly towel service.

3. If a guest of a member requests a towel, provide two complimentary towels if the guest has long hair. Though you might never see this out-of-town guest again, friends and relatives hearing about it now have an enhanced perception of your facility. The idea is that this is who you are, rather than looking for what's in it for you. Be clear to yourself and your staff about your intentions.

4. If one of your staff members overhears several regular members discussing their plans to have dinner in a restaurant across the street, call ahead to the restaurant and have them serve the party dessert or coffee courtesy of your fitness center.

Set the stage

5. Front desk staff should be able to provide suggestions to members when asked about group fitness classes. Better yet, they should offer suggestions when they see a member checking the schedule. As part of their training, they should attend the group fitness classes offered during their shift.

6. Most people have more energy when they are standing, which comes through in everything they do - from their telephone voice to facial expressions. Front desk staff may not be able to stand for an entire eight-hour shift, but even adjusting a stool to the customers' eye level makes a difference in how employees relate to them.

7. Customer service means follow-up, even if the answer is not the one a customer wants. Updating members to let them know that someone is working on their behalf goes a long way. Once the member asks, employees should make the phone calls and do their homework until the question is answered.

8. If front desk staff are required to wear uniforms, make sure that this attire sets the stage for the mood you want to create. What will help your staff get into character for their shift at work? A vest or button-down shirt can create an upscale atmosphere, while a polo and warm-ups creates an informal one.

9. What kind of message do you want to convey by the style of communication that your front desk staff uses? Training them with attention to this detail (tone of voice, language, etc.) changes the atmosphere, can diffuse problems before they arise and can give staff members the mindset they need to handle complaints with professionalism.

10. Without rushing around, your front desk staff may be better able to get things done with focus, and do it at a calming pace. Not everyone can multi-task. Make sure that you have someone on staff at all times who understands priorities and handles them accordingly.

Show interest

11. Front desk staff should always maintain eye contact. Even if the phone rings, the potential member standing at the desk wants to be greeted with eye contact and acknowledgement. If members need something more, have staff let them know that they have their full attention by putting the caller on hold. A call, a book or magazine, or a show playing on the lobby TV is never more important than the guest standing at the desk.

12. Showing interest in someone is the quickest way to win new friends. A generic greeting will do little to endear your fitness center to the hearts of potential or current members. With every human contact, you and your staff can find ways to make it personal. "I love that color," in reference to a shirt is not a statement about the other person as much as, "That is a good color on you."

13. Questions can go further than a comment to show interest. Rather than issuing a directive to "enjoy the weather," ask someone, "What will you do with this sunshine?"

14. Listen exclusively. Learning to listen without interruption is a skill that requires practice. Let members voice their opinion, complaint or suggestion fully before jumping in. Then respond (instead of react) with a neutral, free-of-emotion statement, and make the member feel heard. You may have heard this complaint before, but not from this member on this day.

15. Rather than saying "no" in response to a request you know you can't grant, respond with, "Let me see what I can do," and then find a solution. Follow up with the member to provide a service that is a better fit for both of you.

Use a personal touch

16. A women's-only facility owner in Kansas City, though faced with much competition, does well because of the personal touch. She empowers her staff to solve problems. If a member has a complaint, "we're sorry" and thank-you notes are at the ready, along with coupons for free products or services. Staff members are authorized to use them at their discretion.

17. The art of using the handwritten note is a teachable skill. Write a few to your staff members, and use any handwritten notes from patrons as examples in your staff meetings. Make these notes personal and specific to events or qualities of the person.

18. At the Flagship in Eden Prairie, Minn., fresh flowers create a welcoming atmosphere in the entryway, and make a statement about the business' attention to detail.

19. Use a member's name whenever possible. The tennis reservation or the personal training schedule should allow your staff to say, "Hello, Mr. Smith. Mr. Jones will meet you on court two."

20. Have staff members use their own names when extending a handshake. "Hello, I'm George, the front desk manager. Let me know if you have any questions during your visit. We're glad you stopped in today."

Encourage employees

21. Employees who are rewarded for excellent customer service will repeat the act. When you find that employees worked on behalf of a member after their shift was over, reward them and share the experience with the rest of your staff.

22. Double up on staff members at the front desk during busy times. There should always be someone ready to greet the next member with a smile and eye contact. It will be well worth the added labor costs.

23. Customer service on the phone and in email communication is important. Phone call transfers to appropriate departments are not always successful. So, have staff members take the name and number of the person calling, and relay the information to the department head. In a worst-case scenario you've doubled up on the message - no matter what, no one falls through the cracks.

24. Work hard to retain your staff. If your members see familiar faces and are known by name, they'll feel a relationship with your business.

25. In order to provide excellent customer service, your employees need to experience it first. Do you customize their feedback and rewards? How could you provide surprises to your staff to show your appreciation? Do you know who would be moved by a massage and who would appreciate tickets to a baseball game? Who would glow from acknowledgement at a staff meeting?

What works for you

Of course, not all of these suggestions can be implemented at every facility. Staff training and re-training are vital for these ideas to work. Try some of them out, and gradually add new ideas of your own to make your members and employees feel welcome and appreciated.

Recommended Reading
Pine, J., and J. Gilmore. The Experience Economy. Harvard Business School Press: Boston, Mass., 1999.
Sanders, T. The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life's Dreams. Three Rivers Press: New York, N.Y., 2005.
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