Feature Article - March 2011
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Focus on Members

In a Tough Market, Customer Relations Is at a Premium

By Brian Summerfield


Train, Execute, Measure

Of course, a robust culture is about people, and not just members. It's critical for your employees to grasp that culture, too, to the point where it's second nature, effortless. That assimilation is accomplished when the club's customer relations mindset and procedures are clearly communicated and reinforced through training.

For instance, ACAC maintains what it calls "member care commandments," which include keeping a facility painstakingly clean and—no surprise here—knowing members' names. Additionally, the company has an "own the complaint" policy that spans its entire workforce.

"Every team member who comes into contact with a customer can resolve any problem they have," said Thalwitz, adding that employees are trained to forestall likely difficulties that arise. As a result, any issues that come up are almost always resolved very quickly. "That anticipatory piece is often lost—clubs are often reactive instead of proactive in their approach to customer relations," she said.

In addition to training employees on club-specific service practices and standards, ACAC provides development modules on subjects such as conflict resolution and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessments. "With Myers-Briggs training, we find that employees benefit from understanding their own preferred communication styles," Thalwitz explained. "It also helps them understand how they perceive different situations and make decisions. This awareness also helps them recognize the preferences of those around them."

An emphasis on execution is key as well, Cogswell said. "We possess some of the best service protocols in the industry," he explained. "[But we] cannot control the execution without the right people. Structure means nothing without execution. It's my job as a GM to ensure that we are consistent in meeting our standards and the entire team has the discipline to play the game each and every day."

A central component of consistent execution and improvement in customer relations is constant measurement of personnel performance. This should involve a combination of soliciting anecdotal feedback and ratings from your membership, as well as close attention to hard metrics such as frequency of use, average client tenure, and retention rates. Together this information will give you a clear sense of how you're doing, and what needs to be improved.

Finally, be sure to create a system that rewards staff for excellence in customer relations and service, Windscheif said.

Conclusion

Times are tough, and it can be tough to maintain an intense focus on serving your customers with so much belt-tightening going on among both members and their health clubs. "It's a bit paradoxical: It's needed more than ever, but there are fewer resources than ever to do it," Parayre said.

However, while it might seem like you can't afford to do customer relations well, the truth is you can't afford not to. Even in a difficult financial climate, there's no shortage of consumers who will pay top dollar for deeper, more meaningful experiences with their fitness clubs. Thus, where service to your customers is concerned, be sure to follow Cogswell's approach: "We do not want members to feel the economic downturn while they're inside the building."