Feature Article - March 2011
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Focus on Members

In a Tough Market, Customer Relations Is at a Premium

By Brian Summerfield

Personal Touches

Let's face it: Anyone can buy or lease a large indoor space and fill it with exercise equipment. That's the easy part. What differentiates a club is the level of service it offers. As indicated earlier, that starts with an organizational culture that views your members as unique individuals.

"Although we have extremely high facility standards and possess a huge variety of programming options, our ability to build relations with our members is our top priority," Cogswell said. "Our focus is on enhancing our member/staff culture and cultivating a sense of community. We aren't just a gym, we're a club, and it's important for each and every member to feel valued and that they are a genuine part of our community."

The technical term for this approach is "microsegmentation," or the concept of serving a market of one, said Roch Parayre, senior partner at strategy consultancy Decision Strategies International. "It's the brass ring of customer relations," he added.

Apart from individual customers, it's also important to have a sense of the different groups that comprise your membership and cater to them in communications and offerings. "You're not going to be all things to all people. It's important to identify your target customer group and cater to them," Windscheif said.

For example, if you serve a lot of families, it's essential to have high-quality childcare available for the children at the facility, Cogswell said. Another way to make these groups feel at home is to hire personnel who align to their demographic profile.

"Generational demographics and relations play a big part in our service success," Cogswell explained. "For instance, if your club consists of a large population of families or members aged 35 to 55, etc., then you need to hire people that fit those demographics and are part of your club's given community. Our success is mainly built on relationships, and having those types of people on staff helps maximize our service potential."

Local norms and customers also should play a role, Parayre said. "You can be a large chain, but the key is to have offerings specific to your locality."

Clubsport has made an effort to balance that corporate consistency and local flexibility as it has expanded, Cogswell said.

"For us, as we've grown, we've gotten more structure for the sake of consistency, but there's still a great deal of local flexibility," he said. "It is probably different for most large organizations, but fortunately, each property manager in our company has the freedom to do what's best to fit into our local market, while at the same time complying within the company structure and protocols."