Customer Service:
Developing Customer Service in Collegiate Recreation Facilities

By Renee Adam, Abigail Thrine & Peter Titlebaum


n the business of collegiate recreation, student employees are an important product being marketed to the members. Their customer service skills are not only essential but are the lifeblood of the organization. For any organization to be successful, including collegiate recreation centers, the whole staff needs to understand and buy into the organization's philosophy. Staff must believe that customer service is an attitude and be ready to gain real-world experience during employment.

Successful customer service comes from well-trained employees. Customer service is a product being sold to facility members. When members come into a facility, most of their interaction is with the student employees. The student employees have different backgrounds, cultures and experiences, which make them unique in a way that gives the members a new visit every time they enter the facility. In order for all of the members' visits to be valuable, the student employees need to have the same understanding and training about what is acceptable customer service. Part of this acceptable customer service is creating a welcoming atmosphere for all members and for anyone who enters the facility at any given time.

"Customer service is not a way of doing things—it's an attitude." Ed Tock discussed the customer service attitude at fitness clubs in "Do Clubs Offer Customer Service or Lip Service?" published in 2006 in Fitness Business Pro.

Simply put, customer service is all about how student employees view their job and how intrinsically important they think it is. No amount of training can force someone to have the attitude that customer service means everything in the recreation business; it is something that student employees need to come in having.

Many others feel that customer service is an essential part of not only a recreational building but business in general. In an article titled "The Service Encounter," published in the book Recreation Programming in 2003, J. Robert Rossman states that "regardless of the type of service being offered, how it is offered matters." This includes the face-to-face interactions made between the customer and the employee.

No matter the industry, customer service is something everyone should understand and, more importantly, appreciate. If student employees do not understand that they are an important part of the facility, they will not appreciate what their customer service offers to members. Student employees need to understand that the interactions they have with customers are often first, and lasting, impressions.

In order to achieve the customer service that most recreational centers strive for, a training program should be built into student employment requirements. In a recent article, "Make Your Club Stand Out In an Overcrowded Market" published in Fitness Business Pro in 2008, Ed Tock, a partner at a marketing and sales training consulting firm, said that "club owners must train their staff to meet and deliver on customer expectations at every critical interaction."

Student employees must understand that no interaction is too little to make an impression on someone, and they need to know that every action they take in the recreation center is a direct reflection of the training and expectations that are put forward by the recreational staff. The recreational staff also needs to establish expectations that are reflective of the department's mission statement and vision of quality customer service. Student employees who believe in customer service help make an organization run smoothly.

In a Reader's Digest article printed in November 2008 titled "What If You Said Hello to Everyone in Your Path for a Month?" author Joe Kita went around doing just that. "Hello" is one of the easiest words to say, but adults use this word very seldom. In today's society, many people are unaccustomed to being acknowledged by others, so it may catch them off guard when someone says hello. This simple address is an easy way to get the attention of members and to help them remember the student employee staff in a positive way. Being polite and saying hello is such a simple task for anyone to do; the student employees just need to understand how important the small task is.

The author also found that saying hello to everyone can boost productivity. By paying attention to all members entering the facility, student employees will become more productive and ready to answer any questions or concerns. Hello is also a sign of respect, and hopefully respect will be returned. If every student employee said hello, members would feel as though they were a valuable part of the organization, and in return would show the student employees respect, making their job feel valuable. When student employees see their job as a valuable asset to the organization, they gain more intrinsically than if they think it is a simple job that anyone can do. This intrinsic gain can also help the student employees understand the deliverables that come from working in a collegiate recreational facility.

By working in a customer service field, student employees are gaining multiple deliverables that they will be able to carry on to future careers and job opportunities. Many student recreation employees will have some part in successfully operating a multi-million dollar facility, from opening and closing the facility to setting up a volleyball court. These skills might help student employees stand out when compared with other job applicants in the future.

Student employee jobs consist of tasks and duties that can be included on their resume and that are related to all fields. Student recreation employees ensure the safety of members, conduct face-to-face interactions with members, provide customer support for members with problems or concerns, and possess knowledge about the recreational industry. These tasks and duties offer real-world experience that is priceless for college students looking to enter the workforce, regardless of their major. Sport and recreation-related majors are not the only ones who can benefit from working at a recreational center. Communications, marketing, public relations, and business administration are also majors that are related to the work and experience gained from working at a college recreation center.

Collegiate recreational facilities open doors to infinite possibilities for the student employees who work in them. By accepting an organization's philosophy and values, employees can understand that customer service is one of the products being sold and that the success of the company comes from the success of the employees themselves.

Student employees gain real-world experience that they will be able to carry with them for the rest of their professional careers. The experiences that they acquire will help them stand apart from other applicants and will put them miles ahead of other professionals in their industry, no matter their major or field of work. Every employee needs to be trained to understand that customer service is the lifeblood of the organization and vital to its success.


Renee Adam is an undergraduate student at the University of Dayton, studying Sport Management and Accounting. She has one year of experience in campus recreation. Abigail Thrine is the assistant director for facility operations for the Department of Campus Recreation at the University of Dayton. This is her seventh year in the field. Dr. Peter Titlebaum, associate professor of Sport Management at the University of Dayton, has more than 25 years of experience teaching and coaching. He speaks and writes on areas of networking, organization and personal development.

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