Service is supposed to differentiate you from the club down the street. Having worked with more than 1,000 clubs in the past 25 years, however, I'm amazed at the number of people who don't have the slightest idea about the definition of customer service. Customer service is not a way of doing things — it's an attitude. Our industry's struggle with retention is a direct reflection of the poor customer service we deliver. As an industry, we make a lot of promises, but we have a challenge delivering on those promises. Other industries, such as the hotel, restaurant, hospitality and resort industries, recognize the importance of investing in staff training programs so they can deliver more “moments of magic.” Yet few clubs spend time or money training the employees who have the most contact with their members and guests.

Most people come into the world of business with a low service aptitude, but through a continuous service training program, a person's service aptitude can dramatically increase. Unfortunately, most clubs spend 99 percent of their training on the technical side of the person's job (perhaps because they are reactively hiring and just need to fill the position).

Today's customers are smarter, leaner and more price conscious. They have lower morale (maybe they were downsized at work), are hit on more by competitors, and because of poor service expectations, are more demanding, less forgiving, harder to satisfy and less loyal. Every time customers walk into your club or you call them, you have an opportunity and a choice to provide good customer service. The secret to doing so? A positive attitude.

Too many club managers ask, “Why is customer service so difficult?” or “Why are most companies so bad at customer service when all it is is common sense?” Perhaps it's common sense to someone who has experienced good customer service at a quality hotel or restaurant. However, front-line employees in nearly every industry earn between $6-$16 an hour, which means they typically don't fly first class, stay at five-star resorts or drive a Lexus. How can employers expect these same people to deliver world-class service to customers if they've never seen it demonstrated nor been trained to provide it?

That doesn't mean you must pay front-line staff $100,000 per year so that they can afford first-class service. The ability to deliver world-class service has everything to do with a person's service aptitude, which is a person's ability to recognize opportunities and exceed a customer's expectations, regardless of the circumstances. When you run out of towels, the power goes out or you are short staffed, front-line employees must be able to think on their feet and turn around the situation. That's when you will see your staff's true service aptitude.

Beyond training staff to provide good customer service, clubs need to identify and meet their customers' needs. Why should you try so hard to find out what your customers really want? Because your best customers are also the hottest prospects for your competitors. If other salespeople win over one of your loyal customers by offering more ideas and more service, maybe they have more right to the business than you do.

Your members are saying, “I vote with my money, and an election is every time I want to tell a friend about my experience.” When you lose a customer, you lose two ways: you don't get their money and your competitors do.

Be committed to exceptional service. Somewhere along the way, we forgot the customer in favor of the bottom line. And now many of our old customers are boosting other clubs' profits. If you don't satisfy your customers, someone else will.

Ed Tock is a partner in Sales Makers, a marketing and sales training consulting firm that has worked with more than 1,000 clubs and is a winner of the IHRSA Associate of the Year award. He can be reached at eddie@sales-makers.com.