Editor's Note: Welcome to From the Lip, a semi-regular opinion column penned by industry vet Michael Scott Scudder. Although you may not always agree with Michael's take on the industry (we sure don't), we hope his razor sharp insights will get you thinking about the way you run your business.

Service.” I've heard that word thrown around the fitness industry for my entire three-decade career. And I do mean “thrown around.”

What most people call service is nothing more than keeping a relatively clean facility, getting the doors open on time, getting a few people in with some kind of staff identification on their bodies, making sure members swipe their cards as they enter the club, and somehow getting the air conditioning or heat functioning most of the time. That's not service, friends…that's essentials.

What service means to me is mastery in what I call “core competencies.” I think these core competencies can best be remembered by the acronym RAPSNOMRS.

  • R — Reception. An absolute must for good member and guest experiences every time in your facility.

    Are you training your receptionist (not front desk people) to greet each and every member by name as he or she enters — be helpful, directive, assistive to members and guests — and “exit” every member and guest as he or she leaves with an acknowledgment of them having been there? (If not, your members and guests are not having complete experiences in your facility.)

  • A — Administration.

    Are you training your back-office personnel to respond quickly to members' needs, complaints, suggestions; to get billing out on time; to settle disputed billings and delinquent payments quickly and skillfully? (If you're not, or you can't — outsource this department to a billing receivables company.)

  • P — Programming.

    Are you training your group exercise and fitness floor instructors to create new programs and systems for members? Are you seeing to it that managers in these departments are current with exercise trends…and the varying needs of varying age groups? (If not, your old programming is quietly driving your members to your competition.)

  • S — Sales Counseling.

    Are you training your sales personnel to be “counselor sellers” rather than price-driven “order takers?” Are you assured that each and every prospective member is treated individually and that his or her needs are attended to before they join…not after? (If not, you're turning over members — and sales people — at an alarming rate.)

  • N — Numbers.

    Are you training your key managers on budgeting, forecasting, projections, analysis and variance reporting? Are your managers “plugged in” to their department numbers…or do you leave them in the dark? (If the latter is true, you don't have managers, you have slaves. Slaves eventually revolt.)

  • O — Operations.

    Are you training your club personnel in key functions, processes and actions that make a successful business? Can every employee in a department do the same tasks the same way? (If not, you don't have systems…you have chaos. Chaos creates fire-putter-outer managers and owners.)

  • M — Member training, initial and ongoing.

    Are you training your staff to give new members shorter initial trainings and more of them — over the first month, not just the first week? Are you instituting ongoing member-incentive-and-motivational programs to keep them interested in exercise? (If not, you will continue to suffer high turnover and probably never get anywhere with your business after the first two years.)

  • R — Retention.

    Are you training every employee that retention is the job of the staff — not the members? Are you creating incentives for staffers to stay in touch with members? Are you letting the staff know how member retention statistics stand every month? Do they or do you know the higher value of a retained member vs. a new member? (If you're not doing these you're sunk. You just haven't drowned yet.)

  • S — Staff awareness, ownership of job, responsiveness, responsibility for the whole.

    Are you training every member of staff to be aware at every moment, as though they were on stage? (By the way, they are.) Do your employees “own” their jobs or just do their jobs? Do you encourage them to be responsive to or to avoid members' needs? Do you instill in your staff that they are the whole club, that it is theirs, not yours? (If not, you're not an owner…you're a helpless dictator. Remember, the “little folks” know that “the emperor has no clothes.”)

  • I hope that you will take these “core competencies” to heart. After all, they make or break your club.

    Michael Scott Scudder is a 28-year veteran of the fitness industry. He is managing partner of Southwest Club Services, a club management training company. He can be reached at 505-690-5974, by e-mail at scuddertour@directway.com or on his Web site at www.scuddertour.com.