With the number of health clubs and facilities in the United States on the rise, it is now more important than ever to give customers what they need and want, even going beyond customers' expectations. In fact, customer service can set your club apart from the rest with little extra expense. It's time to ensure your club will bring home the gold in customer service.

  • Develop a service philosophy

    If your club doesn't already have a customer service program, it should. A defined program puts in writing the kind of service your club bestows and lets all employees know what is required of them.

    “The first value in the company is ‘member is king,’” says Steve Tharrett, vice president for strategic operations at ClubCorp in Dallas, Texas. ClubCorp also has a three-tier plan, dubbed its Star Service Philosophy, that drives the way it serves customers.

    One way the Maryland Athletic Club (the MAC), Timonium, Md., defines customer service is by making sure everyone who comes to the club gets what they came for on their terms, Jimmy Page, general manager, says. The MAC's plan consists of what it terms “the four cornerstones to customer service.” These cornerstones include delivering “wow customer service” in every area of the club as well as integrating new members, electronically tracking members' success, and implementing its code blue team, which contacts members who have not been in the facility for 21 or more days.

  • Personalize it

    Get to know your members and learn as much about them as possible. “We assess the interests of our members and uncover all their needs, goals and medical conditions, we then integrate the information into a plan that will help them get to their goal,” says Page. This plan, termed a success program, is included with every MAC membership.

    Tharrett agrees. “You have to give the member a reason to return.” And personalizing each visit, Tharrett says, does so.

  • Train your staff

    According to Tharrett, ClubCorp trains and educates its staff to learn as much about members as possible, from their families and careers to their interests or hobbies. This gives ClubCorp's employees information that enables them to customize each visit for the member.

    Page says the MAC places emphasis on taking care of its employees, which in turn, he says, results in an enthusiastic, consistently positive staff that can readily get members what they want.

  • Integrate members

    It is important to introduce new members to all of the club's options and services. This helps clubs get to know what each member needs and also allows it an opportunity to introduce the member to services that can help them reach their goals. Page says the first 90 days are very important in integrating members and in establishing a relationship with them. “We follow up heavily during the first 90 days, as habits are formed then.”

    Connecting members with other members is another way to integrate them into the club, Tharrett says. By helping to create such relationships between members, he says, the club can serve to help its members grow and learn not only in exercise, fitness or health, but also in their personal and professional lives.

  • Exceed expectations

    “This involves the ‘intangible quality’ in developing relationships,” Tharrett said. “It's more than name recognition, more than hello or goodbye.

    “The key is paying close attention and delivering more than is expected. For example if a member comes in with a loose or missing button, taking the shirt and repairing it for them,” he says.

    Page says the MAC's Success Program is one way it exceeds expectations. “Many people expect to join a club and get lost,” he says. “By including the success program tracking with each membership, we exceed expectations.”

    Page also included facility cleanliness as an area where clubs could exceed members' expectations. Every staff member at the MAC is responsible for keeping the facility clean.

    “Honestly, I believe it starts with the corporate culture you're promoting,” says Page. “Am I, as GM, rolling up my sleeves and doing these things? It sets the stage for everyone else. We really lead by example around here.”

  • Implement customer service in all areas of the club

    According to Page, clubs must make their customer service program the fabric of their company, integrating it into their staffs and everything they do.

  • “Customer service is such an organizational foundational element for us. It is in everything we do. Service not only starts at reception — how people are greeted on the phone and through the door-but also on the membership side, too.”