FRONT DESK ETIQUETTE

It's more than just saying hello.

Ahhhhh, the front desk staff. They greet the members and employees by name each day. They keep the schedule of classes straight and promptly answer members' questions with a cheery and helpful tone. They resolve members' problems authoritatively. They are eager to please and want to ensure that your business is successful.

What, you say? Not my front desk staff? Well, if your front desk staff doesn't resemble the above, maybe you should listen up because good front desk etiquette is a big key to member retention.

“Many times the new member will not get connected because they aren't in a league or they don't take classes,” says Pamela Koch general manager at Le Club in Milwaukee, WI. “They are a lone workout person. It really is up to the employees to grab that person and make them feel welcome. If that person doesn't feel connected to the club whether through the members or staff, they will leave.”

The front desk staff not only helps in member retention, but they can help in creating a friendly, communicative culture in the club by warmly greeting the internal staff each day, a seemingly small act that pays off big, says Sandy Coffman, president and owner, Programming for Profit, a training and consulting firm in Bradenton, FL.

“That front desk person can set the scene for the rest of the club,” Coffman says. “The whole staff comes into the club through the front desk. That front desk person can keep the attitude and whole mood of the club on a positive note.”

To maintain good front desk etiquette, club owners must invest in training for their front desk staffs.

“I don't know that you can afford not to have good front desk training,” says Coffman.

Koch's club has comprehensive training for all of the staff, including the front desk staff. During the training, the club emphasizes the basic service philosophy of the club, which is that members should be treated as royally as guests. In fact, the club's philosophy is that staff call members by name, have a warm welcome and a fond farewell, and have a “magic moment” during the member's visit, Koch says.

Here are some things to remember in training front desk staff:

Implement a comprehensive training program. Amazingly, some health clubs don't have much of a training program for the front desk staff. They may show staff how to run the computer and the phone system and they may tell them to greet each member, but they don't go over how to greet the member and how to have good phone etiquette.

Le Club has a week of mandatory training on operations of the club and learning the club's philosophy. Then, new staff members have up to three months to complete the second phase of training, which is to study the member concierge manual and take a test on it. The manual takes the front desk staff member through how to greet and say goodbye to members, how to register members, how to do credit transactions, invoicing and more. The manual also discusses phone etiquette, giving the staff member several scripts to practice everything from what greeting to use when first answering the phone to what to say when making a tennis court or massage reservation.

Hire for personality. “The first thing I tell my manager when I consult in that area is that you have to hire a good personality because a good personality is recognizable in the first seven seconds,” Coffman says. “That starts with a smile. So many people don't hire for this. If you hire someone that doesn't smile readily, often and large, and is very comfortable with direct eye contact, then where are you going with the training program? You are already in the hole.”

Koch says that she looks for personality first in every employee.

“They have to have a servant's heart,” Koch says. “They have to be willing to be available to that person at all times, full force.”

Each potential Le Club employee must take a personality test before being hired. In addition, Koch says she can get a feel for an applicant's personality by asking him or her to describe how they've handled certain scenarios in the past. Koch also looks at an employee's communication skills to ensure they can communicate effectively. The final skill she looks for is the technical skill in using the computer, taking money and other front desk responsibilities.

“We feel the technical aspect can always come, but the service attitude, they either have it or they learn it,” Koch says.

Train staff in how to greet people. “This is the biggest mistake,” Coffman says. “They (club owners) take for granted that everyone has professional communication skills.”

Front desk staff must be shown how to say hello, call people by name, introduce themselves, and how to shake hands. In addition, they need to be taught how to use proper voice inflection in person and on the phone.

“Phone etiquette has to be part of that,” Coffman says. “People can hear your smile over the phone.”

Too many people talk too fast when answering the phone, she says. Staff should be trained not only in what to say when answering the phone but also in how to speak clearly, slowly and cheerfully but professionally. After all, voice inflection is 38 percent of the message while what is actually said is only 7 percent of the message.

Train staff in how to use the computer to properly greet members. Most clubs have sophisticated software check-in programs that show the front desk staff the member's name, birthday, date person joined and more. The front desk staff should be aware of what to look for on the screen to make the greeting more personal, such as wishing him or her a happy birthday or congratulating him or her for a full year of membership.

Train staff in how to say goodbye. Saying goodbye may seem simple enough, but if not done properly or not done at all, it can leave a bad impression with a member or visitor. If done properly, it can be an opportune time to make a connection with a member or guest.

“Eighty percent of business comes from word of mouth,” Coffman says. The last experience a member has at a club will have a tremendous influence, she says. So, the goodbye should be pleasant and meaningful, and it should provide an opening for a member to ask a question or for the staff member to remind the member about an upcoming class or event at the facility.

Train for body language. Body language is 55 percent of the first impression, says Coffman. The staff needs to be shown how to look enthusiastic and display energy when receiving a guest.

Ensure staff can multitask. The front desk is a busy place. Often the reception staff will have to greet and say goodbye to members and guests, swipe cards, run the computer, answer the phone, handle questions, make reservations for tennis or racquetball courts, and handle member complaints. That's why it's important that when hiring front desk staffers, club owners test them on their multitasking abilities.

Teach the front desk staff about what is happening in all areas of the club. The front desk is the first place members go with their questions. For that reason, the front desk staff must know what is going on in every area of the club. They must know about the newest class, league information and new hires.

Empower your front desk staff. If the front desk staff members are truly professionals, then they must be empowered to make decisions, Coffman says. While following guidelines and policies is important, the front desk staff must be able to make decisions on the spot since members and guests usually come to them when they have an issue with the facility.

“The front desk person has to be empowered to make those decisions so they don't have to check with the manager on everything,” says Coffman.

Keep the front desk for the front desk staff. The only people that should be behind the front desk should be the front desk employees. That space is the front desk staff's workspace and having other staff behind the desk is an invasion of that workspace, says Coffman.

Offer employee evaluations. Training should be a continual process with follow up and measurements for performance. There should be an incentive program, a reward program and their paycheck should be based on how they are responding to the training, says Coffman. The training should have measurement standards and those should be turned into incentives and bonus pay based on performance.

“That shows that their performance is valued,” says Coffman. “Everyone wants to be recognized for their performance.”

In the end, it's just important to keep reminding front desk staff of the importance of their jobs and to give them the training that shows that importance. Not enough clubs do this, Coffman and Koch, agree.

“They [club owners] take for granted that everyone knows this already,” Coffman says. Besides, she says, sometimes even owners and managers don't possess these skills of etiquette.

Unfortunately, that can lead the front desk to focus simply on checking in members rather than providing the personal service and proper etiquette required to retain members.

“That's a constant battle for us,” Koch says. “We have to keep reminding the front desk, especially during the busy times. It's hard to greet every person and give them a fond farewell.”

PACK IT UP

Bundling services is a norm.

Everybody loves a deal. Buy five personal training sessions and get a 10 percent discount or buy 10 sessions and get a 15 percent discount. Who wouldn't like that? Bundling or packaging services has been around for years, but for some, bundling now is a no brainer.

“It's a way for us to try to encourage people to purchase different items and increase our volume,” says Joseph Barone, director of the Boca West Country Club in Boca Raton, FL. The Boca West Country Club bundles tennis and golf lessons, swimming lessons, personal training session and massage and facial sessions, as well as a few other areas in the spa. Barone estimates that 95 percent of what is sold at the club is sold through discounted packages and his members love it for the savings it offers them and for the convenience it offers them.

Barone has been in south Florida for 15 years and has been at the Boca West Country Club for nine years. If you haven't started bundling yet, here's what Barone's experience has taught him about packaging.

Make it too hard to resist. Almost universally, anytime anything is discounted people tend to purchase more. That's a marketing advantage.

“Anyone would be interested in buying more if it will be less in the long run,” Barone says.

Avoid custom-tailored packages. While some members may want you to custom tailor packages just for them, the accounting nightmares that could result may not be worth it. Barone's club discourages custom tailoring, but occasionally if a service of a similar cost is requested, the club will substitute it as long as it doesn't compromise the profit margin.

Packaging doesn't have to be an accounting nightmare. While custom-tailoring can be an accounting nightmare, set packages that can be programmed into a computerized accounting program are easy to work with. As long as there aren't variations from the set packages each time a transaction occurs, then tracking the packages can be pain free.

Sell it to the staff. Some of your professional staff may have an issue with packaging because they see it cutting into their commissions. After all, you'll have to make up the percentage lost somewhere, whether it's out of the professional staff member's commission or your profit.

“Somewhere you are taking the hit with the discount,” says Barone. However, packaging usually increases volume, and if you can get it across to staff that in the long run they'll make more money, then selling the packaged services concept to them will be easier.

Consider no expiration dates. Depending on the demographics of your members, you may want to consider not putting expiration dates on your packages. For clubs such as Barone's where a large majority of the members live outside the state during parts of the year, expiration dates can inhibit the purchase of packages. Members who return from spending the summer in New Jersey may not appreciate that the package they purchased in March expired in August before they could use it all.

Barone's club doesn't have expirations dates on the packages, but it does have limited times during which the packages can be purchased. For example, a Mother's Day special may only be available for purchase in May, but it can be used with no expiration date.

Be in it for the long term. Once you start discounting, it's difficult to go in the other direction, says Barone. You can't take away the discounts that members have come to rely on. In fact, you may just be creating a condition where every time you turn around, someone will be looking for a discount, he says.