If your club receives little in the way of member complaints, you may have reason to pat yourself on the back. On the other hand, it may indicate that your customer feedback systems are inadequate.
Consumer research suggests that only 4 percent of dissatisfied customers make a company aware of a problem. Nine out of 10 customers will not complain but will simply stop doing business with the company.
Members and guests may have a number of reasons for choosing not to inform you when their experience falls short of expectations. They may be reluctant to spend time and energy voicing their opinions if there are no clear paths for sharing feedback—if they believe the process will be inconvenient or uncomfortable—and if they doubt their feedback will make a difference.
To avoid blind spots in service delivery, club owners must take steps to ensure that they gather and act on member feedback efficiently and effectively. Here are some suggestions for how to do so:
Make complaint procedures highly visible and accessible. Suggestion boxes, question-and-answer boards and opendoor policies encourage members to share their thoughts, complaints and concerns spontaneously. When they do so, follow up promptly to acknowledge member concerns and offer solutions. Promote a variety of convenient methods for members to document their suggestions, praise and complaints, including pen and paper, online and face-to-face formats. The ability for members to remain anonymous will encourage broader participation and candor.
“Own” the complaint. Your team members have invested time in building relationships with members, and they likely uncover frustrations or unmet needs in the course of daily conversation. Coach team members to take responsibility for acting on any complaints they hear. Enhance your members’ trust by eliminating the need for team members to pass problems on to corporate or management. Give them leeway to resolve issues without a lot of red tape.
Read between the lines. Your members’ body language imparts a great deal of information about the experience they are having in your club. Recognizing signs of displeasure, even before they have been verbalized, gives team members an opportunity to smooth things over swiftly. Some glitches can be overcome with a proactive smile or apology, but other difficulties, such as long shower lines, parking problems or equipment shortages, may indicate bigger issues on the horizon that could negatively affect retention.
Collect data. Gathering information on a regular basis, both internally and externally, assists companies in making good strategic decisions. Tracking objective data, including club attendance and program participation, helps companies gauge utilization and overall satisfaction. Subjective evaluations, such as secret shopping reports and member surveys, also can yield a wealth of valuable information and, if administered consistently, provide a great basis for comparison over time. While unstructured data, such as information obtained from a focus group or member advisory committee, may not be reliable for making broad generalizations, it can provide meaningful context for other quantitative data. Regardless of what methods you use to gather data, the most important thing is to understand the results and act on them.
Tune in to conversations outside the club. Even if members do not share their grievances with you, they are likely to tell friends, family and acquaintances about their experiences in your club. Social media has made it easier for customers to publicly share their opinions. In addition to managing your own digital presence, monitor other channels your customers frequent. Participating on social media networks can help you create positive momentum for your club, conduct market research and develop stronger relationships with your members. You may occasionally encounter criticism, but think of it as a chance to demonstrate how responsive your company is to its members. Resolving a member complaint positively and publicly is a powerful display of your commitment to customer satisfaction.
Christine Thalwitz is director of communications and research at ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers. She emphasizes that the difference between a complaint and an opportunity is our perception, attitude and response.