Is Your Customer Service More Than Lip Service?

Do you find that the phrase "customer service" has become an overused cliche recently? Everybody in every industry seems to be promising the "Holy Grail" of customer service, but do they really rise to the occasion? Certainly, I love the National Auto Parts commercials that proclaim: "The best part is our people." That slogan alone is terrific; yet, does it hold true?

Within our industry, I hear this same "customer service" mantra. But are we simply giving lip service to customer service? Sadly, many industry veterans admit to me that they are disappointed with the attention and service that they receive when exercising in a typical facility. I believe that there is no excuse for this! Each and every day, we should pride ourselves on delivering what T. Scott Gross, author of "Outrageous! Unforgettable Service...Guilt-Free Selling," has described as "outrageous" customer service.

What does "outrageous" mean? Well, the word alone gives you a clue that it's beyond the ordinary and even past the extraordinary. Indeed, it's exceeding customer expectations, and that's a tough thing to do with today's savvy consumer market. Is your club measuring up?

Let's examine Gross' concept of "good enough seldom is." Do you go into your club's locker room and notice that the floor is littered with used paper towels, but you ignore it and assume that the next employee in will handle it? This "good enough" approach definitely isn't! Why don't you take the extra 30 seconds and pick the trash up yourself?

Basic (interpret this as "minimal") customer service within clubs should include:

* All members being greeted as they arrive and bid farewell when they depart

* Welcome postcards and/or packets

* "Thank you" notes for referrals

* "Miss you" phone calls and postcards for inactive members.

Customer service ideas which reach above and beyond (interpret as "extraordinary") include:

* Staff remembrance of something personal about all members (they ran their first marathon, got married, had a baby, became a grandparent, received a promotion at work, made it through their first three months of membership, etc.)

* Bulletin board with newspaper clips of members in the local news

* Compensation for waiting unnecessarily for an appointment or if a class is suddenly cancelled (for example, a club water bottle or drink).

One phrase that Gross emphasizes re-peatedly is service "random and unexpected ... out of proportion to the circumstance." My club has developed R.A.O.K. Days, standing for "Random Acts of Kindness" (based on the books of the same name). Each week we designate a day to provide small freebies such as hot apple cider, bagels, neck massages, fruit smoothies, a holiday recipe booklet created by the staff, lemon ice water, plus promotional products.

As everyone who has visited Disney can appreciate, you "wrap an experience around the service transaction" to achieve truly phenomenal and memorable levels of customer service. Our members pay their dues for us to open our door wide to them and to appreciate them as customers. You want them to feel truly serviced and NOT sold! Reach out to them in a special way every day.

- Julia Wheatley is the owner of Women's Fitness Center Inc., located in Harrisonburg, Va. Wheatley was the winner of Club Industry's 1999 Business Woman of the Year award, and she serves as a board member of MACMA.


To find out how you can turn a club into a member magnet, we asked our readers:

"What services/features improve retention at your club?"

63% Our facility is well-maintained with new/fresh looks.
63% Our club has higher-quality trainers/staff members.
63% Our club has effectively trained/motivated staffs.
57% Our members are kept involved with programs, offers, contests, etc.
50% We have made considerable investments in new programs and equipment.

45% Our facility has active marketing/promotion programs.

Source: Club Industry Magazine's 1999 Survey of Buying Power