Prescription for Service Excellence

Are you taking your customers as seriously as you should?

“Hang on for a minute.” “Don't worry, it'll get done.” “What do you want?” “It's not my job.” “Sorry.” If these phrases sound familiar, then you and your staff are not attending to your customers' needs properly.

I hear these phrases all too often when visiting clubs across the country. Remember, there is always someone else out there who will gladly satisfy your customers for you.

Think about this: 65 percent of your customers will leave because of poor service (e.g., inattentiveness), and you will never hear about it until they're gone; 15 percent experience service failures (e.g., a bad training session); another 12 percent are won over by your competitors; and the remaining 8 percent are lost due to relocation and death! If we concentrate on giving the 65 percent what they need not what we think they need then we can sustain a competitive advantage.

What Do Customers Want?

They want it faster, better, their way and cheaper! They value reliability, responsiveness, assurance, empathy and the special tangibles that set your facility apart from the others.

Today, leisure time is at a premium for most people, and customers have less time to wait during check-ins/check-outs or to hold on the phone. Customer satisfaction is affected by the number of people a person must contact to have a question answered or a problem solved.

In addition, customers become confused and annoyed when jargon is used with them. Explanations and instructions should always be given in clear, simple language.

To put it simply, your customers want to be valued. Nothing can justify making a customer feel like a nuisance. They expect quality and satisfaction in direct proportion to the membership prices they're paying.

Remember, you are in the “memory management” business. If you manage your members' and guests' first and last impressions, you'll come out on top.

Start With the Front Desk!

Your front-desk people are your No. 1 employees. They make the first impression with every encounter, and you never get a second chance to make that first impression! Involve them in decisions, allow them to attend conferences, engage them in professional development opportunities and empower them to remedy complaints on the spot! Involvement is the key. Tell them and they will forget. Show them and they will remember. Involve them and they will understand.

Sam Walton (king of the Wal-Mart empire) said it best: “The folks in the front lines the ones who actually talk to the customers are the only ones who really know what's going on out there.”

This is especially critical when dealing with complaints. We all have them, but it's how we handle them that will make the long-term difference with customers. Empower your front line to resolve a customer issue immediately without adding extra steps for the member. As previously stated, empathy is one of the cores that customers value. Empathy is especially crucial in dealing with complaints. Follow this empathy-based format to ensure the best outcome when your front line handles a complaint:

Listen “Tell me what happened
Apologize “I'm sorry it happened
Understand “I understand your frustration
Get it fixed “Here is what I can do
Happy outcome “I appreciate your input.”

Nordstroms has a simple policy regarding the handling of a complaint: If it makes sense, do it.

Accept the Challenge

Remembering the customer in all transactions and encounters during his visit to your facility can be challenging. To help, consider this simple but effective customer-oriented formula:

  • Look at ME

  • Smile at ME

  • Talk to ME

  • Listen to ME

  • Thank ME

  • Remember ME

Much has been written about the delivery of exceptional customer service. And with all that has been delivered in this article, there is still one basic premise that must be reinforced. You can't take care of the customer until you take care of the staff. In winning organizations, exemplary customer service always begins with a commitment to exemplary associate satisfaction first!

Scott A. Chovanec, M.S., M.B.A., is the president of Scott Chovanec & Associates, a prevention-focused practice that provides design services, thought leadership, and decision support for the hospital, corporate, public and private fitness and wellness industry. A respected author and speaker, Chovanec can be reached at scottchovanec@aol.com