All managers know that customer service plays a pivotal role in how your members perceive your gym and how likely they are to stay. However, few people really understand how to coach their staff on excellence in customer service. You can reduce the chances of a poor member experience by hiring effectively, but sooner or later, you are bound to come across an employee in need of some additional training. Managers, operators and owners sometimes struggle with how to help employees improve when customer service does not come naturally.
When I first became a general manager, I felt comfortable interacting with members. However, when a front desk staff member asked me how they could be great at customer service as well, I realized I had no idea how to answer the question. So I read several online articles, industry publications and consulted my friends in the fitness industry. I certainly came across some helpful and instructive information, but I still felt that I did not have a good answer. Then, one day, the answer hit me like a ton of bricks.
I was going about my daily routine, checking up on all departments when a member approached me with an issue about her class. Her instructor had charged her for two sessions instead of one and failed to return several of her emails. I explained to the member that it was a quick fix and that I would have a conversation with the instructor on the importance of prompt member follow-up. She replied that I had great customer relations skills. Given my recent dilemma, her comments raised my curiosity, and I quickly asked what she meant by customer relations.
She explained that she was initially quite frustrated with the lack of response from her instructor and was looking to discontinue her participation in our program. I was a bit confused because she had calmly explained the situation to me without raising her voice or really demonstrating much frustration at all. I asked her what happened between the time the issue occurred and her interaction with me that had calmed her down. She told me that because we always had a good relationship, she knew I would immediately fix the problem. That is when I realized what she was talking about and began to understand the difference between customer service and customer relations.
I didn't recall her ever having any previous issues or directly fixing any problems for her, but it occurred to me that I did know where she worked, lived, grew up, her hobbies and that she had two daughters. Her patience really had nothing to do with any past issues I had resolved for her, but more with the fact that we had regular, interpersonal communications.
By developing positive relationships with our members from the start of their membership, we can minimize the damage if problems do arise. This daily process of demonstrating customer relations and interacting with our members to get to know them better and help them know us better helps diffuse future issues. If you have this relationship with your members, then chances are that when members have an experience that makes them consider cancelling their membership, they will know they can turn to you to resolve the issue. We can buy ourselves a second chance by making a great first impression.
About the author
Aaron Moore is the regional manager of VIDA Fitness in Washington, DC. He has helped build the upscale fitness provider from its first location in 2006 to five locations today and handles all business operations and oversight for VIDA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.