The product of the health club business is the member experience. Just as the product of a restaurant is not only the food but the overall experience.Say this in a group of gym owner/operators and most will agree. Asked if they deliver an excellent, average, or poor member experience and I bet at least 80% say “excellent.” I would also bet that 80% of members say “poor to average.”
This indicates a gap in the implied strategy and the ability to deliver the strategy. If your strategy includes the intent to delight your members, design your business to deliver. This requires more than telling staff to be nice and say “hello” and “goodbye.” Whether you are a full-service multi-sport club or a low-cost fitness-only gym, there is no excuse for poor service. The difference in these two models is simply the scope of services provided.
It is important to understand that the member experience is defined by the member, not the operator. Operators create policies, strategies, launch initiatives, and train staff. The affects of those decisions will be positive, neutral, or negative in the member experience – only the member can make that determination.
Great customer service that builds loyalty begins with two rules:
- First, create no unpleasant surprises.
- Second, create lots of pleasant surprises.
During a member visit if you can avoid any of the former and create several of the latter, members will have an excellent experience. Many businesses fail at this because policies and staff training are done to primarily protect and benefit the company, not the customers. How many policies and procedures are created with an individual member’s experience in mind? A member’s experience is disrupted with policies that make no sense to them, cost them money, or even make them angry. The front line staff is left with the most aggravating words in customer-service history – “that’s our policy.” A member doesn’t care if that is your policy or not, she wants to know how your policies are designed to bring value to her, your member. It is very important to differentiate between the intent of a policy, process, or procedure, and the feeling that the policy, process, or procedure creates for a member. Intent means nothing. Feeling is everything. Design your systems with the end feeling of the member in mind.
In addition to burdening front line staff with too many company-centric policies and procedures, the time spent training staff to “enforce” policy becomes disproportionate with time spent teaching values, connectivity, complaint resolution, and delivering pleasant surprises. I would even argue that an over-regulated service environment with disempowered staff does not attract the best employees. In my experience, service environments that give the front line staff authority and in fact the directive to “do whatever it takes to make the member happy” will attract employees that love helping people.
A key word (albeit a grossly misused word!) is empower – to give power or authority. I say misused because many who claim to have empowered their front line have done no such thing. They give them the power to say “no” but not the power to say “yes.” If you truly empower your service staff to deliver great service, you bestow the authority to say “yes” as well as “no.”
Years ago we did a beautiful experiment with our front desk staff in an effort to get better at serving our members. We empowered them to do whatever it takes to make the member happy. Next we told them that they had to ask for manager permission to tell a member “no.” We cringed and waited for them to give everything away. They didn’t.
Four things happened:
- Members were happier.
- Staff became happier.
- They did a great job!
- We discovered their limits of comfort when they came to ask permission to tell a member “no.”
If your strategy is differentiation, not commoditization, then this points in the right direction as there are very few who will have the courage and the patience to deliver on a true customer care strategy. Chances are, you will be the only one in your market and that is true differentiation.