Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.
A Customer service strategy
Most ‘turn-key operations’ have a systems Manual which outlines a standard of service by which employees should abide. The fitness industry is in essence a service industry, and as such, the business owner in the fitness industry should place a large emphasis on providing excellent levels of service to clients.
The business owner should ensure that customer service is measurable. This can be done by having policies in place which constantly evaluate and review levels of service by means of:
• Questionnaires and surveys, which rate current level of service. Ask the right questions i.e. what are customer needs? Suggestion boxes are also a useful means of gaining important information pertaining to customer experience.
• Courtesy calls-where specific questions are asked and responses recorded with measurable data.
• Management walk throughs, where Managers regularly walk through the club, talking to members and monitoring staff effectiveness.
• Measurement of employee work satisfaction-Happy employees usually provide a good service!
• Have focus groups i.e. groups of people (10-20 ideally), who provide reports/ feedback on their club experience.
• Have clear policies on brand standards for customer service e.g. all members get greeted when they enter the gym/ all calls are answered with a specific phrase, within a specified time/ member’s name is mentioned etc. The business owner should break each component of customer service down, and define how these components should be dealt with by staff. Most of these standards can and should be made measurable.
• Have policies in place to deal with the ‘difficult customer.” Employees should be reviewed in terms of how they deal with difficult customers by way of feedback from difficult customers once a courtesy call has been made by the Manager.
Communicating with the customer
There are various means by which one can keep in communication with customers. The following are some suggested tools:
• Suggestion boxes
• Feedback loops i.e. automated feedback systems
• Phone calls
As the saying goes, ‘the customer is always right!’ as much as there is some wisdom in this catch phrase, communication should be a lot more effective than merely admission of guilt. The following are some steps which can be used when dealing with a complaint:
1) Change your mind set, so as to turn challenge into opportunity!
2) Put yourself into the customer’s mind set and try to see the compliant from their perspective, irrespective of who’s fault you already think it is!
3) Listen actively. See further notes on active listening. One should avoid trying to solve the problem straight away i.e. give the client time to talk and ask him or her to go over what has happened/ what they are unhappy with. Give the client full attention during this time.
4) Repeat the concern of the client so as to ensure that you are grasping the compliant and that you have been listening.
5) Empathize with the client-It is probably clear that the client is unhappy with an aspect of service, so show that you understand their concerns. Body language is an important aspect of communication in this regard.
6) Present a solution-this may not always mean coming up with an immediate resolution of the problem, but the client should at least feel that the complaint is being handled and that it will be dealt with in full. If the client is still not happy, one should ask him/ her what he/ she would like done that would make him/ her happy. One cannot of course always meet unreasonable expectations, but one can endeavour to ‘’do what is in your power to get it done.’
7) Take action and follow up! Talk is cheap, so take action immediately. If the complaint is via phone, the client should be given details of the person handling the problem. Once the problem has been resolved, ensure that you contact the client to see if he/ she is happy.
8) Reduce the risk of this happening again-Use feedback from the client to find out how and why the problem occurred, and put systems in place to ensure that it is not repeated!
Some tips when dealing with a difficult customer:
• Stay calm
• Talk softly and try to lower the tone of the conversation
• Try to meet face to face if you can i.e. not over the phone
• Be assertive and stand up for yourself if the client oversteps the mark and is taking advantage of the situation.
It is recommended that front of house staff and management are trained on conflict resolution skills
Active listening: Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to feed-back what they hear to the speaker, by way of re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, to confirm what they have heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties. Some guidelines on how to listen actively include:
• Pay attention and provided undivided attention to the speaker
• Show that you are paying attention by for example nodding/ facial expression. Do not underestimate the affect that body language will have on the message that you relay to the customer e.g. being distracted, looking away and slouching whilst the person is talking to you, would provide an impression that you are not interested.
• Provide feedback-i.e. show that you are listening by either paraphrasing or asking questions.