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How to Improv(e) Your Member Service
What Clubs Can Learn From the Stage
By: Mark Bergren, Molly Cox and Jim Detmar
Molly Cox, co- author of the book, Improvise This! How to Think on Your Feet so You Don't Fall on Your Face, is a former sales and marketing director and general manager of White Bear Racquet & Swim, in Minnesota. Exemplary member satisfaction and finding truly new approaches to the fitness business is challenging at best. Demographics, fads, new science, and trends are in constant flux, to meet the challenge you have to "think out of the box". But, we're creatures of habit, we're stale, we just don't feel creative today, so how do we do it? Molly and her co-authors show us; here's an excerpt from their book, adapted for the fitness industry.
"Why not go out on the limb? Isn't that where the fruit is?"
When an automobile's gas tank is empty, that is a bad thing. When a joint checking account is empty, that is even worse. But, when an improviser is empty, it is a glorious thing to behold. Everyday, in classes around the world, improvisers are asked to "throw away the script" and get empty. Yes, you're right, improvisers don't use a script. Still, they must rid themselves of pre-conceived notions and expectations and embrace the idea that not knowing what is about to happen next is exactly where they need to be.
The best improvisers are not actors… they are re-actors.
Unfortunately, in the business world, the opposite approach to throw away the script is often encouraged and promoted. Many owners, supervisors and line-managers believe that the best way to deal with customers or guests is to treat them all in the exact same manner - to develop standardized greetings, fairly stock answers to all questions and absolute uniformity across all corporate lines.
In physics, this works: "For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction." In customer service it works better like this: "For every action there should be a reaction, it needn't be opposite or equal, but it damn well better be appropriate!"
Leave Room For The Unexpected
Now please understand, we truly believe in and applaud preparation and consistency. The Ritz Carlton is The Ritz Carlton for one reason. They provide spectacular service. But, they also realize that you must leave room for the unexpected. They understand that sometimes all of the knowledge in the world will not solve certain problems. Therefore, they empower their employees to deal with the guests, listen to their concerns and needs and then proceed to bring about satisfactory resolution in hopes of exceeding the guest's expectations. Only by being empty, by understanding that there isn't a script for every situation can this be accomplished.
There is a phrase that actors often use to convey the idea that their performance on any given night was staid, uninspired and half-hearted. They would simply say, "I phoned that one in." The implication? Although they were physically present, in every other capacity they were A.W.O.L. They did nothing more than go through the motions. Have you ever just phoned it in?
Go Ahead… Answer It!
Take a Post It Note and on it write,
"Throw Away the Script."
Now each and every time someone calls, (after you have greeted them and you are into the "next level" of the conversation) "throw away the script," and react to that person, that conversation, "In the moment." Don't fall back on your standard lines; say something appropriate based on what the person said to you. Add a twist, some humor, and empathy, whatever the situation calls for. It will make it more fun and interesting for you and the caller.
Try this is your sales department and watch sales soar!
In our efforts to help you "throw away the script" we will focus on three areas where an improvisational touch can truly enhance your customer service.
Before we boldly step off the safe confines of the service curb into oncoming customer traffic, let's look at how being "in the moment" at just the right moment can change everything.
- Learn It - Then Burn It
- Fast Acting and Long Lasting Relationships
- Take a Moment to Make a Moment
How 'bout a little Personality?
Kathy, a woman who works out of her home in order to be with her children, was doing a transaction with a bank representative on the phone. It was the usual drill… "What's your account number?" "Your mother's maiden name? "Your social security number?" "Pin number?" As Kathy was frantically digging for the information her son stepped forward and proudly displayed his latest attempt to write his name. "That's wonderful! You can use a pencil!" Kathy exclaimed. The service rep (knowing Kathy was talking to her son) said, "Thank you, but actually I've been using one for a long time now." Kathy laughed out loud and suddenly (funny how this works) felt like her bank was more than a four-story brick building.
Learn It… Then Burn It
As you can see based on our previous story, somewhere between "Stepford" service (the land of perpetual rigidity - where every word, movement and action is accounted for, leaving no room spontaneity) and total chaos or "Three Stooges" service (the land of eternal ineptitude) is the where the most productive organizations thrive. They realize the importance of intrusting in their staffs the monumental task of being real, making the club they work for a living, breathing and feeling entity. They also realize that they cannot send their staffs out to face the masses ill equipped. They train them well and then do what all good parents do. Up their allowance and allow them to think for themselves.
Practical Makes Perfect
Practical is good. We're not sure how it became attached to jokes, as in practical jokes, but it does pay to be practical. However, there is no law that says in order to be practical you must become inflexible, rigid or unmovable. Take Southwest Airlines. (Nuts! We didn't want to use them as an example again. If another company could do it like they do-we'd use them.) They realize the importance and practicality of going through pre-flight safety instructions for their passengers. They also realize that most people have flown before and therefore have heard these instructions at some point in time. Southwest empowers their flight attendants to just learn it - then burn it. They are encouraged to give the instructions their own twist. Hence:
"If you are seated next to a child… or someone acting like a child, put your own oxygen mask on first."
"If you are connecting on another Southwest flight, agents at the gate will be happy to assist you. If your connecting flight is on another airline… we really don't care."
"The use of cellular phones is prohibited. As is the use of Karaoke machines."
As you can see, practicality is prudent. But it needn't be prudish. This is especially true in what we call face companies. These are companies where face-to-face interactions occur. Health clubs, spas and country clubs are face companies. It only takes a second to know whether the person you are dealing with is actually
present and available to communicate and it happens before they ever open their mouths. It's non-verbal communication and it starts with the face. It starts with a smile.
"We can't see your smile if your head is in your script"
Julia Roberts is by all Hollywood assessments an attractive woman. Of course, there are times when she is less attractive and times when she is more. But, when she smiles she lights up more homes than a California power company. She becomes radiant. She immediately becomes more accessible and we are drawn to her like moths to the flame. It is the one of the reasons she has done picture after picture after picture. Compare her to the Mona Lisa - who offered nothing but that tight lipped, uninviting and repellent smirk. And what did she do? One picture? Enough said.
Take the time to smile. It's better than a business card. And remember, we can't see your smile if your head is in your script.
Just like the improviser who learns the principles and techniques of improvisation and then steps on stage with nothing but a pocketful of confidence, or the golfer who on the driving range goes through his or her mental checklist from countless number of lessons, then leaves the checklist there on the way to the first tee, you can prepare yourself so there is nothing unnerving about the unknown as you take the customer service stage.
Fast Acting and Long Lasting Relationships
We all know that good products are essential to the fiscal stability of any business. But good products are not enough. Today's corporate climate, coupled with consumers yearning for service and an "experience," tells us that relationships are the lynchpin to continuing growth, member loyalty and long-term profitability.
Think for a moment about the various places of business that you frequent on a regular basis. Now try to separate them into two distinct categories. The first we'll call the "product" businesses and the second we'll refer to as the "human factor" based businesses. The first category might include the phone company, the electric company, your triple- platinum-frequent-flier-mile-credit card company, the self-service-pay-at-the-pump gas station; businesses that are product or services driven and where a face or name is rarely associated with the services rendered.
Overwhelmingly, our choices about product-based businesses come down to savings and proximity (i.e., if you're closer and cheaper, we're in business.) But our choices about human factor based businesses aren't as cut and dried. In the ever-changing world of customer service one thing remains a constant. Like improvisation scenes, the clubs that flourish are the ones based on strong relationships, externally and internally.
All relationships start with first impressions. And they are either good or they're bad. When customers have a good impression of you, they also have a good impression of your club. Think of it this way, whenever you interact with a member they fill out a mental comment card. Every time the customer deals with your business a new impression is left. The moment a customer first sets foot into a restaurant; when the shoe sales associate presents the purchase receipt; when the dentist sits down with the patient to discuss treatment --these are all impression points. And they can strengthen the image of your club or come back to bite you in your assets.
The department of motor vehicles, an unlikely place to witness a stellar service transaction, made a wonderful impression on one of our workshop attends. She shared this story:
Recently I went into get a new license. There were two lines offering distinctly different service. Servicing one line was a middle- aged, battle-ax woman, cranking people along like she was working in a factory. She was toxic.
( "Have your picture ID ready, NEXT!")
heading up the other line was another middle- aged woman, sporting a smile and gaining eye contact with everyone, whether you were next in line or fifth in line. Needless to say, I chose her line. I told her I needed a new license and she said,
: "and we're going to make sure we get that pretty necklace in your photo!"
She took her time setting up the photo, and made sure I was smiling. She paid attention, was in the moment and created a favorable impression. Unlike her colleague, who offered a robotized, impersonal transaction. I love my license photo! And I think of that woman every time I cash a check.
Check in with yourself, especially at the end of the day. Take a few minutes to review your interactions with customers. Did you create favorable impressions and treat each interaction as a new "customer scene?" Did you seize opportunities to improvise with people and have fun? What went well? What should you have been fired for? Most of all, what could have been done better?