he old saying, "The customer comes first,"
is widely viewed as the law of successful club management. But is it really the best way to direct your clubs priorities? Maybe not.
"How can that be?" you may be thinking. "Without satisfied members, we'd be out of business." True enough. But look beneath the surface of the most successful clubs, and you will see that members - valued as they are - come second. At the top of the pecking order are the folks assigned to the critical job of keeping members happy: the employees.
The truth is, clubs delivering the highest caliber of service tell their employees, in words and in actions, that they come first. Treating employees with respect, paying them fairly and affording them opportunity for career advancement, gives them the motivation to provide superior customer service, day in and day out.
True believers of quality service know that unless employees come first, members cannot rank high on the list of priorities and therefore cannot be treated with the caliber of service they deserve - and often demand. That's because disgruntled employees are lackadaisical at best. At their worst, they are determined to get back at the club by taking out their frustration on - you guessed it - the members. All the training programs in the world won't prompt employees to nurture member relationships unless they, too, are nurtured by management and can identify self-interest in helping to grow the business. Bottom line: There is no escape from the fact that happy employees translate into happy members. That's where quality service, membership sales and member retention has to start.
Which leads us to the question: How do you build a team of happy employees? Although there is nothing you can do to keep your staff in a state of perpetual delight - you can build high levels of morale and motivation.
Treat employees as important members of your team. View employees as your most important assets and not as interchangeable parts. To demonstrate your faith in them, and to bring out their best and often hidden potential, create an interactive environment. Solicit ideas, accept suggestions and respond to gripes and complaints. To encourage this give-and-take, hold brainstorming sessions on a regular basis.
Break Down Barriers
The goal is to allow employees to play a role in what the club is and does. Adhere to this policy, and you will likely find that employees you once wrote off as mediocre performers are actually diamonds in the rough. Do all you can to realize their potential by offering them incremental increases in authority and responsibility. Break down the barriers that often divide management from employees.
When the time comes to correct an employee, try to make the point without deflating the person's ego. Be sure to meet in private. The idea is to create a learning experience rather than to embarrass the employee in front of others. Focus on the mistake and it's cure, rather than dwelling on a personality trait you may find unappealing. You don't have to be an expert to know that telling people they are stupid, lazy or obnoxious breeds resentment and contempt, both for the messenger who delivered the insult and the club behind it. All kinds of repercussions can result from that. Superior customer service and production is never one of them.
Promote From Within
Whenever possible, promote from within. A consistent policy of recruiting talent from the outside for positions your employees are qualified to fill (even if they have to grow into the jobs) sends a clear message that working for your club is a dead end and hard work may lead only to a pat on the back, or a modest bonus, but the real rewards - personal growth and enrichment - go to those who have never invested their energy and skills into the club. In this environment, the best employees - those who can provide the high level of service you are seeking - will seek other opportunities. The loss will be yours.
To prevent this, establish a policy granting employees the right to compete for an available position before the search extends outside the club. Allow them to present resumes and to interview for jobs as would other candidates. If they have the credentials and the experience, award them positions even if that means you will have to hire a replacement to take on their current job. As valuable members of your team, they deserve the opportunity to advance.
Motivated employees - those with a reason to serve your members -believe they have a future with the company. Deny them this, and you will be shortchanging your club as well as your employees.
Recognize superior performance. Although financial rewards are important, they rarely pack the emotional wallop of a personalized tribute.
With this in mind, take the time to hand write personal thank-you notes to deserving employees. And instead of delivering them through interclub memos, mail them to the employees at home, just for the sense of personal warmth that extra touch would carry.
About Jim Thomas
James E. Thomas, the Director of Fitness Management & Consulting, has held positions within the fitness industry for 20 years. As company President, and having owned individual clubs, Jim understands the needs of the small business owner as well as the special challenges of larger operations.
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