Communication Strategies for Your Staff
Fitness Management 101: Teach your employees to communicate company policies to members in a proper and effective manner.
Communicating policies to your members in a timely and accurate way is critical for your business to operate smoothly. As a fitness manager, you depend on your staff to communicate policies effectively. You trust that your employees are transferring important information about company policies and operations from you to the membership. But the reality is that employees have their own personal communication styles and approaches, and some staff members have more difficulties than others when it comes to relaying pertinent company information.
That’s why you need to assess whether your staff is conveying the messages you want to share with members in exactly the fashion you would like the information to be delivered. In this column, we’ll explore some of the personality differences that your staff might display and how you as the manager can effectively and consistently pass information to clients, using your employees as your conduit.
When an employee forgets or neglects to communicate important company policies, it directly affects you as the manager. Whenever a member or a client takes issue with a company policy, one of three things will usually occur.
In the first scenario, the client will not say anything and then will either discontinue training or feel wronged and let it fester in his mental “complaint bank.” In the second scenario, the client will address the issue with the employee, leaving the employee with two choices: he can defend the policy and help the client to move past her issue with it, or he can side with the client and “badmouth” the company, the rule and the manager (you!) who enforces the rule. In the third scenario, the client will bypass the employee and go directly to the manager to resolve the issue.
The good news is that all this can be avoided through proper education. When clients are informed of your company’s policies in a professional manner at the beginning of their relationship with your business, it will be much easier to reach peaceful resolutions. Getting every employee to inform their clients of your policies from the first business transaction onward is a challenge that all managers face.
The first thing you need to do to avoid any misunderstandings with a member is to create a written company service agreement (or contract) that defines the business relationship. This agreement is the tool that will enable an employee to confidently and accurately relay company policies and other information. Your service agreement should include an overview of the service(s) that the member is purchasing, along with the terms, conditions, rules and guidelines. It should cover what the client can expect from the company and its representatives, as well as what the company/representatives can expect from the client. It should also include a space for each party’s signature.
When creating this agreement, you should highlight, bullet or underline the most significant points so the document can very easily be reviewed with the client in just a few minutes. All clients should complete an agreement on the day that their relationship with your business begins, and agreements should be updated if any of the terms change; for example, if rates rise or the employee conducting a service changes. Keep clients’ signed agreements on file for a minimum of 3 years after services are completed; you may need to refer to these documents in the event of reimbursement requests or allegations of breach of agreement. You can always deny a refund request if you have a signed contract agreeing to your company’s terms.
Each of your members walks into your facility presenting specific and unique needs. It is your job to carefully match each member with the person on your team who will offer the best fit, both professionally and personally. It is in everyone’s best interest to take time and consideration in making this match.
Undoubtedly, you have a team of fitness professionals with a variety of skill sets, backgrounds and personalities. This range of professionals allows you to offer your clients a better, more personalized choice of service. Rather than standardizing the unique qualities and characteristics that set your employees apart, honor the differences. You can then draw on these differences to enhance communication with your clients and to optimize delivery of their services. Recognizing each staff member’s unique strengths and using those strengths to your company’s advantage will enhance job satisfaction among employees, thereby providing more positive experiences for your members.
Although there are many ways to showcase employees’ communication style, three approaches are best suited for fitness professionals:
- the comedian approach
- the scapegoat approach
- the business approach
This is the best tactic for your fun, friendly and spirited employees who want to keep the relationship with members lighthearted and even silly at times. As they explain company policies, these employees like to add some play and humor. To get the points across, they might exaggerate or embellish the consequences of failure to abide by the policies. They might even use funny anecdotes of what happened to past members who “broke the rules.” To soften the blow, they might make up some crazy stories about how particular rules came to exist. Above all, these employees try to interject some fun into the discussion, so it isn’t such a dreaded step. But they also know that it’s important for members to understand the contract they are signing, so they emphasize truthfulness and get the main message across.
Sample Conversation Using This Approach: “If you cancel your session more than three times in a row, we will take away your allowance, call your parents and give your time slot to another member!”
This approach is great for employees who have trouble communicating because they are afraid of losing members if the terms are not acceptable. It is also effective for employees who really don’t care for the business side of fitness and would work for free if they had no personal bills to pay. Using this approach, employees simply state the policy and then attribute it to the manager or the company. This allows the employees to act as though they are simply doing their job. That said, managers need to exert caution when allowing staff to use this approach, as it can easily be abused and create barriers between members and company. One way to get around this is to insist that conversations with members be handled tactfully and with utmost respect for all involved.
Sample Conversation Using This Approach: “If you cancel more than three sessions in a row, my manager will require me to remove your name from my schedule and replace you with a member who is on my wait list.”
In this approach, employees openly, honestly and confidently review the salient contract points together with the members. Employees explain the company policies one by one in a clear, precise and neutral manner. This style is great for employees who are detail oriented and conscientious—in other words, the staff members who are future managers at heart. Such employees enjoy setting clear guidelines and understand the necessity of properly disseminating the rules to members.
Sample Conversation Using This Approach: “If you cancel more than three sessions in a row, we will be forced to give your time slot to another member.”
Regardless of which method your employees use to explain written policies, they also need to convey important rules that may not be included in the service agreement. Even after members have signed the agreement, you should never assume that they know the details of your cancellation policy, no-show policy and billing terms if such matters have never been vocalized. These important aspects of your company’s operations need to be communicated verbally.
Once your employees have found the approach that works best with their personality and style, they can balance the needs of the company with their wish to keep peace with members. Once you have achieved 100% compliance regarding proper dissemination of company policies, your management job will be a lot easier. You will have fewer uninformed, unhappy members and more employees who are proficient at communicating your policies for the company’s greater good. l
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How can you improve your employees’ ability to convey important company policies to your members? Take time in a team meeting to role-play the three communication approaches discussed in this column and let employees try out each approach in a variety of practical situations. This will give you a chance to coach your employees through the sticking points of difficult conversations.
After observing each employee’s level of comfort or discomfort in each scenario, you might decide to give your staff the autonomy to make a few exceptions for different members. This will grant your employees the ability to be flexible when they feel it is needed. If you or your employees do decide to make an exception for certain members, always make it clear that you are overlooking the rules for them and explain why you are doing so in that case.
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