Saving a Sinking Ship, Part 3: Achieving Excellence in Customer Service

by Troy Fontana on Jan 02, 2013

Fitness Management 101

Third in a series on how to rescue your drowning personal training business.

With the recent fluctuation in the economy, businesses have become acutely aware of the need to provide a high level of customer service. Businesses that can create a competitive advantage through the service they provide will find themselves one step closer to success. Those that ignore the value of service will find themselves falling toward failure. In this article, I will share sound principles for creating a culture of excellence in customer service.

In Part 2 of “Saving a Sinking Ship,” I helped the owners of Jacked Up Fitness (our case study for this series) redesign their studio and give it an attractive appearance while staying on-budget. During the transformation at Jacked Up Fitness, we added life to the facility by adjusting the lighting, music and color scheme. We decluttered and organized the studio to give it a clean and refreshing ambiance. Last, I encouraged the owners to rebrand their facility by using logo distribution and displaying anything that would showcase the staff’s expertise.

While such steps were necessary for success, nothing will come of our efforts if the Jacked Up Fitness leaders and staff cannot provide a high level of customer service.

After spending time with the studio owners, and conducting interviews with staff and the studio’s five most active clients, I identified a serious problem at Jacked Up Fitness. The service being provided to customers was dismal. Personal trainers came and went as they pleased, without regard for the success or failure of the studio. Staff members and clients left the gym messy and disorganized; Jacked Up Fitness did not have a cleaning protocol in place. Several ethical issues also needed to be addressed. In short, things had to change quickly. The place to start was at the top—with the owners of Jacked Up Fitness.


A business is the sum of all its parts: the people who work there, the service those people provide and the product they distribute. It is up to the leaders to direct the business, lead their staff and empower those people to be successful. Without leadership, staff members lose their team orientation. Their personal goals take center stage, and the business and its clients suffer as a result.

When leaders invest time, energy and resources in their staff, the employees feel valued and appreciated. They feel a sense of ownership—like they have a real stake in the success and failure of the business. There was very little of this at Jacked Up Fitness, so I recommended the following:

  • Biweekly meetings. Use these meetings to get staff members to connect with each other, share success stories and set a vision for the future. When there are problems, ask the staff to suggest solutions.
  • A morning pep talk. First thing every morning, have the staff meet briefly to review the objectives for the day and the week. Acknowledge employees when they’ve performed a task well. Give them a word or motto to embody for the day.
  • Education opportunities. Create incentives for staff to attend workshops that increase their overall skill and knowledge base. IDEA conventions and local professional development courses are great places to start.
  • Character lessons. I’ve always believed that a team that possesses great character will outperform a team that has talent alone. During your biweekly meetings, take time to share a character lesson that the team can embody. For example, a lesson could bring to light the value of courage, industriousness or other important character traits.

When thinking about leadership, remember this: You hire humans, not robots. Humans need to be led and trained on a continual basis.

Policy and Organizational Structure

Several critical elements help ensure the high-quality service your company wants to provide: written policies, a structured way of doing business and an employee manual where this guidance is fully available to your employees.

An employee manual should be a link between an organization’s goals and the fulfillment of those goals. First, it should clearly define what is expected from each employee—about appropriate dress, personal conduct and everything in between.

Your policy structure and employee manual will have laid the groundwork for all expectations, as well as for what constitutes grounds for terminating employment. Having a structure not only takes pressure off the owner or management but also creates a sense of responsibility in the staff members. A heavy dose of consistency is a recipe for success.

Here is what I recommended to improve the structure and consistency at Jacked Up Fitness:

  • Have job descriptions. All staff members—from trainers to clerical staff—need to know what your company standards are and what is expected of anyone who works for you. In the job descriptions, include technical and professional expectations, as well as ethical responsibilities.
  • Create policy. Start by logging the issues that have come up in the past. From there, create a policy structure that will delineate boundaries to prevent unwanted behaviors or activities from happening again.
  • Build an employee manual. Your employee manual will be your playbook for success. Include everything from job descriptions, to company policy, to workout routines and plausible program design options.

Making the Change

Providing a high level of customer service requires focus. Applying this degree of attention helps create a culture in which staff members feel privileged to work at your facility and clients feel valued. And when clients feel valued, they stay longer and pay longer.

To create a service-related change at Jacked Up Fitness, I met with the owners and shared the leadership steps presented earlier in this article. Since there are two owners, I made each of them commit to specific leadership-related goals and actions. Dates and times for regular staff meetings were set, an education-focused team event was scheduled and character development became a priority. I then had the owners act as accountability partners to one another. Most people like to avoid difficult tasks; having leaders hold each other accountable is vital to ensuring success.

After working on the leadership components, the owners at Jacked Up Fitness began to create an organizational structure that would ensure consistency from their trainers and staff members and provide their clients with a high level of professionalism.

In closing, consider this image of a service-related business: Your business is a train. The train’s cargo is the customers, and the goal is to get the customers to a specific destination. In this case, the destination could be a healthier and happier life. Your employees are the engines that will take your customers there. Like all engines, those employees need to be fueled daily with time and energy from you; they need to be regularly checked, inspected and nurtured so that they perform at their peak level. Finally, you, the owner, are the conductor—ultimately responsible for seeing to it that the cargo/customers reach their destination safely.

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About the Author

Troy Fontana

Troy Fontana IDEA Author/Presenter

Troy Fontana is a 13-year veteran of the Fitness Industry. He is CEO of Freedom Fitness Unlimited and founder of Business for Fitness Professionals, an organization designed to educate, inspire and se...