Systems for Customer Service Success

Best Practices: Borrow these three steps from world-class companies to create consistency in your customer service.

Think about the customer service provided by top companies like the Ritz-Carlton and Disney. Now think about your personal training business. Does your brand evoke the same image of exceptional assistance? Or is it time for you to borrow proven customer service systems from these top-notch names?

Whether you’re an independent personal trainer or a fitness business owner, you can benefit from systematizing your customer service. Such service “systems” are written, behavioral and verbal guidelines that clearly outline how anyone (including you!) should interact and communicate with clients when representing your unique brand. Learn how you can draw on the service savvy of world-class companies and build a culture of consistent courtesy in your fitness business.

A Written System: The Credo Card

One day several years ago, Todd Durkin, owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego and author of The IMPACT! Body Plan, was vacationing with his wife at a Ritz-Carlton hotel. As they entered the property, they were greeted by name. The staff seemed clairvoyant about their needs and consistently exceeded their expectations. And Durkin soon found himself wondering how personal trainers could use similar service standards to strengthen their fitness brand.

The answer, Durkin discovered, was, in part, the Ritz-Carlton’s “credo card.” In this easy-to-use system, the hotel’s service guidelines and values are printed on a pocket-sized, foldable card, and every hotel staff member carries one.

So today, each of Durkin’s staff and trainers keeps a copy of the Fitness Quest 10 credo card close at hand—a card modeled after Ritz-Carlton standards. (See the sidebar “Service Guideline Samples” for more specifics.) To keep the card’s message fresh, at team meetings Durkin reviews its content: Fitness Quest 10’s motto, mission statement and staff service guidelines.

“My experience going to the Ritz-Carlton left me with a big ‘wow’ moment,” Durkin remembers. “As your fitness operation grows, if there is no training or system, then you’ve got people just doing their own thing. So we’ve really invested time in developing systems [like the credo card], and it’s really helped our clients to get an equal and consistent experience month after month.”

The result? Durkin reports business growth of 15% in the last year, despite a challenging economy.

An Action System: Branding Service Behaviors

In meetings with your clients about goal-setting, they tell you they want to “be” strong. In order to “be” strong, you advise them to “do” at least three resistance workouts a week. Why? Because as a personal trainer, you know that meaningful results come from things your clients can measurably “do,” not a vague notion of what they want to “be.” In the same vein, however, you want your staff to “be nice” and “be friendly” to your customers. But what exactly should they “do” to achieve these goals?

Fitness pros should “brand their behaviors” with “doing” guidelines, says Jeff Kober, a customer service and leadership consultant in Orlando, Florida, and co-author of Lead with Your Customer: Transform Culture and Brand into World Class Excellence.

Formerly, Kober was responsible for all customer service programming at the Disney Institute—the training and leadership think tank of the Walt Disney Company. During his tenure, Disney’s long-standing “Seven Service Guidelines” included specific “doing” behaviors, such as:

  • Make eye contact and smile.
  • Seek out guest contact.
  • Thank each and every guest.

Kober has helped develop similar guidelines for fitness facilities, for businesses such as FedEx and Starwood Hotels and for the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. (See the sidebar “Service Guideline Samples” for more specifics.)

Bottom line: If great customer service behaviors were obvious to everyone, then every business would have great customer service. Avoid confusion by having clear, action-specific goals.

A Verbal System: The Invisible Script

Imagine the phone is ringing at your fitness business. Will it be answered with world-class courtesy? And do you know what that type of courtesy would look and sound like coming from your business?

Durkin says top-notch phone skills showcase your team’s excitement for your fitness programs. “Our staff is trained on how to speak with people, but we do not use ‘phone scripts,’” he says. “It’s more about the energy, excitement and authenticity they have on a call.”

Instead of a word-for-word plan, keep staff (and yourself!) on track with an “invisible script”—that is, a list of information-seeking bullet points and key courtesy terms placed near the phone.

For example, Donna Hutchinson, a fitness business coach in North Vancouver, British Columbia, and owner of “On the Edge Fitness Educators,” a private school for personal trainers, suggests that fitness pros rethink the word "no." She proposes using alternative phrases, such as “I wish I could help you with that” or “Let me see what I can do for you.” (See the sidebar “Conversation Courtesy Check” for more ideas.)

Like Durkin, Hutchinson emphasizes that authenticity is key. She recommends role-playing and practicing mock client conversations at meetings; for the independent trainer, she recommends videotaped practices.

Remember, the goal isn’t to create customer service robots spouting automated answers. The goal is to keep concrete “courtesy” tools at the ready, while maintaining a genuine voice.

Puttin’ on the Ritz

Durkin believes that when your staff members have a clear understanding of your service goals, their enthusiasm is free to shine through. “It’s absolutely critical right now to systematize and make sure all of our people are delivering great customer service. There’s nothing more important than that. It’s going to ultimately allow a client, a customer, a member, to have a great experience. Is it always easy? No. Is it worth it? Absolutely, yes!”

Megan Senger is a writer, consultant and business development speaker based in Southern California. Active in the fitness industry since 1995, she specializes in helping small-business owners reach their revenue potential. Reach her at megansenger@gmail.com.

Sidebar: Service Guideline Samples
Examples of service values, taken from the Fitness Quest 10 credo card (courtesy of Todd Durkin):
  • I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed needs and desires of our clients/members.
  • I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences and programs for our clients/members.
  • I am proud of my professional appearance, language (spoken and body) and behavior.

Sample behavior guidelines from the Brookfield Zoo (courtesy of Jeff Kober):

"Being" Goal "Doing" Behaviors
Be proactive.
  • Take the lead. Don't wait for others to approach you.
  • Look for those who may especially need help.
Be polite.
  • Use common courtesies like “Please” and “Thank you.”
  • Wait for others to finish before speaking.
  • Call others by their name whenever you know it.
Be professional.
  • Refrain from speaking negatively at all costs.
  • Don't talk about business, company politics or personal issues in front of the guests/customers.
Be helpful.
  • Don't “pass the buck” to others to solve guest/customer challenges.
  • Be informative and provide accurate information.
  • Be honest if you don't know the answer, and if possible, get the right answer.

Further examples:
Ritz-Carlton’s Service Guidelines, http://corporate.ritzcarlton.com/en/about/goldstandards.htm
Disney’s Seven Service Guidelines, www.dcljobs.com/service-excellence.aspx

Sidebar: Conversation Courtesy Check
Try these tools for a well-mannered dialogue:

Instead of “Hello,” try:

  • Good morning.
  • Good afternoon.

Instead of “Yes,” try:

  • Certainly.
  • Absolutely.
  • It would be my pleasure.

Use these words when the answer isn’t “Yes”:

  • Instead of "I can’t"; try "I’m unable to because..."
  • Instead of "You’ll have to..."; try "Are you willing (able) to...?"
  • Instead of "But..."; try "However
  • Don’t say: “No, I can’t do that. You’ll have to come to the studio to sort that out.”
    Do say: “Unfortunately, I’m unable to do that because we need to verify your ID in person. Are you able to come to the studio this week?”

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    Megan Senger

    IDEA Author/Presenter
    Megan Senger is a writer, sales and marketing consultant, and fitness instructor based in North Caro... more less
    November 2010

    © 2010 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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