Excellent customer service has always been a hallmark of a thriving business, and in recent years, especially with social media and online reviews, success has hinged more and more on delivering top-notch customer interaction, both online and off.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 global pandemic threw a wrench into all of this, propelling the world into the unknown and forcing fitness companies to make significant operational changes with very little time to plan. The situation became more complicated when many facilities closed their doors indefinitely, transferring their services online. Overnight, millions of members, clients and staff were impacted. As some businesses began to reopen, they were (and maybe still are) faced with another challenge: namely, creating a hybrid model of services and products—a mix of in-club or studio offerings and virtual, online options.
Regretfully, during all of this, customer service took a back seat. Now, more than a year since the first lockdowns, client/member touchpoints have emerged as a priority. Fitness offerings changed in 2020, as did customers and their expectations, and as difficult as change may be, it offers new opportunities to learn, adapt, grow and prosper. This reopening phase will help the industry shift to better accommodate and take care of people.
The following four considerations will help your business deliver exceptional customer service, retain members and clients, and succeed during these turbulent times and beyond.
1. Instill Customer Confidence
The pandemic revealed a need to reassure customers and demonstrate that you and your staff understand their worries and needs. Addressing these concerns will help restore confidence and gain trust. It’s best to approach this from a place of inquiry: “What is the current situation?” and “What are the possible future scenarios?” Since you can’t know exactly what will take place, do what you can now, while planning for different future scenarios.
Start by comforting members and clients and communicating that your priority is to keep them safe, ensure their health, keep them informed, and help them achieve their fitness goals. You can accomplish this by staying up to date with the rapidly evolving safety guidelines and measures; practicing and clarifying protective protocols, such as room capacity limitations, physical distancing and cleaning techniques; and investing in services and products like online reservations and contactless club entry/ class check-ins.
For hybrid and online businesses, customer service takes on an additional perspective, with a need to provide meaningful and valuable experiences via a screen. Since interacting online is very different from being in-person, it’s essential to deliver high-quality services that address the specific concerns of people who exercise at home or in the workplace.
2. Understand the Human/Digital Intersection in Customer Service
2020 may be remembered as the year when technology use in the fitness industry went from 0 to 100 in record time. Businesses, personal trainers and group exercise instructors shifted to online and virtual offerings almost overnight—a steep learning curve for many. Zoom morphed from being a lesser-known videoconferencing platform to functioning as an everyday verb (“We can Zoom if you’d like”). And the year’s catchphrases included “You’re muted” and “Unmute yourself!”—followed all too often by a puzzled facial expression, “How do I do that?” In the first few months of the pandemic, clients and members were willing to accept gaps in service and quality, but this was short-lived.
Faced with numerous challenges as customers moved from physical locations to virtual settings, companies realized they needed to offer easy, seamless interactions. It’s essential that all businesses take stock of their digital operations and ensure not only that these are in order, but that clients and members know where and how to contact the people and services they need.
Using online platforms taught us that digital abilities vary and, therefore, it’s essential to provide tools to guarantee a good experience for everyone. For example, if you use Zoom to broadcast group exercise classes, offering a basic video on how to enter a Zoom class, easily available on your website or YouTube channel, is a must. Direct new participants to watch it prior to their first class, and if people need additional help, communicate that you’d be happy to do a short one-on-one with them.
If your club or business has an app, reach out to users to see if they understand its functionalities and how to use them to their (and your) advantage. This is especially important as facilities reopen and members are asked to use their mobile devices for a variety of services and administrative actions.
One year on, fitness businesses are making changes that will endure beyond the current crisis. And although many clients are enjoying the online experience, businesses must continue to monitor customer engagement and deliver excellent service in a quest to develop and maintain loyalty.
3. Personalization Is Vital for Loyalty
Personalization is often synonymous with data, and collecting and analyzing multichannel data—through an efficient customer relationship management (CRM) platform—will help you better understand who your customers are, what preferences they have, and how to predict future behaviors.
But customers are more likely to do business with a brand if they feel an emotional connection with it, and this often arises from experiences and interactions. Because of COVID-19, personalization took on a deeper meaning, as the pandemic uncovered a strong demand for human skills and abilities, such as communication, listening, empathy and understanding each customer’s unique circumstances and pain points. This skill set is about more than addressing members by their first names or offering them a free smoothie on their birthdays; it’s about showing a true interest in who they are and understanding their needs and expectations.
Empathy builds trust, loyalty and lasting relationships. This connection suffers in the digital experience, where the “real world,” face-to-face exchange is lacking. Never before has the need to satisfy, comfort and reassure customers been so important. A more personalized approach creates a sense of familiarity and comfort.
With an increase in pandemic-related stress and anxiety, customers are also seeking speedy responses to inquiries and problems, expecting issues to be resolved in a timely, efficient and personalized manner. Therefore, it’s a good idea to brush up on how to negotiate potentially loaded interactions properly and professionally.
4. Be Prepared for the Unexpected
In catching all of us off guard, the pandemic has taught us that we must prepare for what could come next. That doesn’t mean stocking up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but using the valuable lessons learned to create and implement a contingency plan in readiness for another epidemic-style event.
Conduct an operations inventory to better understand your business’s strengths and weaknesses and how to avoid a service disruption in a sudden emergency or crisis. Take notes about what worked and what didn’t during this past year and create a “playbook,” or manual, for future reference. Be sure to put the customer experience and journey at the center of the plan. Instilling trust and confidence will prepare you and your fitness business, whether in person or online, to understand what’s vital for continued success and customer loyalty during the coming months and years.
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