When author and business speaker Harvey Mackay said, “There’s a place in the world for any business that takes care of its customers—after the sale,” he underscored the importance of customer service long after the deal is sealed.

I’m sure you have had some variation of this experience: You walk into a store, and the salespeople start swarming all over you. They greet you with a warm smile and offer up amazing customer service, all the while asking questions about you and your life. You end up liking the staff and the interest shown you, so you decide to do business with the outfit. But once you sign on the dotted line and hand over your hard-earned cash, the customer service that won you over evaporates and you are left cold and alone.

Second only to the U.S. Department of Motor Vehicles, fitness facilities may have one of the worst reputations when it comes to customer service. This is especially baffling when you consider that our very industry depends on pleasing our clients for our own livelihood.

Perhaps this dearth of customer service is due in part to the relatively brief history of our industry. At the beginning of the 20th century, “athletic clubs” were typically private and used more for doing business and socializing than for exercising (much as golf courses are used today). Health clubs of yesteryear seemed to be more about status and were typically for men only. It wasn’t until the 1970s that working out in clubs started to catch on with people of all genders and persuasions. If you look at businesses as a whole, the health club is a relatively new phenomenon and there is plenty of room for improvement. And in my humble opinion, enhancing customer service deserves and needs to be the focal point as our industry heads into the future. As an entrepreneur, you have a wonderful opportunity to effect this change for your customers.

Check Thyself

As a consumer, you know the difference between strong and weak customer service. As a service provider, you need to take time now for your customer service “checkup.” Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you take your regular clients for granted?
  • Do you consistently keep things fresh and new?
  • Does your staff understand the value of customer service?
  • Do you call all your members by name?
  • Do you regularly ask your clients what they want (after all, they’re the ones keeping you in business)?
  • Does your staff buy into your mission of treating clients as royalty so you can develop loyalty?
  • Do you follow up with clients to monitor their level of satisfaction?
  • Do you have a specific protocol in place for responding promptly to customer complaints?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you are missing an opportunity to improve client retention and also to attract new clients who aren’t getting good customer service at their current facilities. Clubs are designed to sell, but how many really deliver?

Make New Friends, but Keep the Old

As the saying goes, one is silver and the other is gold. Or, as Jay Conrad Levinson, author of the Guerilla Marketing series of books, said: “There is extraordinary chemistry that exists in long-term relationships.”

There are myriad reasons why you should want to create a long-term relationship with your members. As competition among personal training businesses continues to increase, owners are finding that just having the best equipment and cutting-edge classes may not be enough to win over clients. What it really boils down to is showing clients that you care about them long after they have signed on to become your customers.

There are also financial matters to consider. Did you know that it costs five times more to bring in a new customer than it does to keep a current one? According to The Wall Street Journal, the average American company will lose 10%–30% of its customer base this year, much of that loss being attributable to dissatisfaction with the service rendered.

So what can you do to satisfy your clients enough to keep them coming back? Here are 8 simple secrets to success when it comes to delivering the goods long after the sale.

Secret 1: Never Take Customer Relationships for Granted

Your regular clients are your bread and butter. That’s why it’s vital that you make them all feel they’re one in a million. The reason they came to you in the first place was that you made them feel valued, and you need to keep doing exactly that on a consistent basis. Forget all the fancy equipment: Relationships, service and trust are what clients crave from your business.

Secret 2: Keep Your Business
Fresh in the Eyes of Customers

Updating your facility on a regular basis so it remains cutting-edge is an important way to keep clients satisfied. It says to clients that you are dedicated to keeping their experience top-notch. Letting things go indicates that your facility has lost some of its sheen, which can quickly translate into a loss of your client base.

Secret 3: Learn Your
Clients’ Names and Use Them

You should remember, Dale Carnegie once said, that hearing one’s name spoken is the sweetest and most important sound for a person in any language. I am amazed at the number of fitness professionals who walk by members without even offering as much as a “hello.” Knowing your members by name can have a powerful impact on your retention rate and can even generate referrals from satisfied clients who tell others about your friendly service.

Secret 4: Ask Clients for
Their Opinions

We may be educated about the latest trends in fitness and equipment, but what do our clients want? To determine exactly that,
I give out small questionnaires each quarter, asking clients about various classes, equipment, etc., in order to make sure their needs are being met. If people can see that their feedback is important and that ultimately you follow up, they tend to feel more valued.

Secret 5: Always Remember to Follow Up With Clients

Follow-up is probably the most neglected area in the service business. I attribute the success of my business to consistently following up with clients about any concerns or needs they have expressed. Whether following up means simply making a call to get information or addressing a specific concern, I never let more than 24 hours pass without indicating to clients that their issues are being addressed. Anytime a potential or current client comes to me with an issue that warrants a response, I see that it is resolved as quickly as possible. We have all had experiences with companies where follow-up was nonexistent. Those experiences should remind you never to lose sight of the value of follow-up with your own clients.

Secret 6: Never Underestimate the Power of a Positive Staff

If it is important to make your clients feel valued as individuals, it’s even more important to make your staff feel honored. In addition to acknowledging their value to your company, make sure all your employees buy into your company’s philosophy of excellence in customer service. Teach them all aspects of customer service, keeping in mind that their understanding of your policies is what will convey to clients that you are genuinely committed to their future success.

Secret 7: Remember That It’s the Little Gestures That Count

In our world of Internet romance and reality shows, life has gotten surprisingly impersonal for many people. What better way to surprise your clients than to send handwritten notes thanking them for choosing your facility for their fitness needs? You would be surprised at the dramatic effect a simple thank-you letter, note or postcard can have on a client. Just the fact that you took the time out of your busy day indicates that you value that client. Holiday cards are an appropriate gesture, but they may get lost in the shuffle with all the other cards sent at that time of year. Instead, try sending cards at nonholiday times (yours will surely stand out from the pack). Keep the sentiment simple, and remember that this is not the appropriate time or venue to try selling additional services. Other ways to honor clients are to hold special “events” that recognize their years of training at your facility or to write a story for your newsletter or website about a client who has recently reached a fitness milestone or lost a substantial amount of weight.

Secret 8: Listen Closely and Impartially to Any
Customer Complaint

One of the toughest areas of business ownership or management is handling member complaints. But the best thing you can do is to handle such complaints gracefully and promptly. Although confrontation is tough, you can’t let a dissatisfied client think that his or her concerns are not being properly addressed; that is a sure-fire way to lose a client forever.

That’s why I tell my staff that the customer is always right, and for the most part that is true. Be sure to listen closely to your customers, hear what they are saying and then offer immediate solutions. Most customers just want you to acknowledge that their concerns are valid and that you will address them. The sooner you bring positive closure to a customer’s complaints and/or concerns, the better chance you have of retaining that client.

The Bottom Line

Excellent customer service may not be a novel idea, but it is essential to sustaining a healthy business. When it comes to buyer loyalty, what keeps consumers coming back has less to do with price and marketing skill than it does with how well a company treats its customers, especially those who have a complaint. Staying on top of your customer service game is what will allow you to stay on top of your business game!