Proper phone etiquette is essential in a health club environment. Many people prefer to call ahead to ask simple questions, rather than physically coming in. It’s their way of getting a “feel” for your facility. As a manager/owner, you want that introductory phone call to translate into a new membership. However, phone communication has degraded among young adults working the front desk, and it’s easy to see why.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (2011), text messaging has become the primary way that cell phone owners between the ages of 18 and 24 reach their friends. For this age group, texting has surpassed face-to-face contact and telephone calls as the go-to daily communication tool. Your challenge: Most of the time, the front-desk employee is a younger person who is more comfortable with texting than with talking on the phone. Therefore, phone etiquette is an extremely important part of orientation and training.
Brian C. Haggerty, author of Put That Cell Phone Down and Look Me in the Eye: Bringing Civility and Respect Back to the Workplace at ALL Levels of Business (BCH Enterprise 2013), advises that younger employees who aren’t used to speaking on the phone will need to be coached in communicating this way—and encouraged to practice until they get used to it.
“The good thing about younger people is that they generally have a higher energy level,” Haggerty says. “It’s best to coach them in a positive way so they can feel that they bring something different and unique to their jobs.”
Use the following tips to help train your staff to excel at front-desk phone etiquette.
Writing a Script
Writing a script (and keeping it next to the phone) is essential to the success of a fitness facility’s telephone customer service. This script shows the entire staff how you—as the owner, director or manager—want members to be treated.
Haggerty finds that a phone script ensures consistency. If the script has been tailored correctly, then employees will all say the same thing, and they will all deliver that information in the same manner.
“The script should not only have the text, but should also have reminders such as ‘Smile as you speak’ and ‘Be warm and welcoming,’” he says. “Have each employee practice the script, to be sure he or she is performing it in the proper manner.”
Christine King, president and CEO of Your Best Fit Inc., adds that it’s not just a matter of having your staff learn the script and read from it. Employees also need to be trained on their intonation and patience and on how callers should feel as they’re engaging with the official “voice” of the facility. The script creates customer service consistency and ensures that important words like “please” and “thank you” are not neglected.
“I encourage my staff to speak clearly, at a moderate pace, with a smile on their face when they’re on the phone,” King says. “You can’t help but feel happy and positive if you’re smiling.”
Knowledge and Tone Are Power
Training employees to field the most commonly asked questions is extremely helpful. King suggests keeping a manual by the phone, with tabs for the various sections to give quick access to the answer for any question a caller may ask.
“Coaching and practice on the use of the manual is important, so that employees are comfortable and understand how to turn to the information—while also knowing what to say while they are finding the answer,” says King.
For example, Haggerty says, if a caller asks about a specific, recently advertised package, the employee taking the call should be able to find that information easily in one tabbed section, with the ads shown in order starting with the most recent one. Train employees, as they’re turning to the tabbed section, to enthusiastically say, “I’d be happy to assist you!”
Another strong recommendation from Haggerty: Fitness facility front-desk staff should not speak in low, monotone voices. They should sound awake and happy to receive the call. They should also be smiling, as that will come through over the phone.
Haggerty believes that when staff members answer the phone they should be standing. “This will change how they sound,” he observes. “[Have them] look out at everyone exercising so that they can keep the mental image in their minds—at all times—of people in motion working to better their health and bodies.”
Role playing is a popular way to teach employees how to answer the phone. Role playing can be a little uncomfortable at first, but in the end it’s a lifesaver for all staff who interact with facility members or potential members.
King suggests role playing for all employees—even those who’ve been there a while—to ensure that they are fully trained and up-to-date on all packages, policies, products and services. At a staff meeting, give everyone a copy of the different scripts and have them practice with a partner for a few minutes. Then have each pair get up in front of the group and practice out loud.
“It really shows where their strengths and weaknesses lie and how the managers can best help them improve,” she says. “When approached in a positive, empowering manner, it can help the club’s communication improve as a whole.”
Haggerty also suggests that managers evaluate employees as they practice role playing, and offer constructive feedback. For example, listen to how an employee handles a question that may not have an immediate answer. Let’s say a caller asks this: “I was wondering what package deals you might have for this coming Christmas, and do you offer gift certificates?” Haggerty says it’s possible that the holiday gift packages have not been announced yet; in that case, managers/owners would want the employee to say something like this: “Thank you so much for calling! We always have great package deals throughout the year. Our holiday packages will be announced shortly. However, I would be very happy to give you information on all of our current packages and answer any of your questions.”
“A new member is a new member, and that means new business,” Haggerty says. “I want my employees to recognize this and know that there’s no such thing as ‘no package.’ Since my employees are the ones who will field these types of calls, I want them to be able to sign someone up on the phone and know the policies and procedures that will give them the flexibility to do so.”
King believes in training staff members to be sensitive to how the caller may be feeling. She also says to emphasize how important this first phone call is in terms of the potential member’s health and wellness. In essence, the person fielding phone calls can make or break the caller’s experience and determine whether or not the caller actually visits the facility.
“I always tell my own staff that the client making that first phone call is taking a big step in their quest to be fit,” King says. “If they don’t have a pleasant experience during that first phone encounter, they may hang up and give up. And that’s the last thing any fitness facility owner needs.”
By teaching the texting generation how to interact during a phone call, you do more than improve your customer service. You also introduce your staff to life skills they’ll need in many areas of interpersonal communication. Potential members get the attention they deserve, and staff members feel empowered to use their voices.
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Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. 2011. Americans and text messaging. http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Cell-Phone-Texting-2011.aspx; accessed Oct. 1, 2013.
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