The Front Line
I like to say that the front desk is the first line of offense, and the last line of defense,” said Mark Miller, the vice president of Merritt Athletic Clubs, which has multiple locations in Baltimore, Md. As both the offensive and the defensive line, the front desk should be made up of a lineup — or team — of players who are fully equipped to handle any play — task or situation — that might occur.
Hiring the Right People
When it comes down to it, recruiting the right individuals into the right position is the first step in putting together a successful front desk team. “Everything goes back to hiring,” said Amanda Purser, the front desk manager at Gainesville Health and Fitness, in Gainesville, Fla.
Putting not only time, but also the money and resources into hiring, has allowed Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers to hire the best possible staff. “When it comes down to any situation, [a successful front desk] is about hiring the right people,” said Purser. “We hire people that naturally embody a friendly and warm attitude.”
Mitch Megela, the front desk manager at the 02 Fitness in Wilmington, N.C. looks for individuals who meet his checklist of ideal qualities — approachability, respectfulness, diligence, friendliness, and they must be proactive. “The front desk is the link between the guest and [the club],” he said. Therefore, it’s crucial to have a person with the best qualities in place to best represent your company.
Think of yourself as a recruiter. Look for individuals who have natural talent in the areas in which they’ll be working. Ask a variety of questions to make sure all job requirements will be met. For example: Can a staff member build rapport with a customer? Are they a people person? Are they someone you would want to come up and speak with? If certain questions receive a negative answer, keep recruiting.
Staffing the Appropriate Number of Employees
An important component to having a successful team is having the appropriate amount of players in your lineup. Gainesville Health and Fitness hires between 400-450 employees, with about 50 receptionists split between three clubs, and one to five dedicated to just the front desk at any given time. Purser explained, “We never want a paying member to walk in and not be served.”
However, not all clubs have the ability to staff that many employees — which makes prioritizing your front desk staffs’ duties a must. “Any member standing in front of [a staff member] is their first priority,” said Miller. Make sure your members feel as if they are worth your time. “If only one staff member is available, that person should excuse themselves to answer the phone if it rings, put the person on the phone on hold, and then return to the member to deal with their issue. Whoever is directly in front of you is your first priority,” said Miller. “Our purpose is to be the best part of our member’s day, every day.”
In order to make sure that the front desk doesn’t have to prioritize members over other duties, try to plan to have more than one person at the front desk during peak hours. If your players have teammates to back them up, they won’t be struggling to play more than one position. For example, you wouldn’t want the pitcher to be taking on the role of the outfielder as well.
Front Desk Set-up
Once you have a complete roster and the correct number of players, it’s time to create a playbook, or a plan for your staff to execute.
Managers at Gainesville Health and Fitness have well-defined descriptions for their front desk staffs’ duties. They divide the front desk into four different sections devoted to different tasks.
The first section, called “Co-Pilot,” is devoted to checking in members, said Purser. The second section, called “Pilot,” is where the staff engages with members, takes payments, answers questions and phone calls and assists the “Co-Pilot,” as needed. The third section, “Guest,” is where new-members are directed to be greeted, signed-in and directed to a member of the sales team as quickly as possible, said Purser. “The thing to remember about all our ‘sections’ is that all are responsible for ‘Priority One,’ — greeting, smiling, being warm and friendly, and hellos and goodbyes.”
For Mitch Megela, “organization is key,” to running a front desk successfully. “Keep [the front desk] clean and organized. I like to know where everything is. Having things unorganized makes things more difficult.” Megela creates a checklist for his staff to keep updated throughout the day, which also helps them stay on task.
Having an organized space will also allow you to put your best foot forward to new and existing members. Megela continued, “The desk can represent [the club] because that’s the first thing that people see, so its important for them to get a good positive image.”
Training Your Staff to Handle Certain Situations
On paper, you have all the components of an “All-Star” team. But, any sports fan knows that even the best sports team makes mistakes, and sometimes doesn’t win, when on paper, they should have. That’s where training comes into play. The more you train your staff, the better they’ll be able to handle any curve ball that’s thrown their way. “We hire the best people, and then train them to be the best of the best at customer service,” said Purser. “Everything we do, every action, revolves around that culture of providing the best possible service to our members and guests.”
According to Shawn Stewart, the operations manager at Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers, every interaction a member has with your company is an opportunity to create a positive impression. Interactions, which he calls “Moments of Truth,” can either be positive, negative or neutral, depending on the way your staff handles the situation. “We train staff with the tools to turn a negative ‘Moment of Truth’ into a positive one.”
Merritt Athletic Club coaches its staff similarly. “A lot of it is coaching and guidance,” said Miller. “As a manager, you have to keep [the front desk] really informed and empower them. You have to let the front desk know where to get the information.” Merritt makes it a general rule to “teach staff to smile, greet members by name and to never have their back to a customer.”
Megela holds a mandatory monthly meeting in order to update staff on new procedures and to brush up their skills. “Once a month I’ll have a front desk meeting,” he said. “We go over everything and role play. Oftentimes I’ll be a guest that comes in — and there will be different situations — and they have to be able to show what procedures need to be taken.” Megela also uses this as an opportunity to bring everyone together.
Having a unified and informed team will be an important and final step to having the best front desk staff, but it shouldn’t stop there. “We look at others in the industry, and outside of it and say, ‘Who’s the best at customer service?’ and how can we learn from them,” said Miller. Take advice from how other clubs operate their front desk, and incorporate their best qualities in ways that can benefit your own. After all, the front desk is the very first, and the very last point of contact for your members, each and every time they have an experience with your club. -CS
By Rachel Zabonick