Molly Anderson, the general manager of the Wisconsin Athletic Clubs (WAC) in Greenfield and Waukesha, Wis., believes that her front desk staff is the “hub of the club.” This is because they often are the first and last employees that members see at WAC. “Oftentimes, the interaction members have with front desk staff is the only interaction they’ll have with a WAC employee during their visit,” she explained.
Hiring the right staff member to fit the front desk is at the top of Anderson’s must-have list. “First and foremost — to having a successful front desk — is staffing,” said Anderson. “You must make sure the person at the front desk has hospitality and can manage multiple things, all with a smile on his or her face.”
During the hiring process, Anderson looks for “red flags” that suggest a person isn’t a good fit for the front desk, such as a poor handshake, lack of eye contact and odd body language. “You can tell a lot about a person from how they interact with you during an interview,” said Anderson. “Do they look you in the eye? Do they shield their bodies with their arms, and sit in a closed position?”
If the person interviewing doesn’t have what Anderson called the “WOW” factor, they aren’t considered for the position. “The WOW factor really summarizes what we look for in all employees,” explained Anderson. “Does their personality ‘WOW’ us? Does their customer service [‘WOW’ us]? Do they go above and beyond for our members and their co-workers? In our business, it’s all about how we make people feel, and at the WAC, our mission is to make a difference in people’s lives. We want them to feel ‘WOWed’!”
Colorado Athletic Club Inverness (CAC), in Denver, Colo. has held extensive hiring processes for its front desk staff, in its search for the optimal front desk employees. According to Chelsey Rangel, the hospitality manager for CAC, prospective employees go through an online application, phone screening, in-person interviews, reference checks and an online new-hire paperwork procedure. “These steps help us to ensure we are hiring the right person for the job,” she said.
“Finding people who have a contagious, friendly personality is a key priority when hiring team members,” Rangel continued. “I also look for people who can communicate effectively on the phone — and smile through the phone — as well as in person. They need to understand the importance and fully execute a large level of multitasking, while mastering the first five seconds of the welcome.”
Training for Knowledge
Another important quality Anderson believes front desk staff employees should have, is a working knowledge of the club’s programs, services, hours and other offerings, so that they never tell a member, “I don’t know.”
“They have to have knowledge of the facility,” said Anderson. “It’s important that they know pertinent information about the club, and can relay that to our members. Instead of saying, ‘I don’t know,’ they should say ‘let me find out.’”
Of course, new staff members aren’t expected to be perfect or immediately knowledgeable about the club. That’s why The Alaska Clubs in Anchorage, Alaska, have sent front desk employees through a front desk training class, which it requires new hires to complete within the first two weeks of employment. “All of our front desk staff are cross trained on all aspects of the desk, from member check-in to point of sale, scheduling appointments, answering phones and club events,” said Despina Silverthorne, a general manager of The Alaska Clubs.
During the training class, a manager monitors a new employee’s phone calls for friendliness and accuracy. “If a front desk employee is identified as not following the phone call procedures, they will be pulled off answering the phones until they are re-trained,” said Silverthorne.
In addition, Silverthorne said front desk employees have used a front desk manual as a successful point of reference. “Front desk employees should be able to provide solutions and answer questions in a professional manner, and understand sales and the importance of the relationship between the front desk and membership,” said Silverthorne. “Being welcoming and hospitable is one of our core values, and the front desk is the first place a member or guest experiences that.”
According to Anderson, a source of continued education for WAC’s front desk staff is derived from the sharing of “WAC Moments,” during front desk meetings. “A WAC Moment is something that occurred that is above and beyond between staff and members,” explained Anderson. “Sharing WAC Moments are a positive part of the meeting. They give recognition to those who deserve it, and positive things breed positive outcomes.”
As an example of a WAC Moment, Anderson detailed the time a member called to say that she had lost her engagement ring. “She wasn’t sure if she’d lost it inside the club, or outside of it,” said Anderson. “A staff member walked through the parking lot at five in the morning with a flash light, and was able to find her ring! He then delivered it to her at the school where she worked. That is a perfect example of a WAC Moment, and someone going above and beyond.”
As the “hub of your club,” Rangel suggested clubs continually empower their front desk staff to make the best decisions for the club’s members. “Empowering my staff to make decisions is also something I do to make the team successful,” said Rangel. “I want my team to feel like they can be an active part of the solution, and if they make a wrong decision, it just offers up an opportunity for a training moment.”
Top 5 “red flags” when interviewing for the front desk
1. No eye contact during interview.
2. Introverted behavior: quiet and/ or shy.
3. Not comfortable speaking in a group setting.
4. Unprofessional attire (ie. clothes not ironed).
5. Checking cell phone often.
Top 5 qualities to look for when interviewing
3. Customer service-oriented background.
4. Ability to multi-task.
5. Professional appearance.
By Rachel Zabonick