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Conspicuous Customer Service


shutterstock-182313326In their book, “Creative Confidence,” authors David and Tom Kelly help you unleash creativity through “design thinking.” Once you grasp design thinking you see the world differently.

At one point they discuss a retail operation and the task of designing a new experience for waiting in line. They talk about framing the question right to get the right outcome. For example, there could be a big difference in how your team forms an idea based on these two questions: “How might we reduce wait times?” versus “How might we reduce perceived wait times?”

When designing for customer experience excellence, you can’t ignore “perception.” We have a concept we call “Conspicuous Customer Service.” There are several ways to make service more conspicuous to members. In some cases you simply do things when members are present. In others you create artifacts that show “we were here.” For example, you know housekeeping was “there” in your hotel room when you see the folded end of the toilet paper. This is the conspicuous indication that your bathroom was cleaned.

Think of Conspicuous Customer Service as visibly demonstrating to the customer in tangible ways that you have them in mind.

Conspicuously demonstrate your concern about equipment repair. Use simple but well-designed, public-facing “equipment boards” where anyone can report equipment issues simply by walking up to the board and writing. We tested this in our “labs” (our gyms). The result? Equipment condition scores moved from 7.8 to 8.5 in six months.

Not only did we fix equipment more rapidly (mostly because it is reported sooner), the member appreciated the frictionless process. It sent a very strong message to our members about our expectations. There are a lot of business process implications in the background if you intend to get this right. Suffice it to say you have to design more than the reporting board.

Conspicuously demonstrate your concern for cleanliness. Clean during peak hours when more people can witness. Use public-facing checklists in locker rooms for walk-throughs.

We adopted a practice we call the “10 minute sweep” — all hands on deck for 10 minutes two to three times a day. Send everyone out on the floor as a team to clean and straighten. In one operation, I witnessed two front desk employees on the floor with cleaning supplies. They cleaned louvers on treadmills using Q-Tips. Talk about a strong and conspicuous message.

Conspicuously demonstrate friendliness. Trainers should connect with all members, not just clients. Housekeeping should lose the headphones and engage with members when cleaning. Front desk and group fitness staff should always greet and give a fond farewell. Kid’s Club should know both kids and parents and have a process for greeting and “unloading” the parent when they enter the room.

Friendliness seems obvious, but I seldom travel to a gym that gets this right. Operators like to assume they have hired friendly people and those people will naturally be friendly. But achieving excellence requires much more deliberate work. Hiring friendly people is the first step. Success depends on how well you measure, educate, coach, support and inspect friendliness. Policies, memos and one-time training will achieve mediocre — not “excellent.”

The next time you are in a club, whether it is yours or someone else’s, look with a fresh eye to see the opportunities to make the service culture highly conspicuous. Use conspicuousness to demonstrate your care and respect for your members. You will be rewarded with loyalty.


Blair McHaney is an educator for the Medallia Institute. He is also the president of Club Works, a Medallia partner servicing the fitness industry, and is the owner of two clubs in central Washington. He can be reached at blair@medallia.com or at 509.630.7307.

Emily Harbourne

Emily Harbourne is the former assistant editor of Club Solutions Magazine.

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