The front desk staff are some of the most integral players on your team. When members walk into the club after rolling out of bed for that early morning workout or in the evening after a long day at work, the first face they see is that of the front desk staff. Therefore each and every day, those staff members have the opportunity to shape a member’s impression of the facility.
If a member is being greeted by a sullen face and must wait to scan into the club or grab a towel, they might leave with a bad taste in their mouth. In contrast, if they are welcomed into the club with a warm smile and maybe even a personal greeting, chances are that will enhance their satisfaction with the entire club experience.
Ensuring members are welcomed into a positive environment is of the utmost importance for Gainesville Health and Fitness (GHF) in Gainesville, Florida. “It can be intimidating for many to walk right into a weight room or into a space filled with cardio equipment, and so we want our facilities to be comfortable and inviting to everyone the moment you walk in our front doors,” said Adrian Antigua, the general manager at GHF. “It was also important that people felt like they were walking into something special, not just a gym.”
In order to create an inviting, open atmosphere as soon as members arrive, GHF installed a living wall, filled with greenery, which according to Antigua adds extra life, color and softens the entrance. The lobby is also equipped with multiple seating areas where people can relax and socialize pre- or post-workout. “We replaced the seating in our café with a communal table with power docking stations, where it is not uncommon to find members working on personal items or conversing with friends or making new ones,” explained Antigua. “Everything about our entrance is meant to create a welcoming and inviting environment experience the moment you step inside.”
Of course, a crucial element of that welcoming environment is the front desk staff. According to Antigua, the club has a very un-scientific way of making sure everyone is greeted when they come into the club. “We simply hire staff who naturally say hello and goodbye,” he said. “It’s easy to teach people how to run systems. However, it is almost impossible to teach your culture and hospitality.”
At Fitness Formula Clubs in Chicago, hiring smiling staff who make it their No. 1 priority to provide a helpful and positive experience to the members is also a key concern. Once hired, they provide staff with formal classroom training, as well as on-the-job training, to help them perfect these skills. “We start all staff members with an 8-hour onboarding day that includes a customer service boot camp to define and set expectations,” said Sharon Staves, the director of management services at Fitness Formula Clubs. “Staff members are then integrated into the club environment where the department head trains them in real-time. Customer service team members are then invited back to the classroom setting to discuss their experience and to continue to hone their hospitality skills through role plays and best practice sharing.”
When it comes to making a great first impression, the bottom line is to provide a welcoming environment with friendly staff. Key elements to this are not only hiring the right people and providing them with the proper training, but also giving those employees ownership and autonomy. “Hire overtly friendly team members who are quick to smile and slow to frustrate,” added Staves. “Working with members is an amazing opportunity to change lives. Encourage team members by giving support to create confidence, yet freedom to feel they are personally making a difference.”
Antigua agreed — GHF has even implemented the “10 second experience” to encourage front desk staff to have fun and be themselves. “This means that in any interaction you have with a member or guest, your first 10 seconds are free to simply be yourself and create an opportunity to connect,” he explained. “One of the most memorable of these situations was when an employee decided to do a poll as he was checking in members on what their favorite candy was. It caught many of our members off guard, with some ignoring the question all together, and others going into extensive conversations on how they couldn’t just pick one. The next day I remember coming in and noticing a pile of candy at the desk all from our members wanting to share with the receptionist their favorite sweets. It’s through moments like this that keep your members coming back each day.”