Operations: It’s All About the ‘Lagniappe’
What industry are we in? Most would say the fitness industry, right? Seems like a simple question with a simple answer, but maybe not.
Fitness is one of the products clubs offer, but not the only one. We have many different levels of clubs (boutique, fitness-only, multipurpose) with different types of operations (corporate, medical wellness, independent) offering their products at many different price points (from low-price, high-volume to high-price, low-volume and everything in between). There are more choices for the consumer than ever before and changes are happening quickly.
But one thing that has not changed is our core product is centered around one thing: service.
Service is defined as “the action of helping or doing work for someone.” This is pretty much the same in all industries no matter what the product is. Everyone serves in one way or another, but not all businesses are centered around service.
In the fitness industry, service is more important with us than in most other businesses, because our customers are coming back often, sometimes daily. How many other businesses see their customers and must deliver their products this often?
Retention is something everyone in our industry is talking about. When we talk about retention, what we really need to look at is: How good is our service? That should be our focus and that will affect retention. And, if we look at that and focus on that, everything else will fall into place because you will put the best people and the best programs and the best facilities in position to deliver that service.
So, what industry are we in? We are in the hospitality industry. What differentiates us from the others delivering the same product is how we take that service to a personal level. How do we make it unique and deliver it to the customer so they feel it is unique and they are special? What extra do we do?
That is hospitality. “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers.” Down here in South Louisiana, we call that lagniappe. Lagniappe is that something special or extra you give someone as a thank you or just because you care. Like when you order a dozen oysters and they give you 13 because they want to make you happy. That is lagniappe!
At our club, we came up with a simple principle many years ago to put all of this in perspective and to keep it simple at the same time. We have our vision, our mission statement and our core values, just like most companies do.
But I have never liked to memorize things just to memorize them (you can probably tell how much I loved school). Things had to make sense for me to remember. So, to keep all of this simple and for it to make sense at the same time, we came up with our “Take Care” service principle.
It puts all of this into a couple of simple words. “Take Care” is an acronym, but if someone on our team cannot remember the meaning behind each letter, they can understand the basics — take care of each other, the members and the business. It is on the door all employees enter through to the club each day on their way to their departments, along with us using it in our daily operations.
Here is our principle:
Last year, we were visited by management from the Ritz Carlton Hotels (corporate and local) about our service principle, because they were aware of our high ratings on social media and from our community, and they wanted to know what we do to make it special for our members here at the club.
They like to visit different types of business to see how these businesses take service to a different level (great idea for all of us to consider). As we discussed this, they asked me a lot about how our employees take care of the customer. What guidelines do they have?
I told them that we do have rules, but we empower our team to “do what is the right thing to do” when they are not sure how to handle a situation. We will back them. They then asked what dollar amount we tell the employees they can work with when doing this? They knew my background was in accounting and I feel they were a little surprised when we said that we do not have a dollar amount. Just “Take Care” of the customer and keep it reasonable.
As most of you know, the Ritz Carlton does a similar thing, but there is a dollar amount (a very large one) tied to it. They learn quickly what their customers are all about and try to make their visit special all along the way.
We need to do the same thing, even when our customers visit many times a week. We still have to make each visit special.
As Helen Keller once said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
Deliver the lagniappe!
Larry Conner is the President/GM of Stone Creek Club & Spa. For more information he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.