Customer service means different things to everyone. Wikipedia defines customer service as "The provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase.” Businessdictionary.com defines it as “All interactions between a customer and a product provider at the time of sale, and thereafter.”
But what does this mean in the club business? My general rule of thumb is to first realize that very often our customers are also our owners, bringing an intriguing dynamic to customer service.
Secondly, our job is to continuously validate a member’s decision to join the club by seeking ways to make them feel welcome, comfortable, understood, and important with every interaction. In short, we strive for personalized, remarkable service. As clubs endeavor to keep their membership base and dues line strong, customer service is often overlooked as a key competitive factor. There is an abundance of research available highlighting this fact as shown below. Very often, we mistakenly believe members leave for a wide variety of reasons from price to available amenities, but the reality is how they feel when they interact with the club (a.k.a. service) is the most compelling reason to leave.
Step 1: Create a solid service culture. This is a topic about which I have received many calls. Creating a culture that will provide a reputable competitive edge begins with knowing your club’s mission and vision. What makes you special? Why are you here? Who will you be in 10 years?
The decisions you make today will create the experiences tomorrow, so knowing the answers to these questions and effectively communicating them is the first step toward an unshakable service culture.
Step 2: Hire right. Many entry-level managers have not been trained properly on how to hire the right team members. Candidates should be hired first and foremost based on a shared set of values between them and the Club. If every person hired has inherent values akin to the club, then creating a consistent service culture will be less complicated.
Step 3: Train consistently. Once the right people are hired, training must be commonplace and frequent. A one-time orientation or two-day training session is not enough. Consider training much like a coach. A coach is constantly reinforcing peak performance and correcting behavior so that the team will continue to grow and develop, achieving their goals. If ‘reinforcement’ training is not a daily habit, the service culture will deviate with new board or committee members, and staff or management person hired.
Step 4: Create accountability. Once the right people are hired and trained, there must be definitive roles for accountability and responsibility to protect critical service standards using on-going performance management protocol. Critical standards are three to five items that every person must be able to achieve. In a club, critical standards may include 1) a warm greeting with a smile using a member’s name; 2) knowledge of the club’s frequently asked questions; 3) understanding how to RSVP or make reservations/tee times.
We often think service occurs only when we see members. However, every interaction from the telephone, website, newsletter, staff presentation and demeanor, to restroom and parking lot conditions impacts the members’ perception of service. Service is an endless array of concerted and complex experiences requiring perpetual management.
Once you have achieved these steps, remember to learn from your mistakes while celebrating your successes. A strong club creates demand for membership usually through existing members. When your members are talking so highly about their club so that others want to join as well so that they, too, can feel welcome, comfortable, understood, and important every day; you have achieved an enduring service culture. Congratulations!
Whitney Reid Pennell, president of Reid Consulting Services, Inc. (RCS) is a celebrated management consultant, educator and speaker. Ms. Pennell is the creator of Food and Beverage Service Boot CampTM and two online RCS signature-training courses, Private Club 101 and ENCHANTED Service. RCS specializes in strategic planning, operations consulting, food and beverage management, and training programs.