Create and Maintain a Customer Service Culture At Your Facility
By Jill Fonte
The club’s mission statement said all the right things. It was about “valuing our members” and “exceeding expectations” and “treating each other with respect.”
The young man working behind the front desk, however, didn’t quite walk the talk. “Only another half hour and I get to go home.” He didn’t exactly exceed members’ expectations or make them feel valued. Maybe he’d never actually read the mission statement.
A spirit of customer service often is infused into mission statements. Many organizations even conduct customer service training to make sure employees know how to behave toward customers — how to answer the phones, how to greet customers, how to handle complaints, and so on.
The behaviors are important, but it is only when customer service becomes an employee attitude, in addition to a set of behaviors, that an organization can claim to have achieved a “culture” of customer service. Achieving that culture need not be left to fate. Whether you’re a manager at a private club, public facility, or retail shop, you can take tangible, visible steps to ensure that customers indeed feel valued and have their expectations exceeded.
Treat employees like your most important customers
Perhaps that young man didn’t understand how important he was to the club’s image. Perhaps he was treated as an expendable, inexpensive, part-time employee who had little or no impact on the big issues like profit, products, and programming. Perhaps he didn’t feel important at all, and therefore saw no reason to take his job — and his responsibility to the customer service scenario — seriously.
Customer service often begins with employee service. When people feel valued by their employers, they tend to treat customers accordingly. Let your employees know how their work contributes to the good of the organization, why their work is important, and how they bring unique value to their responsibilities. Set the example of customer service in how you treat them, and explain that you want them to treat your customers as respectfully and responsively as you treat them.
Make your expectations clear
It’s dangerous to assume that everyone has your vision of customer service. Exactly how do you want the phones answered? How should calls be transferred? How should members be addressed? What are the rules governing behavior at the front desk? What about dress and grooming — are there rules there? If so, make them known.
Do not assume that your staff members will “get it” from your example. Do not assume they have your values or understand your expectations.
Scrutinize the moments of truth
When your customers drive into the parking lot, walk through the front door, enter the locker room, walk out to the courts, get water on the changeovers, call the club or shop for any reason‚Ä¶they are forming opinions about your organization and the service you provide.
Is the parking lot clean? Does someone at the front desk or cash register look up and smile when people enter? Are the locker rooms and restrooms tidy? Are the water coolers kept full? Are there cups at the coolers? Are the trash baskets OK? Are the phones answered promptly and in a welcoming tone? Are your customers thanked for their business?
If you want your customers to experience the best service possible, you must continuously try to see what they see during those moments of truth.
You can teach a set of skills. It’s much tougher to teach caring or friendliness. If you’re hiring someone who’ll have direct contact with your customers, look for the attitude you want conveyed. Does the person smile, maintain good eye contact, offer a firm handshake? If you want a friendly, outgoing person at the front desk, look for those attributes during the interview.
Ask about good and bad customer service they’ve experienced, and how they felt at the time. Ask how they’d have handled the situations differently, particularly regarding bad service.
In Stress for Success, Jim Loehr writes, “The most important component of customer service is emotion. Regardless of what you do to help a customer, how you make the customer feel emotionally is what counts.” Hire the people who’ll make your customers feel important, valued, appreciated.
Reward the right things
Behavior that’s rewarded gets repeated. When you see or hear your employees servicing your customers appropriately, point it out. Thank them. Tell them specifically what they did right. “I really appreciate your patience in handling Mrs. Smith’s complaint”; “I admire how you remember our customers’ names and address them by name when they come in”; “Thank you for making sure the trash is emptied several times a day.”
Make sure your employees feel appreciated. Make sure they know what’s important to you. Be specific in your feedback and generous with your recognition. Remember the suggestion: “Praise in public, criticize in private.”
The Bottom Line
Creating a culture of customer service need not be difficult. It begins as an inside job with how employees are treated.
Managers who walk the customer service talk demonstrate what it looks and feels like to be treated with respect. If we can believe what we see in most mission statements, customer service takes center stage.
Keeping customer service front and center depends on managers who live it, communicate it, hire for it, and reward it.
See all articles by Jill Fonte
About the Author
Jill Fonte , who plays tennis at least three times a week, has had a lifelong love of tennis on both a personal and professional basis. She was the owner and executive director of the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association for 20 years and has served on the TIA board of directors for many years. As an executive coach and business consultant, she is currently a Principal in Business Visions Group and has addressed tennis audiences throughout the country through her involvement with the USTA, USPTA, PTR, TIA, USRSA, and various global suppliers. A longtime local and national volunteer, she currently chairs the USTA's National Tennis Innovation Committee, and serves as the Vice President of Marketing and Communication and a member of the governance, strategic planning and personnel committees for the USTA Middle States Section.