Hiring and Training for Exemplary Customer Service
By Jill Fonte
By all accounts, Kirsten Mendoza is the ideal front-desk person. Her colleagues respect her, her boss relies on her, the club members love her.
The attributes that make her respectable, dependable, and lovable were imbued in her long before she came to the PGA West Health & Racquet Club in La Quinta, Calif. While Kirsten’s boss, club manager Debbie Douglass, can’t take credit for those strengths, she and Kirsten’s colleague, Evelina Madrigal, can be credited with a home-run hiring decision.
“Kirsten brings the right attitude to work every day,” explains Douglass. “She’s happy, positive, well-organized, and bright. She genuinely cares about her co-workers and our members. She’s completely service-oriented. You can’t train someone to care. They either bring it or they don’t.”
You don’t have to visit many clubs and shops to realize that a service orientation is a hit-or-miss proposition. Kurt Kamperman, the USTA’s chief executive of Community Tennis, is quite concerned about the inconsistencies in tennis’s customer service.
“Last year, we had over 4,000 Tennis Welcome Centers in place throughout the country,” Kamperman says. “In doing our follow-up secret shopping, we found a profound inconsistency in the telephone skills, program knowledge, and attitudes of the front-desk personnel. If we want new players to feel welcomed to our sport, we have to do a better job hiring and training for better customer service.”
Short of cloning and placing a Kirsten Mendoza in every tennis shop and club, how can the industry raise its customer-service game? Front-desk jobs typically offer part-time hours, low pay, and little investment from both the employer and the employee. But the people who work the front desk are hugely powerful in shaping your customers’ perceptions and experience with your facility. So, how can you make home-run hiring decisions?
Look for the sparkle
You want to populate your front desk with “people persons.” They smile easily and often. They look you squarely in the eye. They listen well. They ask questions. They’re friendly and outgoing. If you’re not getting that in the interview, don’t expect a personality transplant once they get behind the front desk. Just as you can’t train someone to care, you can’t train them to be friendly and outgoing, either.
Make it a team effort
The folks at your front desk have to work as a team, so why not give them some input during the hiring process? Good chemistry behind the front desk typically results in the most positive approach to customers, so let the team interview potential candidates and give you feedback. Chances are, you’ll rely on your existing staff members to help develop and train your new employee, and they know what your expectations are. So, let them provide you with some insight as you’re interviewing candidates.
Furthermore, you might rely on your existing front-desk staff to recommend their own colleagues. At PGA West, Kirsten Mendoza was brought in by her friend, Evelina Madrigal. “I knew she’d fit in well here,” says Madrigal. “I knew she’d do a good job and that she’d blend well with the rest of our team.”
Interview more than once
Anyone can turn themselves on for one interview. Narrow your candidate pool to the top few, and bring each one back for another look. Specifically, look for consistency in answers and behavior from one interview to the next.
Call the candidates at home
Answering the phone is a big part of a front-desk role. By calling your candidates, you’ll get a feel for how they project themselves over the phone. Listen for whether they can convey their smile and personality and positive energy when they don’t have the benefit of face-to-face contact.
Don’t just fill the position
When you’re short-handed at the front desk, it’s tempting to just find a person — any person — to fill the spot. Resist. While the employee might only work part time or on a temporary basis, he or she is crucial to your customers’ perception. Take the time to make a careful hiring decision, even if you have to be short-staffed in the meantime.
Once you’ve put a customer service A-team at your front desk, it’s important to manage and reward the team for providing great service consistently. “I make sure our front-desk staff knows exactly what we expect,” says Douglass. “It can get pretty hectic in here with players checking in for courts, people arriving to work out, phones ringing, and all the distractions in the background. But each member deserves to be serviced by someone who can provide full attention. I make sure our staff knows that our members and guests must be their No. 1 priority.”
Specifically, if you expect your front-desk people to look up, smile, and greet your customers (preferably by name), say so. And, when you see them complying, make sure they know you’ve noticed. Maybe you want them to transfer calls a certain way. “May I place you on hold while I transfer your call?” is certainly more service-oriented than, “OK, hang on a sec.” If you’d prefer they use specific language during their telephone interactions, say so.
If you want them to acknowledge customers as they’re leaving your club or shop, say so and give them the language. “Bye, Mr. Smith. Have a great day!” or “Thanks for coming in, Sally!” provides one more opportunity to show that customer that he or she has been noticed.
In short, even if you’ve hired right, don’t leave customer-service behavior or language to chance. Teach your front-desk staff how and when to acknowledge your customers.
Unfortunately, Kirsten Mendoza can’t be cloned, but as a manager, you can hire, train, and reward so the industry-wide effect on customer service is the same. As the industry looks for ways to increase participation, keeping a watchful eye on the front desk is a good place to start.
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.