Your customers are the most important people in the world. You need to do everything you can to keep them wanting more.
By Greg Moran
There’s an old saying that tells us “a satisfied customer is a happy customer.” Well, in these competitive times, satisfied just doesn’t cut it. If you want people to spend their hard-earned dollars at your club, you must do more.
When a person leaves your facility, you don’t want them to be merely satisfied with the experience. You want them to be excited, even exhilarated. “Satisfied” they can get anywhere. “Exhilarated” is special, it makes them want more.
I’m fortunate to work at a club that takes “exhilarated” to a new level. The Four Seasons Racquet Club in Wilton, Conn., is owned and operated by former Great Britain Davis Cup star Stanley Matthews, and the club has been keeping customers “exhilarated” for more than 30 years.
What’s the secret? Matthews says it lies in first understanding what your customers want and then, not merely giving it to them, but exceeding their expectations.
“A person, who is exhilarated by their experience at your club, will not only become a loyal customer, they’ll spread the word to their friends,” says Matthews. “And, as we all know, word of mouth is the strongest and most effective form of advertising — both positive and negative.”
“Four Seasons is one club that truly gets it,” says Geoff Norton, who has visited hundreds of clubs while working for both the PTR and USTA. “From the person answering the phone to the pro and maintenance staffs, each and every person at Four Seasons is dedicated to making their customers not only feel welcome, but special.”
The key to building a successful business is to turn your customers into clients, and in order to do so you must give them a memorable experience each and every time they see you. Here are a few of Matthews’ top customer-service secrets.
1. Treat Customers Like Royalty
People come to tennis/fitness clubs for a variety of reasons. It could be for a lesson or to play in a league. Maybe it’s a weekly social game or perhaps they simply come in once a week to check out your pro shop’s latest fashions.
“It doesn’t matter why they’re there,” says Matthews. “They are your customer and should be treated as if they are the most important person in your business world because, quite simply they are. Without them you have no business!”
The entire atmosphere surrounding your business should radiate a “customer first” attitude. It begins the moment they drive into your parking lot and are greeted with a sign welcoming them to the club (of course, there is another sign at the exit, thanking them as they leave).
Everyone who walks through your door is a customer or potential customer, and they should receive a friendly greeting from a member of your staff within 30 seconds of their arrival. People do not like to be kept waiting, so no matter how busy you may be, greet them with an immediate “Hello, how can I help you?”
If the customer is a regular, greet them by their first name, which, of course, you should know. Some may prefer Mr. or Mrs. or Doctor so and so. Find out how they like to be addressed and greet them that way each time you see them.
When you, or a member of your staff, come in contact with a customer, whether it’s by email, phone, letter, or a face-to-face meeting, you leave an impression. Make certain that people are always treated with courtesy, respect, and enthusiasm.
“I enjoy the club because of the environment on and off the court,” says Kathy Morrissey, a longtime member at Four Seasons. “Stanley and his staff always greet us with smiling faces and go out of their way to create a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere. This allows us to have a fun, competitive game of tennis, visit with friends, and make new friends all at the same time. I don’t believe it gets any better than that!”
2. Know Your Customers
Names are certainly important but, if you’re truly dedicated to building long-term relationships, you need to do more than simply place a name with a face.
Learn about their families, other interests, anniversaries and birthdays. Of course, you must never be intrusive, but you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn about a person through casual conversation as you conduct your business. Just pay attention!
This information can then be used to make that person feel more welcome when they come to your club. For example: If you notice someone carrying a book, the next time you see them, ask if they enjoyed it or suggest one that you think they might like.
Better yet, have a book waiting for them the next time they come to the club. Tell them it’s a book you thought they might enjoy. How would you feel if the next time you walked into your tennis club one of the pros brought you an article that he thought “you might find interesting.” You’d feel great!
Jack Mitchell calls this “hugging” your customers. Mitchell, a long-time Four Seasons member and author of the popular book “Hug Your Customers,” defines a hug as anything that exceeds a customer’s expectations. “It’s a mindset, a way of getting to your customers and truly understanding them,” says Mitchell. “Hugs can come in a variety of forms. It could be as commonplace as a smile or eye contact. It could be a firm handshake.”
For those of us in the racquet/fitness business, a “hug” might be asking a customer how they played in their latest match or how their new fitness program was coming along. It could also be asking them how their child’s soccer game went or congratulating them on their recent promotion.
In simple terms, a hug is something that makes them feel that you care about them. “The key,” says Matthews, “is to develop not only a professional relationship but a personal one as well. People will always do business with those they feel comfortable with and like.”
3. Be Accessible
As the owner, director of tennis, or head trainer, make certain that you are visible throughout the club and easily available to your clients. Keep your office door open (unless you’re in a meeting), and be sure to walk through the club, greeting customers, as often as you can.
You represent the image of your business, so always project a persona that is enthusiastic and eager to please.
4. Don’t Leave Customers Hanging
A common complaint among dissatisfied customers is that they’ve left a message for a member of the staff and never heard back from them. “This is inexcusable,” says Matthews. “When a person is calling to offer you their business, they’re giving you a tremendous opportunity. To ignore that opportunity is not only rude, it’s business suicide.”
A key ingredient of exceptional customer service is a prompt response. Even if you don’t have an immediate answer to their question, start the communication. This lets them know that they, and their issue, are important to you.
If you’re unable to take a phone call or respond to an email at the time it’s received, promise to respond by the end of the day and no later than 24 hours after the time of their message. Then do so: the sooner the better!
Also, if you’ll be out of the office for an extended period of time, be sure to change your voice mail and email messages so that they tell the customer when you will or will not be there.
5. Dealing With Emergencies
“Believe it or not, people do have tennis emergencies,” says Matthews. “Though they’re certainly not life-threatening, they are important to your customer, which means they must be important to you.
Here’s an example: Recently, one of our junior players came running into the club at 7:30 in the evening with a true tennis emergency: all of his racquets had broken and he had a tournament the next day.
Our stringer had gone home for the day, but we called him up and he came back to the club, strung the racquets and then personally drove them over to the boy’s house. You should have seen the look on the boy’s parent’s face when he refused the tip they offered him for making the house call. Of course, he also called the boy the next day to see how his tournament went.
Tennis emergencies can come in all forms. We’ve all had players show up at the club having forgotten their racqets. That’s an easy one to fix — give them a demo from the pro shop — at no charge, of course.
We’ve also seen players arrive to play having forgotten their tennis shoes. I’ve seen many a pro solve this emergency by taking the shoes off their own feet and loaning them to the player. One club in the Northeast even has a spare set of men’s and women’s shoes in virtually every size, available to their forgetful customers.
A player’s partner fails to show up? Grab your racqet and fill in. Someone forgets their tennis shirt and doesn’t want to buy one from the pro shop? Give them one of your club’s logo T-shirts. Believe me, they’ll appreciate your generosity and it will be great advertising for your club when he or she wears the shirt around town.
“One of my pros always makes it a point when teaching outside to bring bug spray, sunscreen, tissues, and even extra visors for her students who may have forgotten something,” says Matthews (below). Of course you must always have the “injury essentials” on hand: ice, bandages, and Advil, as well as a fully stocked first aid kit.
“The key,” says Matthews, “is to always be alert to ways in which you can help your customer and make their experience with you more enjoyable.”
6. Satisfying Dissatisfied Customers
People come in all shapes, sizes, and attitudes. You’ll find some customers easy to please, while you could move heaven and earth and still not satisfy others. Every facility has the customer who forever has an “issue” with something about the way the club is run. There is also the customer you have to chase down every month for payment.
Let’s not forget the parent who feels that their child should be in a much stronger group for their clinic or the angry team member who feels she should be playing No. 2 instead of 6.
Plus, we’re all human, and that means we make mistakes. Maybe you forgot about a lesson and left your customer hanging. Perhaps you remembered the lesson but neglected to book the court. Maybe you didn’t return a call when you said you would or failed to leave a racquet for someone at the front desk. The list is endless. Even professionals make mistakes. The best, however, learn from them and never make the same mistake twice.
Customers want immediate resolutions, so regardless of whether it’s your fault, the club’s fault, or nobody’s fault, an unhappy customer is a business emergency, and how you handle it will go a long way toward building your reputation as a professional who is known for his customer service.
The customer is always right!
We’ve all heard this phrase as the cardinal rule of customer service. Well, guess what? The customer is not always right, but it doesn’t matter. They think they’re right, and as far as they’re concerned, perception is reality. The customer is the customer, and it is your job to satisfy them so that they will continue to do business with you.
Customers get upset for two main reasons:
They feel as if they didn’t get what they paid for. Perhaps they didn’t enjoy their lesson with a particular pro or their racquet doesn’t feel as if it was strung at the requested 58 pounds. Maybe they feel they’re too strong for the clinic they’ve been placed in or the new outfit they bought makes them look fat. It doesn’t matter. They don’t feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth and they are not happy.
They feel as if they’ve been treated poorly. Nothing can get a customer angrier than poor treatment. Maybe they feel the pro didn’t pay them enough attention during their group lesson, or that the person at the desk was rude or, even worse, didn’t pay attention to them. Regardless, their feelings have been hurt and they’re angry.
Sometimes an angry customer is upset about something else and is just taking it out on you. Maybe they had a fight with their spouse before they came to the club or one of their kids broke the television. They’re upset and you’re the closest target. Whether their complaint is legitimate or simply the culmination of a bad day, your job is to make them feel better.
So what do you do when you see an irate customer charging your way? Here’s the Four Seasons approach:
Stay calm. Take a deep breath and prepare for the onslaught. Remind yourself to keep your cool.
Let them get it out. Once your customer tells you they have a problem, invite them to sit down with you and talk. The front desk or club lobby is not an appropriate place for this discussion, so move to a private area and let them vent. As they’re speaking, let them know you’re paying attention and are interested in what they have to say. This can be done by looking in their eyes, nodding your head and occasionally saying things like, “Yes” or “Okay” or “I see.” Above all, do not interrupt.
Acknowledge their complaint. Whether you agree or disagree with their issue, you must acknowledge it as an issue. Don’t disagree with them and above all, don’t argue. It’s a battle you can’t win. You may be able to prove them wrong, but that will only make them angrier, at which point they’ll take their business elsewhere.
Apologize. Regardless of what they have just said to you, something has made them unhappy and for that you must apologize. “I’m so sorry this happened, Mr. Smith. I realize this was an inconvenience for you. Now let’s see what we can do…”
Fix it. You’ve listened and consoled your customer. That’s very nice, but what they’re really interested in is what you’re going to do about it. They want a solution and they want it quickly. Involve them in solving the problem and as you work toward a solution, use phrases like: “I understand why you …” or “I think we should …” or “Would it work for you if …?” Avoid words and phrases like: “Can’t,” “But,” “You should have …” “The only thing we can do …”
Keep in mind that your job is not done when you’ve fixed your customer’s problem. Exceptional businesses take the next step and do something to:
Astound. You may have fixed the problem to everyone’s satisfaction, but that is not enough. It’s been a hassle for your customer to have to come to you, and you must now do something to make up for their inconvenience. It could be a gift certificate to the pro shop, a complimentary lesson or a V.I.P. pass for court time. It’s little things such as this that tell your customer you care about them and will keep them coming back.
7. Don’t Hold Grudges
From time to time, you will have conflicts with your customers. After fixing the problem, forget about it. The next time you see the person, make them feel welcome and as if nothing had happened.
Customer service doesn’t end when your clients walk out your door. Follow up to make certain that their experience at your club was everything they were looking for. A phone call or letter is a great follow-up. Plus, always end your conversation with your customers by asking if there’s anything else you can do for them?
And the final rule of exceptional customer service …
9. Say Thank You!
Say it everywhere and say it often. Say it verbally and say it in all of your correspondence. Never end a conversation with a customer without saying “thank you.”
Remember, without them, you’d be out of a job.
- Studies have shown that a happy customer tells four to five of their friends how wonderful you are while unhappy customers will tell nine to 12 of their buddies how bad their experience with you was.
- In regards to customer service, always remember that your customer is your paycheck.
- Did you know that nearly 70 percent of customers leave because of a poor attitude from an employee?
- Abide by the three-ring rule: No one likes to be kept waiting, so be certain that your staff answers your phone within three rings. Have them greet the caller by tanking them for calling, identifying themselves, and asking what they can do for them. For example: “Thank you for calling the Four Seasons Racquet Club. This is Andrea, how can I help you?”
- Research shows that 95 percent of dissatisfied customers will do business with a company again if their complaint is resolved on the spot.
See all articles by Greg Moran
About the Author
TI magazine search
TI magazine articles
- Our Serve: Stating the Case for Tennis
- Industry News
- Racquet Tech: Use Care When Sharing
- Retailing Tip: Service With a Smile
- Grassroots Tennis: Play It Forward!
- Executive Point: Craig Morris
- Hall of Fame: Honoring Gene Scott & Eve Kraft
- Facility Construction & Renovation: A Grand Slam Transformation
- Apparel: Fashion Fallout