Tennis Industry magazine


Strokes, or Service?

Lose the automated, feel-good responses, and interact honestly and sincerely with your members.

By Rod Heckelman

You’re at the drugstore, buying a tube of toothpaste, and as you check out, the cashier asks you, “Did you find everything okay?”

“Well, I did have a problem finding the cold medicine,” you reply.

“Oh, really,” she responds. “I’ll look into that.” As you leave, she asks, “Do you need help on the way out?” At this point, you’re almost tempted to answer yes, even though you’ve only bought a small tube of toothpaste.

Welcome to the automated world of customer service. It’s one of the downfalls of a corporate-run industry. Training becomes automatic and not intuitive. The message starts at the top, and by the time it has filtered down to the employee who is actually interacting with the customer, it has been washed down to a series of redundant responses.

What happened to that great motivational beginning that was initiated at management level? Maybe it’s not the message that’s being lost, but the purpose behind the message.

The club industry is a different animal than most service industries. You are going to be interacting with the same people day after day, hopefully for years. You can’t afford to burn too many bridges and make too many avoidable mistakes. This is why so many managers in this industry fail after only three or four years. They build up a catalogue of members who have lost faith in their ability to do their job.

Through the years you can recover from some of these mistakes and shortcomings, but the best policy to adopt is a policy of developing an honest and sincere interaction with the membership. That means you need to drop the corporate automated lines and listen and talk to people in the good old-fashioned way: As a friend.

Be In Touch

Hopefully you’ve gone into the club industry because it was attractive to you from the beginning. You like working and dealing with people in this environment. If this is not the case, you’ve got real problems. You have to like people and enjoy their company, and maybe more importantly, you have to want them to feel good about you.

When someone is angry with you, it should feel uncomfortable, no matter what the cause. The reverse is also true, if someone feels good about what you have done as a manager, you should feel pleased. It’s not a weakness to have feelings like this — it’s an important part of your character that makes you more responsive to people, and as a consequence, perfect for the service industry.

We’re not talking about being overly sensitive, we are talking about being in touch with what is taking place around you. When you truly care about your members, they’re no longer customers, they are fellow members. They’re not a source of income, but a source of information and energy that you want to interact with to better the club’s atmosphere.

Ever hear someone say, “That guy is a great club member”? What does that mean? It means he is putting something back into the club that you value. It also means that you can facilitate and enjoy helping him accomplish that feat. It is the combination of your management skills and the input of your membership that will shape the character of your club. What can you do to enhance this process?

First, as I mentioned, create an honest rapport with the members. This means get rid of the line “the customer’s always right.” That’s a slogan that just won’t work in the club world. If the customer is always right, how do you answer someone who feels the pool temperature should be 84 degrees and someone else who thinks it should be 80 degrees? Or someone who would like the music louder in the workout area while others would like it quieter.

That fact is, you are trying to get several hundred people to coexist, and it’s impossible for the customer to always be right. What is true is that the customer has a point of view you are willing to listen to, and that you will find out what works best for the majority.

Go For the Smile

Second, hire the smile person, not the super-efficient person. Surround yourself with a staff that enjoys being at work and naturally enjoys dealing with others, even when those “others” are not always the nicest in the world. It’s not that you don’t want to have an efficient person, or a reliable person, it’s just that the quality that you want at the top of the list for hiring is the personality. In an age of computers and faceless conversations, it may be a task to find these people, but they’re out there and you will be more likely to discover them when you have the same characteristics.

As a manager, you may find it hard to pass on to your employees the mood you are trying to achieve in your club through a manual or the written word. Try having seminar-type meetings that will allow your staff to express themselves and have input. Seasonal get-togethers are great, and special unexpected bonuses will be very well received. Use your business credit card to gather mileage and pass that on to your deserving employees. Getting quality employees to work for you is the first step, keeping them happy is your job after that.

Third, send the message to your employees and your members that your goal is to continue to look for ways to improve your operation. When issues arise, let them know that you are trying to find solutions that will work for everyone. Members don’t want to hear a rehearsed answer, they want to get on with their day and enjoy the use of the club. They don’t need to hear your opinions or a long dissertation about how things should be or why they are the way they are. No lectures, just quick and smooth resolutions.

So, what is service in this industry? To sum it up, it’s the development of an honest relationship with your members and your staff. It is demonstrating that you are consistent in your actions, but open to suggestions and change. Finally, that you can be yourself, and provide an environment that allows your members to realize that the greatest value of their membership is belonging to your club.

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About the Author

Rod Heckelman  is the general manager at Mount Tam Racquet Club in Larkspur, Calif., and has been on the faculty for The Tennis Congress.



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