Bonding With Members
A good rapport with members and customers is essential to achieving your goals.
If you were to ask most members their opinion of the manager of their club, their answer would largely be based on their personal interaction with that manager. The manager’s performance and his impact on the club would also influence their opinion, but surprisingly, in this industry, a good rapport with members is the easiest way to bond with them.
Take, for example, someone who has a bad experience at the club, let’s say something breaks that keeps them from using the club as they had planned. If they approach a manager as if they were an adversary, they likely will feel more comfortable venting their complaint. If they are friendly with the manager, though, two things will take place. First, they will be more comfortable approaching that manager and secondly, they will probably engage in more of a conversation than an angry accusation.
The larger the facility, the more difficult it is for the manager to stay in touch with the membership, so you need to engineer a complete package to achieve that goal. You have basically four forms of communication at your disposal: person-to-person, person-to-group, in-house media, and through your employees.
In person-to-person communication, it’s important to make yourself accessible. Avoid burying yourself in a back office and out of sight. If you can, design your office to be both visible and accessible to members at all times. If you can position your point of operation so that members pass by you anytime they enter the club, this is a great way to display the fact that you are approachable and prepared to take the time to talk with them at the drop of a hat.
Put yourself in the member’s position. Unlike other businesses, the club business involves a great deal of interaction and personal contact. Members come to the club to enjoy their time and receive great service. If that is compromised, they want an answer, and for that matter, they want an answer right away. If they feel they can’t get that answer from one of your employees, they will carry those feelings back home and maybe even to other members. If they can reach you right away, you have the opportunity to bring those issues to a resolution quickly.
When an employee offers a disgruntled member the option of venting their complaint through a note or a suggestion box, it should be the last resort, not the first. The best situation would be one where the member never needs to write down any complaint or concern, but rather get a satisfactory answer right there, on the spot.
Communicate by Committee
Becoming acquainted with your members through person-to-group communication is very efficient. Establishing a committee of members that you can meet on a regular basis will provide several benefits. First, once again you will create a great rapport with these people, and second, they can serve as support for decisions about the direction the club takes.
It’s important, however, not to create too many committees. One central committee will avoid contradictions between members and make it clear to your membership who makes the decisions.
Take charge of your committees through organization and not power. To do that, be punctual, consistent and have an agenda that directs the meeting. This will also help avoid members wanting to use the committee for their own personal agenda.
Make it clear that these meetings are to help the club move forward and develop policies that work for the majority. Report on those meetings through a newsletter or mailing. Show the membership that these meetings have impact and that they are always productive. Well-organized meetings will evolve into discussions concerning the bigger picture and not individual issues.
Reaching your membership through the media is usually done through newsletters, mailers or emails. All of these methods are effective, but they can have more of an impact if they are professionally personalized. Too often, the message is lost due to a low standard of writing or publishing.
Always think of your membership as intelligent people who want to see well-written material on a well-produced document. Misspellings, poor punctuation or just poor writing will reflect badly on the author. Find someone, if not a couple of people, who can proof and edit anything you publish. Don’t send out the message until it is perfect.
Also find someone who knows how to produce a quality appearance for your message. Clubs that have newsletters that look like an eighth-grader made them not only come across as second class, but also are an insult to the reader—your member and customer.
This media goes beyond the newsletter and includes any correspondence. Letters to members, to the media or to employees should always look professional. In this day and age, the personal computer is capable of accomplishing this task, and the public knows this, so use it.
Sending email is now very popular, in fact, maybe too popular. This may be a very efficient way to deliver a message, but overuse by a manager can dilute the message. With all the spam permeating the internet, it is important to find a way that your messages can be readily identified. Proper logo use and recognition can be added to your occasional emails.
Another area that is often overdone in clubs is fliers and notices. Multiple bulletin boards and excessive fliers can also dilute the message. Clubs that post too many fliers will eventually numb the members to their importance. If you want to have impact through this type of media, keep it clean and organized. Have only one bulletin center located in an area. Have a format for your fliers that is consistent but at the same time can be personalized to display your message. There is a fine line between advertising and notifying your membership. Advertising can turn off your members and in turn, the message is lost.
Using Your Staff
It takes an artful manager to train his employees in how to best send his message. The manager must make sure the message is one of information and not rules.
For example, have your staff tell members, “Rod, our manager, would like to get your feedback on the new court surface,” or “Rod has looked into a new type of cleaning system for the pool and is going to provide a report in a coming newsletter.” This creates the impression that your staff is passing on your thoughts to members.
What you don’t want are comments such as, “Rod said that everyone has to shower before using the pool,” or “Rod said that you cannot reserve a court two days in a row.” This type of information takes the authority away from the employee and actually requires you as manager to have more presence. To avoid having to manage 24/7, you need to empower your staff by allowing them to have the final say.
Lastly, never pass up an opportunity to meet someone. Get out of your office and take a number walks about the facility. Take the time to attend events at the club and watch your members perform. When members see you have an interest in what they are doing, the message is clear that you care and enjoy interacting.
Bonding with your members may be the easiest task a manager has. Take advantage of your daily presence and your natural inclination to be sociable.
See all articles by Rod Heckelman
About the Author
Rod Heckelman is the general manager and tennis pro at the Mount Tam Racquet Club in Marin County, Calif., where he has been for the last 31 years. His career in the industry started in 1967 at the famed John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch. In 1970, when Gardiner opened his resort on Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz., Heckelman, at age 20, became one of the youngest head pros in the country. He created the “Facility Manager’s Manual” based on his years of experience in the tennis business.