Tennis Industry magazine

 

First Impressions

To truly welcome members and guests, don’t neglect your front-desk staff.

By Rod Heckelman

It’s been a long day at work and you are looking forward to a night out with friends. You enter a restaurant and the host greets you like he has known you forever. He asks how you’re doing, and assures you that you can now sit down, relax and enjoy the rest of the evening. That small gesture has established the quality of the rest of the evening.

This should also be true of your tennis facility. The first impression your facility makes on your members and their guests is at the front desk. If you have hired and trained the right people to work the front desk, members will always feel comfortable and welcome.

Notice that it is important to first hire the right people. Don’t let yourself think training will ever overcome personality. In this day and age where computers have impacted the development of a person’s social skills, it can be more difficult to find people who have an outgoing personality and enjoy interacting with others.

Too often, the front-desk staff is put at the low end of the pay spectrum. This should not be the case. That same thinking often leads many managers to hire a team with the belief that if they have a leader with the right stuff, that leader will create the level of service and hospitality needed at the front desk. This is just not the case. Anyone you place in that position has to meet the basic criteria of being comfortable and capable of friendly interaction with others.

There are three major personality traits you should look for in front-desk staff. First, they need to be the type of person who naturally will greet others first. They need to be the first to say hello, welcome, or how are you when they come upon another person. Second, they need to make eye contact. Third, they need to be happy people.

To augment this last point, it is the manager’s job to create an environment that is pleasurable to work in. Keep the coverage and the schedule set up so that it does not produce stress or a sense of urgency. This is important in order to create an atmosphere that members enjoy walking into. Too often, front-desk staff is directed toward security awareness or their efficiency when it comes to checking in members and guests. This approach can create a sterile, automatic welcome.

Create a ‘Welcome Center’

When members join a club, they want to feel that the facility is part of their life and that belonging to your club does not make them a customer, but rather a welcomed member who you truly enjoy seeing and having as a part of the daily routine. Consider renaming your front desk the “welcome center” or “reception area,” or whatever name you might feel sends the right message.

Many clubs equip their front desk with software to provide personal information, maybe including photo IDs. That’s helpful, but the most important information a front-desk person needs to know is a member’s first name. Although you can’t expect the staff to remember every member’s first name, you can make that a challenge for them, and of course provide that information to the staff as the member checks in.

One easy way to help the front-desk person familiarize themselves with members is to ask them to learn why the member is entering the club and how they intend to use the facility. Some members may find this intrusive, but casual conversation and keen awareness will help the staff to learn these facts. Why is this important? Remember that one of the main reasons people join is to meet others. For whatever reason, often they feel that their social environment needs to be expanded, and tennis facilities offer that venue. A friendly front-desk staff that can address the incoming member by first name and with a smile will go a long way in helping fill those members’ needs.

Your Facility Entrance

Besides the front-desk staff, your physical entry itself will also have a large impact on members entering the facility. Turnstiles and gates may be a necessary evil for some clubs, but the message here is not a welcoming one. If you can, design the front desk to be placed directly in the path of the entering members. This design will also make it easier for the staff to have direct eye contact with those entering.

One common mistake in the design of the front desk is putting the monitor for your entry computer in a location that requires the front-desk person to look too far down instead of forward. The monitor should be an aide and not an obstruction.

Another function that is helpful in the design of the front-desk area is to have a second computer terminal, if possible, so large groups of guests can be checked in easily and there is no bottleneck at the entry. Often, a guest will need to fill out a guest card, and this can take some time. Keeping traffic flowing is important because of the nature of functions and activities that take place; members are trying to get to a class on time, or to their court time or just simply because they have limited time to work out.

This brings up one of the stickier issues that take place at many facilities. Because the nature of a club is to be comfortable and create a real sense of belonging, getting members to check in can be a task. A longtime member will not likely understand that they need to check in appropriately every time they enter the facility. They often develop a sense of privilege and entitlement. They enter the club and breeze right by the front desk and can get offended if anyone should ask them to check in.

To aid in this situation, you may want to consider adding a card-swiping system. You can make it even easier for them by assigning cards that can be attached to a key chain or equipment bag. The cards have a bar code that automatically registers the member. For the few that are still difficult to deal with, do your best to learn their first names and try to address them as soon as they enter.

On the flip side, your staff doesn’t need to tolerate a person who is abusive or threatening. A member who refuses to respond to the front-desk person’s greeting, or will not check in, is not a member that appreciates the atmosphere of the club and is not worthy of a membership. As a manager, you may need to get tough and not hesitate to revoke this person’s membership.

Guest Check-In

To help you check in a guest, create a system that is very efficient. Because guests, like members, are trying to make their way to a court time or class, they are often in a hurry. No matter how many people you have at your front desk, or as efficient as your software is, it will occasionally be difficult for you to process a guest as fast as needed. Sometimes it’s best just to provide a sign-in card that the guest can fill out as they enter the club.

The front desk will also be the point of sales for many items, including memberships. Do you really want a new member standing at the front desk when they are inquiring about or purchasing a membership? It would be okay to sell tennis balls or gift certificates, but issues concerning memberships are best handled away from the front desk, preferably in a private area where the customer feels comfortable asking detailed questions and the staff person can give them their undivided attention.

To help process charges at the front desk, install a credit-card system. These systems require a direct phone line.

The ultimate design and location for a front desk would also include two attributes. The first would be easy access to the lost and found area, and the second would be easy access to the laundry or towel area. Having this easy access allows the front-desk person to stay within the vicinity of the desk and in some operations provides an opportunity to cut back on staff when the facility is not as busy.

Finally, the front desk is a point of information. It is the location where anyone can go and get answers. Make sure that all those answers are readily available and easy to acquire. If you can, engineer as many of the switches that run the lights, fans, and other mechanical functions of the club to be able to operate from the front desk.

The more you can make the front desk the nerve center of operations, the more efficiently the entire facility will run.

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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.

 

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