From the tennis pro to the shop staff to the maintenance crew, everyone can help ensure that students have not only a great tennis lesson, but also a wonderful experience.
By Dave Kensler
In our business, customer service is crucial to success. Especially now, when tennis participation has been growing, it’s important that we service these players both on and off the court in a way that will ensure that they keep coming back — and keep playing tennis.
I often read articles in a wide range of tennis publications emphasizing the importance of customer service — from the check-in process at the desk, to communicating with members, to the types of services and products offered in a tennis shop. But rarely mentioned — and one of the most important aspects of customer service — is what happens during the tennis lesson itself. Customer service during a tennis lesson involves more than just good instruction and hitting lots of balls.
For instance, how often do you think about what your students are paying on a per minute basis for instruction? If you’re charging $60 per hour for a private lesson, ask yourself, would you pay $1 per minute to learn a skill? If you were the student, what would you expect on a per minute basis over the hour?
The teaching professional is the most obvious person who can contribute to excellent customer service during a tennis lesson. But depending on your situation, others can have a hand in this as well, such as the staff person at the desk, and even the maintenance/landscaping person, if they are working at the time. Here’s a look at each of these people and their customer-service opportunities.
The Teaching Pro
The goal of a tennis professional during a lesson should be to create a positive experience for the student, not just provide tennis knowledge, stroke analysis and make them sweat. Just because the tennis pro is sharing all their wisdom and lots of balls are being hit does not mean the student is having a good experience. Here is what the tennis professional can do to ensure great customer service.
Safety: There is nothing more important than the safety of the student. Providing a safe environment for taking a tennis lesson is supreme customer service. This means being aware of tennis balls scattered around the court that the student (or pro) can step on and become injured.
Awareness of the weather and temperature and how they impact the student are paramount to excellent customer service. Make sure your student takes enough water breaks; let them have any benefit of shade on the court and not have to look directly into the sun. Naturally, the drills used should be safely within the student’s abilities.
Ball Collection: Whether the pro teaches from a ball machine, shopping cart or small hopper, at some point during the instruction a ball collection will be needed. Whatever devices are available for ball collection (mower-type, hoppers, tubes, etc.), the first offer to use them should be to the student, particularly so if there is only one such device. If anyone has to bend over and pick up the balls it should be the pro, not the student.
Personally, I like “tubes” — they are light, easy to handle for juniors and adults, the most practical to move in and out of storage and affordable, so essentially everyone can be using one.
Use Names and Proper Gender Identification: During a recent vacation, I watched a pro teach a group clinic for nearly 20 minutes without mentioning the name of any of his students. Instead, I heard phrases like, “Okay guys, the next drill is …” Yet the students were all teenage girls!
Female students are not “guys,” just like male students aren’t referred to as “gals.” If you need to refer to a group of people in a clinic or lesson and are not going to use their individual names, then the standard used by Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts is the best one to follow: “ladies” and “gentlemen.” “Let’s have all the ladies on Court One and all the gentlemen on Court Two.”
One summer I ran the tennis program at a camp for nearly 400 girls ages 8 to 17 and always referred to them as “ladies.” Not a single girl complained to me about such a reference.
Start and Finish the Lesson On Time: Not starting and finishing lessons on time is one of the worst customer service sins in the tennis teaching profession. The lesson belongs to the student, not the teaching pro. The student is “purchasing” the time and expertise of the pro and therefore has a right to expect the session to begin and end punctually. If the student signs up for a lesson from 4 to 5, then that is the time frame it should be given — not 4:05 to 5:05. In our cost-per-minute analysis, starting a lesson five minutes late just cost the student $5.
Now, if the student arrives late, then the pro — depending on their remaining schedule, and on the student’s available time after the lesson — may have some options in extending the time so the student gets their full time period. However, this extension should not be done if it interferes with the next lesson.
It is up to the teaching pro to police themselves for lessons that start late due to the pro’s negligence. Personally, I feel a lesson that starts late due to the fault of the pro should be given complimentary to the student for the inconvenience it has caused them. This is the worldwide policy for Peter Burwash International.
Have a Tennis Supply Kit Readily Available: What are some of the common “mishaps” that can happen to a student during a lesson? They start to get a blister. Their grip becomes slippery with perspiration or they have a worn-out grip or overgrip. They start to get a sunburn…the list goes on.
I keep a small bag of items handy to help resolve these issues. My bag contains bandages, first-aid tape, sweatbands, spray-on sunblock, vibration dampeners and a couple of overgrips. (If someone is paying you good money for a private lesson, why not give them a complimentary overgrip if they are having problems holding on to their racquet?) In addition, extra racquets are also helpful in case either my student or I break a string.
How involved a shop staff person can become in a tennis lesson will, of course, depend on the demands of working at the desk. Let’s say the staff person has a few moments where the phones are not ringing and no guests are in the shop.
A quick glance at the teaching courts will tell if extra towels, water or cups are needed. Maybe a student needs a hat or visor to protect them from the sun, or at least an offer of one. Ball collections or water breaks can be a good opportunity to relay a message to a student from a family member rather than interrupting their hitting during a drill.
Sometimes customer service is more about what is not done. One of the primary complaints from tennis players is when maintenance or staff uses loud machines (mowers, edgers, blowers) only a few feet from the courts. Because this type of work often has to be done on a set schedule, it can be difficult to change and adjust, especially if the staff is required to work on other projects and at different areas of the property.
But sometimes minor changes can help. For example, does the mowing have to begin exactly at the moment the pro is doing an introduction to the clinic? Maybe the staff can delay starting the mowers by five minutes. Most tennis players find it more annoying trying to listen to someone talk over a loud noise than having to hit tennis balls over the same noise. Perhaps the workers can start at another part of the tennis area first, where guests are not playing or the pro is not talking or demonstrating.
Those issues aside, even something as simple as the maintenance staff picking up balls that have gone outside the courts can be helpful. The more balls the student has to hit, the better their experience.
See all articles by Dave Kensler
About the Author
Dave Kensler is a 26-year tennis professional with Peter Burwash International.