Tennis Industry magazine


Play it Forward

By Jeff Williams

Tennis is experiencing a “mini-boom” in terms of participation, with more than 30 million individuals having played in 2009. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that at the same time, we’ve seen a drop in the number of frequent players — those who play 21 or more times a year. Frequent players are the key to the financial health of the tennis industry, as they account for the vast majority of tennis lesson, equipment and clothing purchases each year.

As Tennis Service Representatives, we see every day how customer service — giving players the best overall experience possible — is essential to increase the number of frequent players and get current players playing more tennis.

Good communication is a major component of customer service. Good communication means customers know about program costs, time, location, duration, who to contact with questions, and what the next steps are for the participant to continue in tennis. It also means making customers feel that somebody really cares about their concerns.

Outstanding communicators are enthusiastic and promptly reply to requests. They find answers if they can and avoid referring questions to somebody else. This means that those answering phones should be well versed in programming details. Players need to feel that they matter on an individual basis, and prompt, courteous, enthusiastic and thorough communication can help players feel important and greatly enhance their tennis experience.

How you present a facility or program to customers creates an impression that enhances or detracts from the tennis experience. One facility that we’ve worked with underwent a change in management. Before the change, the facility had sparse décor and was not inviting. Not surprisingly, individuals simply left after they were done playing.

The new director made low-cost improvements to the facility that resulted in a much more “homey” feel. While the increase in overall and frequent participation has been remarkable, and is also due to other substantive changes the director made, the fact remains that people now enjoy staying at the facility after playing, and their experience playing there is much better.

Quality programming is the most important factor that impacts a player’s experience. More goes into program quality than just the quality of instruction. We’ve observed coaches with only average teaching skills who are able to consistently retain most of their players. What these coaches lack in teaching, they more than make up for with an understanding and love of people. They consistently give students positive experiences by always smiling and being friendly and animated. They really seem like they want to be there and love what they do. They introduce new players to each other and are excellent at remembering and using names.

In terms of teaching, the strongest programs incorporate what we know about players from research. For example, players prefer to spend the bulk of their time learning tennis through situation-based drills rather than spending time standing in line waiting for dead-ball feeds. Both juniors and adults want to play and compete as soon as possible even if their strokes aren’t perfect. Programs that pay attention to their students’ wants are far more likely to give players a positive experience.

It’s enormously difficult to bring back players who tried tennis and did not have a worthwhile experience. While it is common for tennis directors to turn new players over to their assistants, this may not be the best move. The most experienced professional with the best people skills, an understanding of play-based coaching and large group dynamics, and who has the most positive-energetic personality, is in the best position to give beginning players their first and best experience.

The “Fun, Friends & Fitness” program in Shreveport, La., captures all of the above qualities. The coordinator makes sure everyone’s contact information is circulated. He calls each participant during the week to find out if they are having fun, if they have concerns and to encourage them in their tennis progress. This program has been highly successful at turning new players into frequent players, many of whom are now in adult leagues.

More than just getting people to try tennis, our challenge is to get people to make frequent tennis play a part of their lives. We’ve observed the most successful programs in terms retention are those that offer outstanding experiences from the first contact with a player. And these programs don’t rest on their laurels — they are always assessing and reassessing with the goal of constantly improving their overall product.

Perhaps if we work at our customer service skills, the “mini-boom” we’re experiencing will more closely mirror the “tennis boom” of the 1970s.

Jeff Williams

Jeff Williams

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About the Author

Jeff Williams  is co-publisher of Racquet Sports Industry magazine.



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