Your members know what they like and don't like. But do you know what your members — and staff — like and don't like about your club? Ideally, you'd like to have such an open and friendly relationship with members and staff that anyone could tell you their complaints, ideas and endearments about your club. However, the truth is that some people will just never feel comfortable doing that. For those people, a suggestion box can give them a voice and provide them with a sense that you care about what they think of your club. The goal of a member suggestion box is to provide satisfactory services and products for your members. For your member suggestion box, you should do the following:

  • Place the box in a prominent location. There's no sense in having a suggestion box if no one knows where it is. Put the box on or near the front desk or in a lounge where people will see it and use it. Make sure to encourage people to offer their suggestions through the suggestion box by mentioning it in every newsletter you send out. You'll also want to put a sign above the box letting members know what the box is for.

  • Make the box a substantial item. Don't just throw a cardboard box down and write “suggestions” or “comments” on it. That implies that management doesn't take the box seriously. Instead, invest in a wood box that implies permanence, substance and seriousness. It also lets members know that the box will be around for the long term.

    Make sure there is an ample supply of cards and pens or pencils for people to use. There's no sense putting out a box if there's nothing for members to write on. Assign someone to the box to ensure paper and pencils or pens are always stocked by the box.

  • Use “rate us” cards. Members aren't interested in fixing your business — they'll either come back or quit because of the service they've received, says Susan Carter, small business consultant and author of “How To Make Your Business Run Without You” and “SPLASH Marketing for Overworked Small Business Owners.”

    “It's my experience that using rate cards is a quick way for members to give feedback you need to measure your level of customer satisfaction,” she says.

    Use postcard-size cards printed with a satisfaction rating from 1 to 5 (or poor to excellent). Add a three to five line blank area with the question, “what can we do to better serve you?”

  • Switch from passive to active feedback solicitation. If your suggestion box is gathering more dust than responses, you might do well to actively pursue customer satisfaction feedback, Carter says. If you have a newsletter or e-zine, include a short, but specific, survey asking about people's experiences at your club. To encourage participation, you might want to offer a small reward for participating. The reward should be of value to the client but not a great expense to you, such as a free locker rental or promotional item.

  • Inform and announce. If you solicit feedback, it's important to let members know they've been heard. Use your e-zine or newsletter to extend a thank you to those who participated. In addition, you should inform all members of the results — areas in which the club excels and those that you intend to work on to better serve your members. Announce it when you've taken steps to improve or add a service. Let people know what you've done and that, thanks to their input, all of the members benefit from the result.

    Not only can you have a suggestion box for members, but you may also want to put together one for employees. The goal with the employee comment box is to make them feel valued, encourage input and get them involved in contributing to business success. Place this box separately from the member box, perhaps in an employee lounge or behind the front desk.

  • Turn the suggestion box into a solution box. The typical suggestion box has a tendency to attract problems that employees have or observe, leaving you with a pile of complaints and few ideas that will lead to solutions, says Carter. Introduce the concept of a “solution” box — encourage your employees to identify a problem or challenge, and propose a solution. Assuming you hold regularly scheduled employee meetings, make sure the “solution box” ideas are part of the agenda for discussion.

  • Eliminate anonymity and offer rewards. The suggestion box has long been associated with the perspective of allowing people to criticize management, staff and procedures anonymously. If you change to a “solutions” mentality, you can encourage your employees to sign their notes and ideas with the intention of rewarding those who come up with ideas you decide to implement, says Carter. If the idea saves time at your club, perhaps the reward is a day off with pay. If the idea saves money, how about a bonus equal to the first month's worth of savings?

  • Stage a “sweat the small stuff” competition. If you don't want to stray too far from the traditional, anonymous, problem-focused suggestion box, get employees involved in the solutions by holding team competitions. Group people into teams and determine rewards. Each month, distribute a list of the challenges presented in the suggestion box to each group. Each member of the team receives a reward if the group's solution is implemented.

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