In their book “Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All,” authors David and Tom Kelley help you unleash creativity through “design thinking.” Once you grasp design thinking, you see the world differently.
In the book, they write about a retail operation and the task of designing a new experience for waiting in line. They talk about framing the question right to get the right outcome. For example, there could be a big difference how your team ideates based on these two questions: How might we reduce wait times? vs. How might we reduce perceived wait times?
When designing for customer experience excellence, you can’t ignore perception. We have a concept we call Conspicuous Customer Service. There are several ways to make service more conspicuous to members. In some cases, you simply do things when members are present. In others. you create artifacts that show “we were here.” For example, you know housekeeping was in your hotel room when you see the folded end of the toilet paper. This is the conspicuous indication that your bathroom was cleaned.
Think of Conspicuous Customer Service as visibly demonstrating to the customer in tangible ways that you have them in mind. Here are a few examples:
Conspicuously demonstrate your concern about equipment repair. To do this, use simple but well-designed public-facing equipment boards on which anyone can report equipment issues simply by writing down the issue on the board. We tested this in our “labs” (our gyms). The result? Equipment condition scores moved from 7.8 to 8.5 in six months. Not only did we fix problems faster (mostly because it was reported sooner), but the members also appreciated the frictionless process. It sent a strong message to our members about our expectations. There are a lot of business process implications in the background if you intend to get this right. Suffice it to say that you have to design more than the reporting board.
Conspicuously demonstrate your concern for cleanliness. Clean during peak hours when more people can witness it. Use public-facing checklists in locker rooms for walk-throughs. We adopted a practice we call zone cleaning, in which the front desk team members (all of whom are trained on how to clean) own certain zones within the gym, and each zone is expected to be cleaned every day. Once per week our front desk teams meet for one hour. Right before the meeting, they all go out on the gym floor for 30 minutes and hit every zone. It’s amazing how much positive feedback comes from this activity. Moreover, they always make it a fun and interactive event with the members. This brings us to the next topic…
Conspicuously demonstrate friendliness. Trainers should connect with all members, not just clients. Housekeeping should lose the headphones and engage with members when cleaning. Front desk and group fitness staff should always greet and give a fond farewell. The staff in the Kid’s Club should know the kids and the parents and have a process for greeting and “unloading” the parent when they enter the room.
Friendliness seems obvious, but I seldom travel to a gym that gets this right. Operators like to assume they have hired friendly people, and those people will naturally be friendly. Maybe. But achieving excellence requires much more deliberate work. Hiring friendly people is the first step. Success depends on how well you measure, educate, coach, support and inspect friendliness. Policies, memos and one-time training will achieve mediocrity not excellence.
The next time you are in a club, whether it is yours or someone else’s, look with a fresh eye to see the opportunities to make the service culture highly conspicuous. Use conspicuousness to demonstrate your care and respect for your members. You will be rewarded with loyalty.
Blair McHaney is a teacher, student and practitioner of operational customer experience management (OCEM). He spent two and a half years at Medallia as vice president of strategic initiatives. He is currently president of MXM, a Medallia partner company specializing in OCEM for the fitness industry. McHaney also is president of Confluence Fitness Partners Inc., operating health clubs in Central Washington since 1983.