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Give Your Staff the ‘LAST’ Word As a Way to Help Save Memberships

Do your team members know how to handle a complaint? Between 68 percent and 73 percent of customers who stop doing business with a company do so because they had a poor service experience with a company, studies show. Dissatisfaction with price or product factors in approximately 23 percent of the time. If you were to focus on only one aspect of your team’s training to increase retention, then I suggest focusing on improving communication and service skills.

If you hired well, you recruited team members who are enthusiastic, friendly and passionate about helping others. But even your best employees can be taken off-guard by an angry member and may benefit from coaching on handling difficult situations.

Sylvia Payne, with ACAC Fitness and Wellness Center’s member services team, knows how important it is to maintain a professional, empathetic and solutions-oriented demeanor when handling member complaints. She shared an acronym—LAST—to help team members diffuse and resolve service snafus.

Listen actively. Effective listening is a total mind-body workout. People decide in the first five to 10 seconds of an interaction whether they think you can resolve their complaint. Take a head-to-toe image audit of ourselves when speaking to members and guests to ensure that:

  • Your ears listen carefully to the speaker’s words and meaning.
  • Your eyes make contact to show respect and to pick up non-verbal cues.
  • Your mouth is quiet so as to not interrupt the speaker.
  • Your face responds appropriately as the conversation progresses.
  • Your body is still and your posture conveys your interest and attention.
  • Your brain is focused on the speaker’s message and does not attempt to formulate a response until the speaker has finished talking.

As elementary as these actions sound, they can be difficult to execute, especially under stressful conditions.

Apologize sincerely. When a problem arises, express regret without casting or accepting unnecessary blame. Saying “I’m sorry you had to deal with that” or “I understand. I’d be unhappy if that happened to me” can help smooth things over. If the organization is at fault, accept responsibility for the problem and act quickly to rectify the situation. Some inflammatory phrases are: you can’t, you have to, our policy says, you made a mistake and no.

As I recently stood in a hotel check-in line, I overheard a disagreement between the clerk and a guest. The guest, who had driven 10 hours to attend a family member’s funeral the next day, booked his room online for one rate, but the registration form presented by the clerk reflected a slightly higher rate. When the guest questioned the difference, the clerk lectured him on the possible reasons for the discrepancy but offered no remedy. They stared awkwardly at each other until the clerk agreed to correct the form. When you consider how many people the guest and bystanders may tell about this experience, it is easy to see the potential damage that service setbacks can cause.

Solve the problem. Give your team latitude to resolve service issues. Acting promptly to resolve a complaint builds trust and shows that you care about the club members’ experience. Consumer research has shown that when customers’ concerns are handled quickly and courteously, it has a positive impact on their loyalty, can eliminate financial loss associated with escalated service response, and helps protect future value-generating activities. Helping team members recognize that complaints are opportunities in disguise can enhance your credibility and protect your club’s bottom line.

Thank the member. Express gratitude to members for taking the time to share their feedback and giving you the chance to address the problem. If they decide to leave, thank them for the opportunity to have served them. Let them know that should they wish to return, you would be pleased to be their fitness provider again

Your team’s daily interactions with members can do more to help or harm retention than any other initiative your club may undertake. By teaching your team to have the LAST word, they will be poised to turn potential misery into magic.


Christine Thalwitz is director of communications and research at ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers, where member care commandments are taught and taken seriously.

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