Customer Service and the Customer Experience

Last week I went to get my hair cut. I made an appointment. I arrived for my appointment 5 minutes early. There was nobody to check me in, so I dutifully sat in the waiting chairs, and sat, and sat as my appointment time came and went. I watched as the stylist that I had an appointment with worked on another client. 17 minutes after my appointment should have started (not that I was counting…) he gave me a nod to come over and sit. I sat down and he asked what kind of cut I wanted. I told him and for the next 20 minutes he didn’t say a word to me. Oh, he chatted it up with the stylist in the next station, but not with me. After he finished, he held up a mirror, spun me around, still not saying anything, I said it was fine, and we were done. A women showed up to take my money. I paid and left. That was not an experience that I enjoyed and I will not return. What’s wrong with this picture…?

Well, to start with, whenever anyone walks into an establishment, they should be greeted at the earliest opportunity. People want to feel welcome and it doesn’t take much to set the tone. That’s why many businesses have receptionists. If you don’t have a designated receptionist and you are otherwise engaged, simply look their way, smile while making eye contact and say, “I (or someone) will be with you shortly. Please feel free to walk around (or have a seat,  or whatever else is appropriate).”

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If you are running late, acknowledge it with the person that is waiting and apologize for the inconvenience. A sincere apology goes a long way to making the schedule glitch okay. You should also let them know how long you will be. You need to adjust their expectations. When you are ready for them, apologize again and put forth a supreme effort to over deliver on their experience. (you should always be trying to do this anyway)

Engage with them! Get to know them. Ask questions, make eye contact, nod, smile, care about what they are saying and, of course, give them great service on whatever they are coming to you for.

Leave them with good feelings. As someone leaves your presence, make them feel good so they want to come back. “Great job today! I can’t wait to see you next time.” “Great having you here. I hope you come back again.” etc. This is their final impression and you want it to be a good one.

No matter what your service business is, from personal training to retail, the experience of the consumer will either build or kill your business. Mistakes will occasionally happen, but everyone understands that. It’s how you handle those situations that makes the difference. Always keep their experience in mind and plan for making it the best one possible.

What’s your biggest customer service pet peeve? I’d love to hear.

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Becoming “The Resource”

In building our business, one of the best marketing tools is to become “the resource” or the go-to person for information that your target market is looking for. A friend of mine asked the question today about how you become that resource. It’s a good question and one that I thought I could address here. How does one become the resource for their clients?

brain-on-books

First and foremost, know your stuff! It’s tough to be a resource if you don’t. Now, that’s not to say you have to know all of the answers, but you have to start with a good base.

When you don’t have the answers, don’t pretend you do. Let people know you don’t have the answer, but that you will look into it and get back to them. This means, of course, you need to  know where to find those answers. Start gathering your own network of resources (journals, organizations, reputable news sources, knowledgable individuals, etc.) where you can find the information that you need.

Give this information out freely, any way you can. You can start with simply answering questions that come up in face-to-face encounters or in social media. Then, begin to write articles, blog, write white papers, create and host a group on Facebook or LinkedIn for people with similar interests, create informational videos, host talks, or any other venue that your target audience may be open to participating in.

Gradually, as people start to appreciate and trust the information you’re providing, they will also start to appreciate and trust you. As that trust builds, you will have become “the resource”, and, when it comes time for people to choose who they want to do business with, they will choose the individuals that they know, like, and trust.

Creating Passive Income Streams

As a personal trainer (or anyone that offers a service by time segment), we have limited hours in a day that we can work. If we want to make more money than we are currently making, we don’t have a lot of choices. You need to make more per hour, so, you could raise your prices, raise your hourly income by training more people within that time segment (small group training and/or larger boot camps), or you could take on management roles to increase your income, but, honestly, as someone that’s managed clubs for 37 years, that’s usually just more time for more money. Then, there’s the idea of passive income.

passive_income

Passive income is creating something someone will want to purchase, set up an auto fulfillment program, such as kickstartcart.com, then just sit back and watch the money roll in. Well, yes and no. It’s not quite that easy. First, you have to come up with the product idea, create it, and then market the heck out of it. Coming up with the idea may not take so long, but creating it certainly can. (I just finished a book, The Business of Personal Training for Human Kinetics to be released Feb 2018, that took me the better part of 3 years to complete.) Marketing doesn’t need to take a huge amount of time, but it is ongoing and never-ending, well… as long as you want to keep selling your product.

So, let’s look at some of the types of passive income that are out there.

Subscriptions – This could be newsletters, articles, or any other product that is an ongoing by nature. My friend, Brett Contreras has a Research Review subscription where he and Chris Beardsley create a Reader’s Digest version of the research, making it easy for you to keep up with the latest. An example of a physical product subscription is a wine club, where a new bottle(s) of wine is sent to you monthly.

Memberships – Memberships and membership sites, while very similar to subscription sites, typically offer more than just the once/month (or whatever time period) delivery. They may provide on ongoing library of videos, courses, or special discounts for members for events or products. Some options include Intelivideo and powhow.

New products – This could be everything from a white paper, a book, a new piece of fitness equipment, or anything that is a one-time purchase (unless someone wants more than one of something). You can, simply take orders via kickstartcart.com or you can also check out sites like shopify where you create an online storefront.

Passive income can allow you to increase your income beyond your hourly wage position. This, for many, makes it a very attractive idea. But, while you can make money through passive income, be forewarned that the creation of the product will take time, as will the set up and marketing. It’s never completely passive. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile pursuing, though. I just wanted to help set appropriate expectations.

 

Why I Became a Personal Trainer

When choosing what you hope to be your life’s work, there is often that moment, something that makes you have an epiphany that tells you that this is your mission. What was the tipping point for you that made you choose your career? This was my story.

A long time ago, in a university far, far away, (the University of Maine, to be precise), I worked in a human performance center. There we performed maximal stress tests, blood chemistry, body composition assessments, lung function tests and many other measures to get a complete health and fitness profile on individuals that came through our various programs.

Among these programs was a cardiac rehabilitation class. Leading that class was one of my responsibilities. Susan was a class participant. Susan was 75 years old, about 5’2″, frail, and was recovering from a heart attack. At first she was challenged to simply walk around. By taking this class regularly, she was finding herself able to do more and more.

Six months after starting the program, Susan came up to me and said, “Mark, I’ve been thinking about doing more in my off days. Do you think it would be okay if I got a stationary bicycle?” Of course, I was thrilled to hear that she wanted to get more active.

Elderly Woman Smiling Wearing a Swimming Cap in a Swimming PoolAbout six months after that, still coming to class and with added biking to her program, Susan approached me with some news. “Mark, I’m feeling great and I decided I am going to start taking swimming lessons. I’ve always wanted to learn, but never got around to it.” At 75 years old (actually, then 76) she felt confident enough to do something that she’d never done before. I hugged Susan, kissed her on the top of her silver-haired head and was sold on the idea of how much we, as personal trainers/instructors, could help people live healthier, more active lives.

37 years later, I still get the same thrill seeing the successes of my clients, watching them gain the ability to do things they never thought possible. It keeps me excited about continuing my personal training career for decades to come (and I’m almost 60 now).

What was the moment when you knew what your life’s work would be?

Attending Live Conferences and Clinics

In this day of online training, it’s very easy to avoid going to live conferences and clinics. Online training is more convenient, more affordable, and can supply you with a great deal of information. But, the experience of attending a live event can give you something that online education can’t, the opportunity to have serendipitous meetings and discussions with peers, mentors, potential employers or employees.
Carlos Santana

Hands-on Session at NSCA National Conference led by long time friend, Carlos Santana

I’m just returning from the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s national conference in Las Vegas. While I often present at conferences, this one was just for me, no other responsibilities. Besides the session content that will help me stay at the top of my game, I had some great interactions that made it worth leaving my work and my family, and traveling across the country for this conference.

Here are some of the benefits that I experienced from attending this live event.
I got to sit and chat with many friends that I have made through the years by going to conferences. While we stay in touch via social media and email, many times you won’t see them again until the conference the following year. Some of these friendships have lasted over 20 years (and may well last another 20). Through the years these conferences become like family gatherings.
NSCA Big Dawgs

Friends Robert Linkul, Jonathan Mike, and me

I made some new friends. Some I just happened to sit next to in a session, while others were introduced to me by mutual friends. Always strike up conversations with those around you. Side discussions are a huge part of the experience of live events.

I was approached with offers of additional work opportunities. Obviously, this doesn’t happen until people get to know you, but, you never know where the next opportunity will come from.
I found chances to help others. As personal trainers, helping people is our passion. At conferences and clinics, we can help others by introducing them to other professionals (facilitating their networking), by being a sounding board for their ideas, by sharing your experiences in situations that they might be struggling with, and much more. Always look to pay it forward. I have been helped by many people in the past and I want to pass that on to others.
I have seen new opportunities to volunteer and help the hosting organization. By volunteering, you are not only helping the organization, but you can also learn new skills that can help you in the future.
I’m sure I’ve left out some, but hopefully you can see the additional benefits that attending live conferences and clinics can offer you. The successes that I’ve had in the industry, beyond my day-to-day training, are due in a large part to attending conferences and clinics and volunteering to help the hosting organization (for me, it has been predominately the NSCA). So, as you look to further your education, go ahead and utilize online content, but also look for the chance to attend live events and make the most of the interpersonal connections that are there for the making.

What’s Smarketing?

I read the term in an email newsletter today, Smarketing, is a coming together of a business’s sales and marketing teams. According to the article, these two teams are often at odds, blaming each other when sales quotas aren’t achieved. The article then goes on to suggest ways to get the teams to communicate and cooperate. I have to say that I believe there is a bigger disconnect when this situation occurs.

Sales + Marketing =Smarketing, sales and marketing teams (and, in fact, all teams) working successfully together, should be happening from the start. In the mission, the mantra, the “Why” of the company it should be clearly communicated what the company is trying to accomplish and why that is important to the owners, employees, the community, and even the world. All employees should be working toward that bigger picture and not “for the money”. If these often commission-based teams are at odds, it’s because the management or ownership has set it up that way. If the marketing team is penalized when the sales team doesn’t make their quota, of course they might be upset or even resentful.

As I write this, my mind gets pulled toward research on types of rewards that motivate employees (that’s my excuse for the “stream of thought” direction this is taking). For most employees, money is the least motivating tool and, when used as the primary reward, the job becomes about the money and not being part of the company’s mission. On the other hand, if the reward is public appreciation (saying “great job” in front of others) or providing lunch for the team (maybe including the public praise), the response is to work even harder at furthering the mission of the company. Isn’t that what we all really want from our employees?

So….. my point…. the problem of animosity or the “us against them” between teams is an owner/manager issue. You either hired people that are not believers in your mission, you didn’t make your mission clear, or you’ve set up your compensation in a way that can put your teams at odds with one another. This is not about just trying to help them get along. That’s just treating a symptom and not the underlying problem. This requires a fundamental change that may be difficult for all involved, but will ultimately eliminate the problem and unify the company.

 

Hiring Star Power

I just read an article on the Club Industry site, Should Your Fitness Studio Be Dependent on Personalities or Programs?, and thought that it is an issue worth discussing. Who should we be seeking out as new employees? Should it be a local “star” or an unknown?Star trainer

Let’s check out some pros and cons of hiring a star.

Pros:

  1. They are a known entity. They have a proven track record of success.
  2. They may bring in their own clients from another facility (which means more revenue for your facility).
  3. Their fans (clients/members) will tell others how good they are and help build their classes or programs (more revenue).
  4.  They may bring a special talent or skill that you do not yet have at your facility (potentially more revenue).

Cons:

  1. I’ve seen trainer and instructor rock stars from one facility completely flop in another setting. Their star power may not transfer.
  2. If they brought their client’s with them to your facility, what’s to say they won’t turn around and take them out of your facility along some of your regulars?
  3. They may expect higher pay than others which, if you pay it, can create bad team feelings if others were to ever find out.
  4. They may feel that they are above the standard policies and procedures of your facility. Noncompliance is a recipe for team disaster.

SuperStar_2013_logoI believe that the answer is not a simple yes or no. Here are my thoughts/recommendations on hiring a “star”:

  • Don’t hire anyone that isn’t excited about being part of your mission. Everyone from the cleaning people to the superstar trainers need to have the passion to work as part of a team that can create or provide something special.
  • Treat all of your employees like superstars. Pay everyone well and consistent for the position that they hold (everyone that has the same position receives the same benefits and pay). Give everyone the respect and kindness that we all deserve.
  • All employees are held to the same rules. Inconsistencies in how rules are enforced will create questions and confusion. Not enforcing rules is condoning the breaking of rules.

The question of whether or not to hire a superstar employee should be less about the star power that they may bring (although it can certainly an added bonus), and more about if they are a star fit into your company.

Payoff; a Book Review

While I did a quick Facebook review on this book, I thought it deserved a more formal review. Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely is a great book for business owners and managers. In it, Ariely explores what truly motivates people’s actions, particularly when it comes to getting the commitment and loyalty from

payoff book

employees. It’s a quick easy read (just 128 pages) from TED Books. However, don’t judge a book by its number of pages. Payoff has just that, a big payoff in its insight into how various reward systems effect the productivity of others (hint: it’s not money). Along the motivation lines, another book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink, also delivers great research data on the science of motivation.

This book can help you create an enthusiastic, productive team that will stay with you as you grow your company.

*If you like the Dan Ariely title, you may also like Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. It’s also a fascinating read.

What is Your Client’s Experience?

When what you sell is a commodity (let’s use the classic example of selling widgets), your widget is comparable to someone else’s widget. They do their widget thing. Nobody is wowed or disappointed. It’s just a widget, and being just a widget, the lowest price wins.

However, if you want your product (i.e. your club, studio, personal training, or classes) to be more than a commodity, then you need to differentiate yourself from others. Yes, having great great equipment is one thing, but is that enough? Other clubs can have great equipment. How about certified personal trainers? That too can be similar to other clubs. What will ultimately make you stand out from the crowd is the experience that you give to your members/clients.

2016_Principles-of-a-Great-Customer-Experience

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou  When we talk about people’s experience with your business, we’re talking about just that, how you made them feel. The experience encompasses everything they come in contact with from the parking lot to the bathrooms to the service desk staff. It should also be representative of your own particular brand. Here are a few thoughts.

The facility –

Not only should everything be cared for and functioning (no potholes in the parking lot, no stains or tears in the carpet), it should be clean (one of the most common reasons for women quitting a club is that it isn’t clean), smell fresh, and be attractively decorated.

Sound is also an important part of the experience. There are now businesses that will customize music for your business such as Soundtrack Your Brand. The volume and acoustics in your facility should also managed.

The people –

From smiling at members/clients across the room to having deep conversations, the whole staff (trainers, teachers, cleaning staff, management, etc.) need to understand that their job is to make people’s days better. How they are dressed, how they interact, even how they smell is part of the experience. Staff cannot bring their personal problems to work with them. It’s showtime from the moment they step out of their car coming to work. At Disney, no employee can be seen out of character and, to deliver an optimal experience, neither should any staff member at your facility.

best_3a878719229bc786eee3_cizeThe equipment –

Simply put, all equipment should be clean, up to date, and functioning perfectly.

The member’s/client’s experience is what they see, hear, smell, and feel, and, in creating a positive experience, all of these factors need to be considered and made consistent with the essence of your brand. Setting the experience is a well-crafted and ongoing task.

Know Your ROI

ROI, Return On Investment, is a measure of success. Did what you put into something produce a profit or benefit, and if so, how much? Was it worth it? More often than not, when we are talking about ROI, we’re talking about money and profit. However, it could also mean time and effort put into a project. The point of looking at the ROI is to determine if it makes sense to do it again.

Businessman drawing ROI (return on investment)

As an example, let’s look at running an advertisement in a local magazine. Say the ad cost you $650 and will run for a month. First, how are you going to know if it worked? You should always ask new clients/members how they heard about you. This is your effectiveness tracker. From this ad, you get only one new client. Was it worth it? Before you get all “What? I placed this ad and only got one new client??? That’s not worth it.”, think about what one new client is worth. If a client trains with you once a week (staying somewhat conservative) for a year and you charge $65/session, that means that just for that first year that client is worth (let’s see… $65 x 52 weeks = $3380) $3380. What was the ROI on that ad? One way to figure that out is to subtract the investment (or cost) from the gross income which gives you your net income or profit. Then divide the net income by the cost, in this case $3380 – $650 = $2730 divided by $650 which + 4.2 or 420% ROI. This, at least in my books, is a worthwhile investment.

jack-of-all-tradesThat was a straight financial example. Sometimes your investment is your time in putting together or creating a project or program. Because I’m good at a lot of things (you know, jack of all trades, master of.. well, a couple) this is where I often find myself. I could do it myself, but… is that where my time best spent? To find the ROI on a project or program you need to look at the cost of spending your (or someone else’s) time compared to what kind of return you will get. If a project is going to take you 10 hours and your hourly rate is $65, that’s a $650 investment. Estimate what you believe your return will be and then calculate the ROI for the project. Is it worth you spending your time to do it? Could you get a better ROI by having someone else do the work? This is an important exercise to go through.

Now, of course, not everything has to have a profit to be worth undertaking. Maybe you spend time or money on something where the only return will be the self-satisfaction of having done something good for someone else. This can include hosting or supporting some benefit event. Here, you simply need to ask, “Can I afford to do it?” and “Is it important enough to me, for me to invest in it?”

Understanding the ROI on your investments is crucial to building and maintaining a healthy business. Make sure you track the successes and, yes, failures by looking at the ROI of your efforts.