Posted by: drewdice | February 18, 2010

The Clipboard

When I graduated from college, I was still torn as to what my first career move should be. By my recollection, while waiting for my transcript from Tulane (the plan at the time was to enroll in a Masters of Education program at Temple University), I took a job at a local health club as a fitness instructor and personal trainer(little did I know that I would fall in love with the industry and gain my base in sales, sales management and executive leadership for the next 15 years).

During training, my boss told me that the role of the instructors included walking the fitness floor throughout the shift, talking to members, informing them of programs and club services, helping them maximize their exercise experience, and building rapport and relationships with them. All of that seemed (and still seems) very normal and natural to me. After all, I love helping poeple realize new possibilities in performing better.

What struck me as odd, however, was the meticulous detail with which we this process was documented and managed. Each instructor had a clipboard and blank sheets on which we needed to log the members we spoke to, the actual time we spoke with the members, and the highlights of the discussion (specific programs promoted, personal training asks, exercises covered). While this seemed like overkill to me, I gladly did it, as I enjoyed talking to all members, and for me, writing things down has always helped me better remember what I covered. Other instructors hated this process. (As you can imagine, because the goal was to log as many conversations as possible, the unintended result was that instructors actually made up member names, time frames and conversations to stay out of the scrutiny of the management).

My intention in this post is not to debate the managment policies and practices, and whether they were the best ways to drive member service. What is relevant here is that the organization had a commitment to serving members, and they made a definite connection between member service and member retention (and increased spending, referrals etc). As I worked there longer, I did some informal research on the connection between member service and retention (this was before much formal industry research was done on the topic).

I spoke frequently to other instructors about their actual levels of interaction with club members, and the thought process behind their activity levels in this area. Their reality was that members did not want to be bothered or interrupted during their visits, and that if the members needed something, they would seek out instructors. Instructors did frequently interact with the members with whom they had developed regular interactions.

When speaking with club members, their reality was that the instructors (and, therefore, the club) were not neither interested in helping club members, nor committed to improving the overall member experience. What we saw was that the majority of members felt this way, and, when we studied member statistics, these were the same members who did not purchase extra services, did not refer new members and were most at risk for terminating memberships.

Fast forward 19 years later, and I’ll argue that things haven’t changed that much. Consider some of your organization’s key sales and service statistics:

How often are your sales people having meaningful conversations and interactions with your customers? (I’m not talking about making “check in” calls. I’m talking about discussions about business objectives, obstacles, strategies…you get the point)

Which of your customer relationships are on cruise control, with the customer driving the contact with your sales people and/or the organization. This type of relationship is very dangerous, as your firm is positioned only as a problem solver, and when your customer does not have a problem they feel you can help them solve, their need for you goes away.

How do your customers really view you, your firm, your services, and the impact you have on their business results?

If you find yourself saying things like: “I think they…” or “I believe they….”, and/or you don’t have data to back up your hypotheses, you are putting your key relationships and your firm’s profitability at risk.

You may not need a clipboard, but what will you do to better live into your customer promises?

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