Speaking Is Silver, Listening Is Gold: Five Best Practices For Truly Hearing Your Wellness Customers

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If speaking is silver, listening is gold. This Turkish proverb is excellent advice for health and wellness businesses.

Put it into action with these five best practices:

1) Teach employees to listen and share what they hear.

Employees talk to customers every day.

Teach them active listening skills: “Tell me more about that …” or “It sounds like…?”. Another good approach: “I noticed you were using the…what did you think about it?”.

In weekly staff meetings (you do have those, right?), include time for reviewing and discussing customer comments, complaints, compliments and criticisms.

The right attitude when a staffer shares a negative customer comment: “Thank goodness you’re bringing up that concern -– now we can decide what we want to do about it.”

And remember that positive comments and compliments make great testimonials and ad copy.

2) Assume you’re clueless.

Unless you’ve actually talked to real customers, assume you’re clueless about their intentions, motivations and goals.

Approach customers directly. Find out why they came in today. Did their experience met their expectations? Did they accomplish what they wanted to?

Their answers may surprise you.

A wellness center manager assumed one client was trying to lose weight. He was convinced that the client just needed to join the in-house weight loss program.

Surprise: in a quick chat with the client, he found out that this guy had a high-stress job and looked forward all day to the hour when he could jump on the treadmill, throw on his headphones, and tune out the rest of his high-pressure life. Should he pitch weight loss to this guy? We don’t think so. How about yoga? There you go!

3) Take comment cards seriously.

Put blank cards all over your facility, with working pens or markers.

Use large cards so that customers have plenty of room to write. Open-ended and interesting questions get more useful information than simple 1 – 5 rating scales. For example: “If you had a magic wand, what’s the one thing you’d change?”

Provide multiple well-marked drop-off points, like fishbowls or locked dropboxes, in locations where customers won’t feel watched by your staff. Consider locker rooms, restrooms, reception areas, and parking garages.

Enter comment cards in a prize drawing to increase participation.

One fitness center posts all the comment cards, with their responses, on a bulletin board near the entrance. They don’t always do what the person submitting the card requests –- but they explain why not, and it’s crystal clear that they were really listening!

4) Have real conversations with real customers.

Call or talk to a few customers every week.

Introduce yourself, with title, and explain that you like to chat with customers off and on to hear how things are going. Ask them if they have a few minutes to talk, and take it from there.

Use two or three questions consistently, so you get consistent information -– but be flexible if the discussion takes an unexpected turn.

One question we like: “Tell me more about what you’ve been looking for when you visited us most recently.” Then, follow it up by asking “Tell me how it went when you came in.” “What do you think we should be working on?” Of course, tweak the wording to suit your specific business.

5) Start a customer advisory board.

You’ll flatter most customers and clients by asking them, so don’t worry that no one will want to play!

Invite a small group of customers to participate in a formal advisory board. Rotate the membership every 6 – 12 months.

Tell them in advance what the agenda is (and keep it short and sweet). Lunch and breakfast meetings are good options — and free food appeals to almost everyone.

Topics to consider: changes you’re considering to programs or services, concerns about service problems and ideas to fix them, their take on what’s happening in the community or on bigger-picture trends in health, wellness or fitness.

Wrap up the session by recapping the major points the attendees made. Then, when you make a decision that reflects the input of the board, let them know that their contributions made a difference.