Do Your Wellness Competitors Love Your Customer Service?

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Sam Walton once said: “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”Are you giving your customers reasons to spend their money somewhere else?

Here’s how to apply six principles of customer service to your wellness business:

1) Provide a safe and clean environment.

Could anything be more obvious?  And yet…

I belonged to a local Life Time Fitness health club.  In recent weeks they’ve had broken mirrors in the weight area marked by nothing more than a sheet of 8-1/2″ x 11″ paper taped near the broken area stating “broken glass – be careful.”  No cardboard or tape over the broken glass itself!  Ignore the legal liability for a minute — even a careful member could bump into the broken mirror.

In addition, I’ve personally walked into the women’s locker room only to find that the entire tile floor is slick and wet due to mopping.  No safety cones, no warning signs, no entrance blocked off while they clean.  If you don’t actually see the bucket with water nearby, you have no way of knowing that you’re about to hit a wet floor.

Something to check in your own facility:  if you have weight machines whose moving parts extend into the walkway when in use, move them or at least mark the area that members walking past should avoid with yellow tape or paint stripes on the floor.

Minor but meaningful: check cupholders on cardio equipment for gum.  We’ve seen gum stuck inside equipment cubbyholes that stayed there for days, even in seemingly well-kept facilities!  Trust us – customers notice, even if your staff doesn’t.

2) Scripting is no substitute for sincerity.

Robotic repetition of member names and scripted phrases like “Can I help you?” and “Enjoy your workout” are no substitute for sincere interest in your customers.

We repeatedly see front desk clerks at health clubs and wellness centers who are so busy talking to friends that they ignore members who arrive.  Of course, they’re not scanning membership cards either.  One business we’ve worked with got numerous complaints from customers when they offered awards for frequent fitness center use but had front desk staff who were too distracted to check members in.

Customers are smart.  They can tell when someone uses their name only because they saw it flash in large letters on a computer screen.  Earnest repetition of the scripted and trite “Enjoy your workout” phrase on every client scores zero points for sincerity.  Frequent customers have a reasonable expectation that your staff will start to recognize and know them – especially after 40 or 50 visits!

We mystery-shopped a wellness retailer a couple of weeks ago.  We walked in the door and an employee walked towards us, asking “Can I help you find something?”.  As we started to reply, she executed a fast U-turn and zipped away to talk to another employee.  They continued a conversation that clearly wasn’t urgent.  She never did come back.

3) Sell what you have, not what you had.

Most wellness businesses do a good job of telling customers and clients about new services.  You should also tell them when you drop programs, reduce hours of availability, and make other changes that may fall short of customer expectations based on your previous practices.

We visited a wellness center this month whose in-house cafe had a prominently posted and charming menu with interesting and upscale items.

When we walked up to the counter, we thought we had entered the Twilight Zone. The items at the counter were completely different and much less upscale than those on the menu.  We’re talking egg salad sandwiches on Wonder bread versus elaborate gourmet deli sandwiches.

We stood there blankly for a minute before asking about availability of a couple of the tastier items from the menu.  The manager (a founder of the business, by the way) casually explained to us that they no longer made most of those items and hadn’t in quite awhile – it just “took too much time”.

Apparently it also took too much time to update the menu.

No apology for the misleading menu, no effort to suggest alternatives.  Does it surprise you to hear that their cafe is missing its sales goals?

In your business, double-check that your sales and marketing materials only reflect programs, services and products that you actually still offer.  We frequently find that health clubs who complain about getting lots of customer phone calls to check on class schedules are still giving customers — you guessed it! — outdated group exercise calendars!

Worst offender: reducing spa, cafe, pro shop, or personal training hours without notifying customers, who show up expecting access to these services as usual — only to find that the hours changed without any notice.  We’ve even seen businesses leave the old hours posted and simply start locking doors and turning out lights for the spa, cafe, etc. at the new closing time.  They seem to think customers will keep trying until they figure out the “real” hours.

4) Tell customers why business changes are good for THEM.

They don’t want to hear how they benefit YOU.

Our office uses bottled water.  We got a letter from Ozarka Water recently stating very emphatically that they had changed our bottled water delivery schedule for the rest of the year “specifically to improve internal operational efficiency.”

Why should we care?  Our prices didn’t go down.  Our service didn’t get better.  In fact, the new schedule inconveniences us.  Plus, this is the same company that recently imposed a new delivery surcharge.

Bottom line, our last two experiences with Ozarka have been negative, not positive.  It’s not coincidence that we replaced our Ozarka dispenser with one from Wal Mart a month ago.

5) What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

We use an outside cleaning service.  Although we’re a key account, they recently threatened to charge us additional fees if their cleaning staff could not access our offices at 1 p.m. sharp to start their work.

OK, that’s fair – we understand that a delayed start time affects their schedule with other clients.

So what happens next?  The very next day, they showed up at our offices forty minutes late!  Now, that affected OUR schedule with clients and customers.

Do you think they offered to pay us for OUR time?

We work with individual wellness professionals — wellness coaches, dietitians and nutritionists, personal trainers and others — who struggle with last-minute client cancellations and late arrivals that delay other client appointments.

Our advice: allow one or two “free” cancellations and charge thereafter.

Worried about client pushback on this policy?  Here’s a surefire way to defuse their resistance:

Hold yourself to the same standard.  If YOU’RE late or cancel at the last minute, pay your client your hourly rate.  What’s fair is fair.

6) Be consistent in what you say and what you do.

A personal note:  during the December holidays I stopped at a local Target.  Every employee’s shirt had a slogan embroidered on it:  “fun, fast, and friendly”.

But when I got in line to pay, the first clerk was hassling an elderly and clearly confused shopper over a $1.68 price difference.  Fun, fast and friendly?  I think not.

I switched to another register, where the clerk warned me that she was waiting on a price check and suggested going to a third register.  OK, points for friendly, at least.

And at the third register, my simple transaction (several gift decorations) crawled to a halt when the clerk mistakenly thought she had scanned items in triplicate.

Friendly – mostly.  Fast?  No way!  Fun?  You must be kidding.

Customers notice when your sales and marketing don’t accurately reflect their actual experiences with your business.  You are what you are.  Wal Mart isn’t fun, fast or friendly either – but their slogan is “always low prices” and they generally deliver on that promise.  At least their customers aren’t standing in line pondering the vast and conspicuous gulf between what they say and what they do.

Don’t adopt marketing slogans and taglines just because they sound catchy and cool.  Make sure that all of your customer communications really do reflect the experience they’re likely to have with your business.