Change and Challenge. Part 3

Training

“This is an industry with a 40-percent attrition rate per year or higher,” says Michael Scott Scudder, veteran consultant and president of Fitness Focus, Woodstock, N.Y. Scudder says the key issue in addressing the customer retention issue, is training. Not only for customer retention, but for profitability in general, club managers are increasingly being called upon to conduct training for their staff members. “The irony is, many of the managers aren’t trained themselves,” says Scudder. “We know that a service industry has got to be highly trained or it isn’t going to function at all, and (fitness) is a very poorly trained industry.”

Scudder likens the fitness industry to the hotel industry. However, “our front desk people — some of the most important people — are the lowest paid, and least trained,” he says.

In past years, managers have been working in what Scudder calls, “the survival mode.” With the many issues managers juggle day to day, they are challenged with finding the time and resources to train staff. “We put warm bodies in place behind the counter and hope we find somebody to fill the shift,” he says. “For the most part, you can call a club, and you can’t even get directions from the person who answers the phone — and that’s basic customer service.”

Customer service isn’t the only area in which clubs need training. Sales training, customer relations and staff training are also paramount. Without the entire package, basic customer service suffers. “We’re seeing more people coming into clubs nationally, but as the national numbers go up, there is not a greater retention rate,” Scudder says. “Just put two and two together, and you get a non-satisfied customer.”

Scudder is careful to differentiate a non-satisfied customer from a dissatisfied customer. A dissatisfied customer is someone who is unhappy with a club and who talks poorly about the facility. A non-satisfied customer, however, is someone who just disappears through the cracks. This is the category clubs struggle with most.

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