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What’s Your Public Perception?
Originally Posted: 03/31/09

The public's perception of your business is far more important than just plain traditional advertising. When you get a positive public perception, you have to earn it. Most owners skip this process and just focus on traditional ad campaigns, such as direct mail, to try and buy an image. Successful businesses work hard on both because without a positive image in your marketplace all the ads in the world won't do much to help you get new business.

Most owners just don't worry enough as to how their business is perceived by the marketplace they seek to serve. Maybe this comes from the wrong perception that they think their business has its own personality, like a puppy or favorite grandparent, and is something all the members love and enjoy. You can tell when owners think of their business as something with a living personality when they tell everyone, "Oh, the members love my business. They tell me they couldn't live without us.”

Personality is defined as something that has human traits, such as, "I put my life into that business. It's almost like my baby.” This emotional perception is what gets most owners into trouble because it clouds your judgment as to what is really going on in your business.

Your business doesn't have a personality, but it does have an image in your community. This image is something you craft slowly over time member-by-member and through the constant flow of advertising and public relations you generate for your business. Signs of a good image are when customers say things such as, "They really take care of their members at that club” or "I think that is the cleanest club I have ever worked out in”.

Image is everything and nothing establishes your image, or damages it, in your community more than your staff choices and customer service training. You are only as good as your people and the training they receive, which means for most owners who only train their staff a few hours a month, your image in your market is weak.

Your staff does not just spontaneously combust one day and become excellent delivers of customer service. If you're not training your staff at least four hours a week on service, then the people who work for you are making things up on their own and their definition of customer service probably isn't going to match the image you want to build and project over time.

How good is your image? If you have to beat members for referrals then you have a lousy image in your market. In other words, if you have to ask for a referral then you are doing something really wrong in your business. Happy customers bring in friends and relatives because they wish to share an exceptional experience with others. Think about your experience at a new restaurant and how willing you are to share your opinion, good or bad, with anyone who asks. If it is good, you're going to tell someone even if the restaurant isn't paying you somehow to do so.

If someone is happy with what they bought you can be guaranteed that person will be telling others about the product or service because they look brighter because of the choice they made. "Hey, you have to check out this club I found. It might be the best in town and you just have to come with me to see for yourself.” This person wants to flaunt what he found because it makes him look smarter.
No one wants to bring a friend to a club that is a dump with a young and stupid front counter staff. "Hey, you have to check this new club I stupidly joined. Just wait and see how badly they beat you in the sales office.”

Customer service is the first line of image building. Even if you have a mediocre physical plant and equipment you can still compete on a higher level if you can deliver strong customer service over time. Service beats new and flashy with a below average staff every time.

Keep in mind that I visit a large number of clubs per year and even some of the perceived best struggle with basic customer service. Customer service isn't hard, which is why it's probably ignored as too basic for someone to care who is fighting through all the other recurring issues we deal with in this business.
Remember how much you paid to buy that member initially and then put a little effort into all of your front line people to train them to provide an experience that will keep your members staying longer and paying longer in the system.

Here are a few key points of service we are discussing in this year's workshops. Try these and start training your staff aggressively now to deliver the best service you can in your market. I have also written these from the perspective of a pissed off member.

If I pay, I expect you to provide a decent service, even if my payment isn't all that big.

Answer the damn phone

Answer the phone within three rings. No exception. That also means you small training clubs too. Answer it live with no machines and with a voice that is professional and is trained to provide service.
Use a strong welcoming statement on the phone:
"Hello, we're having a great day at the Workout Company. Make it strong and positive. Eliminate the weak retail greeting: Hello, thank you for calling the Workout Company. My name is Sarah, how may I help you?"

This is boring, weak and has no energy. We are in the energy business people and it starts on the phone.

Use a strong welcoming statement every time I walk through the door

Act like you're happy to see me every day. You know, sort of like you recognize the fact that I haven't missed a payment in two years and support the place (at least in my mind). Try the same one as above: Hello, we're having a great day at the Workout Company. Is it repetitive? Yes! Do the member's love it? Yes, because it creates the illusion that you're coming home to your gym everyday.

If I am paying you, at least know my name

I still find it amazing after all these years in the business that owners put so little time into knowing the names of the people who make their business possible. Reward your staff for knowing names. Give bonuses for a staff person who can name 50 members at the door before they get to the computer. Make sure your third-party software system has an option to get member pictures and that flashes names when people check in and then use those names every chance you get. It is outrageous that you take someone's money and then don't know the names of the people who make your life possible.

Thank me for my business

Thank me for coming by the club to day as I leave. Thank me when I buy a bottle of water. Thank me with something unexpected if I bring a friend. Be grateful for the money I supply. Thank everyone every single time they visit your club as they leave for the day.

Clean this place better than you ever imagined

Your club is never as clean as you think it is. Never! The members want clean but many owners, even with the best intentions and who think it is clean, just miss too many things. Because of the size and weight of our stuff in the clubs, we never really clean the place. We usually only surface wipe, which means you wipe down the surfaces of everything. That is what most cleaning services provide and for most owners this is enough.

The problem, however, is that this isn't nearly enough for the members. You have to go beyond surface wipes to get a really clean club. You have to move stuff, clean behind stuff, disinfect things like lockers and do the ugly stuff that is the difference between what you will accept as clean and what the members really want as clean.

Where we have been these days: The NFBA Orlando workshop turned out to be the best workshop we have ever had in Florida. We had about 80 participants, including a number who had just done our IHRSA one-day the week before in San Francisco and then followed us to Florida. We also had a number of Titleist Performance Institute (mytpi.com) certified professionals attend during the last few workshops. This specialization might one of the fastest growing segments, along with kettle bell certification, in the industry.

Anthony is out of his mind: Anthony Diluglio, the vintage fitness guru and kettle bell innovator, is making a statement with his new program to push youth fitness into the schools. He is giving any school, through local trainers and with a letter certifying that there is an educator at the school accepting the program, a free rope and workout dvd designed for the youth market. Again, this is absolutely free. The trainer just needs to make contact with a school and be willing to donate the necessary time to go teach the classes as the program develops. Kudos to Anthony for putting his money where most people's mouth is and for the huge investment he is making toward this effort. Find him and the program at www.artofstrength.com.

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