Forget everything you know about customer service.

This blog is my personal invitation for you to start over. Clean slate.

Let’s take a look at customer service with a fresh perspective. I’ll give you a new framework for thinking about customer service in your business, help you toss out some out-dated thinking, and equip you with new tools for creating a world-class service experience.

Fair warning: This is a long-ass article. I have a ton of shit to share on this topic. But, if you take time to absorb it all, and actually do the activity I suggest at the end, I promise that you will be on your way to having:

  • Highly engaged team members dedicated to excellent customer service;
  • Satisfied clients who are incredibly loyal;
  • And greater profits as a result of higher retention and more positive word-of-mouth.

Let’s dive in…

I’ve been working in various service industries my entire adult life, nearly 20 years. And I’ve been working in and leading teams within high-touch, high-expectations customer service businesses for the last 10+ years.

If there is one thing in my life I am 100% confident to call myself an “expert” in, it is without a doubt customer service.

Before I drop some serious knowledge bombs on you, I have to get some shit off my chest. Thanks in advance for sticking with me through this soapbox moment.

First things, first. Customer service is CRUCIAL to every fitness business. It’s not a “nice-to-have-if-we-get-around-to-working-on-it” thing — it’s everything! Fitness is the business of people working with people. Unless you’re a big box gym where your clients are mainly paying you to rent equipment they don’t know how to use, then you’re a training facility that relies deeply on your team’s relationships with your customers.

That’s customer service, and it really f*cking matters.

You’ve heard all these stats before, but here’s a quick reminder about what’s at stake here.

According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs:

  • News of bad customer service reaches more than twice as many ears as praise for a good service experience.
  • On average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase.

Ruby Newell-Legner, customer satisfaction expert, says:

  • A typical business hears from only 4% of its dissatisfied customers.
  • It takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience.

A 2011 survey conducted by American Express revealed that:

  • 78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of a poor service experience.
  • 3 in 5 Americans (59%) would try a new brand or company for a better service experience.

I don’t know about you, but there are few other aspect of my business that I have found more important (statistically and in reality) than customer service.If you think your facility is doing okay, this article will help you do better.

If you’ve never focused on customer service at your fitness business before, then stop what you’re doing and make this a priority. I promise you can’t afford not to.

Now that I’ve (hopefully) piqued your interest…

The second stick up my ass about this topic is that people often try to reduce great customer service to crappy “wisdom” they were told by some shitty manager in their past.

Here are a few of my favorite useless and outdated beliefs about what makes great customer service…

Great customer service is all about smiling and being nice.
What?! If it were that simple, we’d just hire an army of sweet old grandmothers to do every customer service job. They’d smile and be sweet and win countless awards for world-class customer service, right? Nope! Sorry grandma, taking care of customer is about far more than a friendly facade. Smiles and kindness are just the icing on the rich, layered cake of service.

Great customer service means the customer is always right.
Seriously?! This motto came from a London department store in the early 1900s and for some dumb-ass reason people treat it like the final word on customer service. The reality is that customers can (and do) lie, have unreasonable expectations, and can be downright jerks. Running a successful service company does not mean getting bulldozed by your customers. As we’ll talk about below, your customers need clear boundaries with your staff. The hallmark of any great relationship is balance, even with your customers.

Great customer service requires being available to your clients for anything they need at any time.
Yikes! Even if you could keep up that kind of access, there is no way for your team and your business to survive that level of relentless pressure. I say to my team all the time — “We don’t work in an emergency room.” Our clients can wait 24 hours for an email response. The world isn’t going to crumble if someone needs to call them back tomorrow. In this age of 24-hour news cycles, always-on technology, and instant gratification, you will get clients who ask for the moon. Great customer service is not always about giving it to them.

Okay. My rant is over.

Thanks for hanging in there. I just had to get that off my chest.

I feel better now.

It’s time to make good on the promise of this blog’s title.

Before I give you the one thing you need to know about customer service, you have to make me a promise.

You have to promise to keep reading after I tell you what it is. Because it sounds simple at first, but it’s not. It’s a phrase you’ve likely heard before, but there’s more to it.

Pinky promise to keep reading?

Cool. I trust you.

You’ve heard of the Golden Rule, right? Treat others the way you would want to be treated.

We all learned it from our parents, or 5th grade, or in church. It’s not a bad lesson when it comes to making friends or working with your co-workers. But it’s a crappy lesson when it comes to customer service.

Customers don’t want to be treated the way you would want to be treated. Customer want (and deserve) to be treated the way they want to be treated.

The one thing you need to know about customer service is the Platinum Rule — Treat others the way they want to be treated.

When you learn to get it right, this one skill is the cornerstone to all great customer service.

It’s that simple. And it’s not that easy.

For starters, how do you know how a customer wants to be treated?

Okay, this part is actually pretty easy, we just rarely do it. You ask them. Listening to your customers is the greatest possible investment you can make in providing world-class customer service.

You listen to your customers in person. You listen to them by phone. You listen by email. You listen by distributing feedback surveys. You listen by doing exit interview when clients terminate their memberships. You listen by creating a suggestion box, then actually reading what your customers write. You listen by reading your Yelp reviews, and Facebook comments, and tweets.

Your customers are telling you how they want to be treated all the time. Chances are, you’re just not listening.

How many times do you need to hear a customer mention your dirty floors before you do something about it?

How often do you need to see a client leaving a group class or training session looking defeated before you ask them what’s wrong?

The clues are around you (and your team) all the time. The key to excellent customer service is recognizing the clues your customers are giving and taking action.

Some clues are more subtle.

About a year ago, I was doing a consultation at Mark Fisher Fitness. That’s our one-hour fitness assessment we do for all new Ninjas (aka clients). The session is supposed to end with me helping the Ninja select the right membership for them based on their goals, fitness history, budget, etc. So, the entire process is designed for me to get to know the person. We ask tons of questions, we do a version of the FMS, we talk about MFF’s values, and dive deep into the Ninja’s motivations and goals.

This session was going great, until the last 15 minutes. As soon as I got to the part where I asked the Ninja to make a choice on which membership he wanted to choose, he clammed up and started offering me one word answers. I tried to pin-point his objections and hesitations, but he wasn’t offering anything meaningful.

It was clear that he was getting frustrated with my service and I was not getting any closer to a sale, so I simply asked — “What’s the best way for me to support you right now?”

He said. “I don’t trust that I’ll make the right choice, can you just tell me what to do?”

“Of course!” I replied. And that was all it took. His nervousness and hesitation wasn’t about me, or our services, or our prices. He just wanted to be told what to do next. That’s how he wanted to be served.

Once I got that, creating a great service experience was easy. It’s a loyal client we’ve kept ever since.

Another challenge to the Platinum Rule is that every customer is a snowflake — they all want to be treated differently.

World-class customer service is 100% about treating each person as an individual and catering to their unique needs. That’s an art. It takes focus, experience, creativity, and most of all a genuine service passion. No one on your team is ever going to provide truly great service if they don’t have a genuine passion to serve.

You will know that someone on your team has a genuine service passion because they…

Love getting to know your customers.

Are authentically curious about what your customers really want.

Tirelessly seek to improve each customer’s experience.

Treat feedback like a gift.

You role as a leader is to cultivate those traits in your team and make sure you are hiring staff who value being of service to others.


Shameless plug: Check out my blog on hiring for more tips on finding the right staff >>>


Finally, the million dollar customer service question, “What if a customer wants something you can’t or won’t offer?”

There are going to be times when a customer’s expectations stretch you and your team. A customer might ask for something you don’t usually offer — or they thought they bought “A” but really purchased “B” — or your team genuinely dropped the ball and the customer is demanding more remuneration that you think is fair.

These are all common scenarios that leave you with two choices.

1. You and your team have an opportunity to create a WOW moment. You can choose to stretch yourselves beyond what your “normally” do to make this customer feel heard and valued. Sometimes this is as easy as a simple compromise.

2. You can decide that you and this customer are not the right fit, and gracefully attempt to part ways.

Let me give you an example of each.

I once worked for a luxury hospitality brand at a tropical resort. One day, two regular guests came to me to complain that for the third day in a row they were unable to get beach chairs at the spot they preferred on the beach. (I’ll take a moment to acknowledge that this is the definition of a “first world problem,” but when a guest is paying $1k per night for a room, every moment of their experience matters).

I took time to really listen to their concerns and did my best to empathize. We had a strict “no reserving beach chairs” policy, but I knew these valuable guests would be super pissed if they went four days in a row without have their preferred spot on the beach.

I could have told them “Sorry, but we don’t reserve chairs” and been totally right. But I decided to create a WOW moment instead.

I personally got to work early the next day to set up and reserve their favorite chairs on the beach. Not only that, I arranged for some complimentary cocktails and snacks to be waiting for them when they arrived.

A small gesture that cost $20 and 10 minutes of my time turned those upset customers into loyal lifelong guests. Every time they returned to the resort they asked for me to say hello, mentioning each visit how grateful they were to me for making their vacation so special.

That’s the first choice — and ideally the path you take most often.

But what about when a customer service interaction doesn’t have a fairytale ending?

At MFF we had a client in our first year of operations who came to us waving boatloads of cash, insisting that we come to his home for one-on-one personal training. We could basically name our price. We didn’t offer one-on-one training, but were tempting by the idea of having this super high-end client.

So, we tried to create a WOW moment and fulfill his request by scheduling a trainer to come to his baller penthouse apartment several mornings per week for one-on-one training.

It was a stretch for us, because we simply weren’t set up to do this. But we thought that going above and beyond for this client would pay off in the long run.

A few sessions into the experience it was clear that we were not the right fit.

The client would sometimes not answer the door, or wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning, or would constantly have his assistant call to reschedule at the last minute.

We were challenging ourselves to exceed his expectations, but the client wasn’t willing to meet us halfway and own up to his end of the agreement. We could have kept collecting his money, and pushed extra hard to work through our misalignment — but ultimately, we weren’t the right people to serve him.

We helped the client find another fitness company to serve his needs and parted ways amicably.

That too is great customer service.

Final thoughts — here’s what you do next.

If you’re ready to up your customer service game, here’s an exercise to do with your team.

Ask each person on your team to visit a fitness facility in your area that they have not been to before.

The goal is to pretend they are actually a client trying out their services.

This exercise is not about judging other facilities, it’s about walking in the customer’s shoes. Encourage your team to check out a fitness facility. But if your area has limited options or you don’t want to “spy on” your neighborhood competition, any business where they go “try out” the services would be ideal – a dance class, pilates class, art class.

(Side note: if there is a cost to attending, the business should pay for it. It’s a solid investment!)

Once they’ve gone on the visit, ask each of them to write down their answers the following questions…

  • What did it feel like to be a customer?
  • What expectations did you have before you visited the facility?
  • What expectations were met?
  • What expectations were not met?
  • How were you really hoping to be treated as a customer?

Ask your team to bring their answers to your next staff meeting.Take one hour to discuss their experiences and reflect on how the lessons they learned might apply to your facility.(Again, this is not about trying to be more or less like your neighboring fitness business. It’s about really exploring the experience of being a customer.)Ask your team…

  • What are we doing at our facility to truly listen to our customers?
  • How might be improve our ability to understand our client’s expectations?
  • What are some opportunities for creating WOW moments for our clients?Don’t short-change this exercise.

If you finish the chat in 15 minutes, you’re f*cking it up.Take your time to really let your team discuss their experiences and be open to their thoughts on how you might improve your client’s experience.If you really want a thriving business that gets clients incredible results — the very best place to start is learning how your clients want to be treated.

It’s that simple and your clients will love you even more for it.

Go kick some ass!

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