Archive for the ‘service’ Category

The Foundation of Service

Monday, August 24th, 2015

We have spoken before of the price of poor service, but the question arises for those intent upon establishing a strong and consistent culture of service in their hospitality operations, “What are the underlying necessities or foundation of service?”

In The Quest for Remarkable Service we made the following service comparisons:

  • Service is a state of mind, defined and reinforced by an organization’s culture.
  • Consistent Service is a state of mind plus thorough organization and systemic training.
  • Remarkable Service is a state of mind plus organization and systemic training, with well-hired, trained, and empowered employees responding to accountable, service-based leaders – all participating in a rigorous discipline of personalized service and continual product, service, and process improvement.

In this hierarchy of service quality are the following necessary foundational elements:

Leadership.  Nothing happens without strong, consistent enterprise-wide leadership.  The mass of detail and nuanced complexities of providing service to a large group of customers/guests/members, each with their own expectations, can only be achieved by Service-Based Leaders who know they must provide all the tools, training, resources, as well as daily example, engagement, and support to the line employees who deliver the service.

Beyond this service commitment of leaders, it takes a strong and persistent “will to make it happen” from leaders at all levels.  Like pushing on the giant flywheel of Jim Collins’ good to great companies, “it takes a lot of effort to get the thing moving at all,” and requires “persistent pushing in a consistent direction over a long period of time” to build momentum and achieve breakthrough.  This persistence to push in a consistent direction can only come from the organization’s leadership.

Values.  Recognizing that service is, first and foremost, an attitude or state of mind, it takes well-defined organizational values and a culture of service that is consistently and continually reinforced in both word and deed by the organization’s leadership team.

But leaders must realize that the development of this culture is not some organic entity that arises on its own or from the inherent values of a diverse workforce.  To ensure it meets the needs and desires of the organization’s customers, it must be defined and modeled by management.  When employees see their leaders living the values they preach and supporting the employees in their daily efforts, service becomes second nature to all.

Organization.  A major obstacle to providing service is poor organization.  Without ongoing efforts to set up the workplace for efficiency and to seek out and remove obstacles to the smooth functioning of all areas of the operation, line employees quickly become frustrated and disheartened.  When unaddressed this frustration quickly turns to cynicism and bad attitudes – both of which defeat any efforts to provide service.

Poor organization is not found just in the physical layout of facilities, but also includes misguided or ever changing policies and procedures, lack of standards and discipline in fellow workers, and weak or non-existent training.  To be efficient, management and staff must be constantly focused on how to do things better and with less effort and frustration.  This focus is commonly called Continual Process Improvement and should be an integral part of the enterprise’s organizational values.

Training.  But having an organization with strong leadership, a well-defined culture of service, and efficient organization is of limited value if those qualities cannot be consistently and continually passed on to the line employees who must deliver service on a daily basis.  This requires a well-planned and executed training system that delivers all essential values, knowledge, information, and service techniques to employees in manageable doses on a continuing basis.  Without thorough and consistent training, service execution is dependent upon oral history and the attitudes, abilities, and personalities of individual employees.  Some will do well, most won’t!

Personalized Service.  Once the foregoing foundational elements of service have been firmly established, everything is in place to take service to the next level – rendering personalized service to individual customers.  While such service is often the stated intent of hospitality managers, it’s unrealistic to expect that your service teams will be able to focus on such a detailed endeavor while struggling under weak leadership with poorly-defined values, disorganized operations, and lack of training.

Take Away.  Just as in the construction of a dramatically appealing hotel, restaurant, or clubhouse, the finished details are built upon the foundational elements of the structure.  The analogy for how to provide high levels of service could not be more appropriate – first you must build the foundation!

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking hospitality managers throughout the country and around the world.

Hospitality Resources International – Management Resources for Hospitality Operators!

 

A Service Attitude

Monday, March 30th, 2015

While each person brings his or her own attitudes to the workplace, your company expects employees to be indoctrinated into a culture of absolute dedication to quality and the needs of the customer.

Your emphasis as a leader and all the training focus for your employees is on learning how to say YES to customers.  If this attitude is kept foremost in mind, it will help you and your employees handle any unusual requests or difficult situations involving customers.  This indoctrination is the ongoing responsibility of leaders at every level and can best be accomplished by your wholehearted support, daily reinforcement, and personal example.

Equally important, this attitude should characterize your work relationships with fellow employees – your internal customers.  Everyone who works for your company is a member of a team trying to accomplish the same mission.  Cheerful and complete cooperation with one another makes work easier, more meaningful, and fun.  Your first thought when approached by a customer, external or internal, should be “How can I help this person; how can I be of service?”

Attitude is the major determinant of success in any endeavor.  Your thoughts color everything you do.  Each person has a filter through which all sense perceptions pass.  Since the conscious mind can only process so much information, perceptions are screened and only those supporting your thought system, biases, and views are accepted.  All others are rejected.  Stated another way – since your brain interprets sensory information to support what you already believe – YOU ARE WHAT YOU THINK!

If you believe yourself to be misunderstood or mistreated, you will seek every piece of evidence to support this belief.  If you are optimistic and happy, you will select every perception that supports that happiness and optimism.  The process is self-reinforcing and reciprocal.  If your thoughts tend to the negative, you will see only the negative.  If a person is a liar, he or she will assume that everyone lies and will go through life never trusting anyone.

The implication is that you create the world you want through your thoughts.  People who are upbeat and look for the good in everything know that, while they cannot control events, THEY CAN CONTROL THEIR REACTIONS TO THOSE EVENTS!  Simply put, you can make whatever you want of any situation.

Attitudes are clearly infectious and you owe it to others to be as positive and cheerful as possible.  One defeatist, grumbling, negative attitude can ruin the day for many others.  The sad thing is that you allow the negative person to do this.  When one considers the uproar in society over the danger to people’s health from passive smoking, it is surprising that they aren’t just as adamant about the threat to health from passive bad attitude.

So don’t tolerate your employees’ bad moods.  Confront them; shock them back into an acceptable frame of mind.  Tell them to go home if they can’t be in a better mood.  The requirement must be:

“Be of Good Cheer or Don’t Be Here!”

As a leader you are responsible for building morale within your team.  Protect your employees from people with negative attitudes and sour moods.  Don’t permit one employee to drag down an entire operation.  Confront, counsel, and, if necessary, discharge the employee.

Excerpted from Leadership on the Line:  A Guide for Front Line Supervisors, Business Owners and Emerging Leaders

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking hospitality managers throughout the country and around the world.

Hospitality Resources International – Management Resources for Hospitality Operators!

Quality and Service

Monday, March 16th, 2015

I have yet to come across a hotel, resort, restaurant, club, golf course, or management company that doesn’t claim to offer its customers/members/guests extraordinary, legendary, remarkable, superb, world-class (you pick the one) levels of service; yet how many of these organizations have taken the time or made the effort to define their quality and service standards?

Let us take a moment to define what we mean by service and quality.  According to Dictionary.com:

  • Service is “the act of helpful activity.”  In hospitality operations it is the process or performance of some task or event for your customers/guests/members.
  • Quality is “a characteristic or property that signifies relative merit or excellence.”  In our industry the word is used to express the relative merits or excellence of the facilities, amenities, activities, and service we provide our customers.

Given that a hospitality operation’s quality is defined by the relative merits of those things and the service provided to customers, let us pose some questions regarding the service to which you aspire or claim to offer:

  • Have you or your organization defined what service is for your service-delivery employees?
  • Have you explained or trained your employees what you and your customers’ expectations for service are?
  • Do you know what your customers expect when it comes to service?  If so, how do you know?  What methodology is used to determine customers’ needs and expectations?
  • Have you identified your key service touch points or moments of truth for your employees?
  • Have you taught or demonstrated for your employees how to handle various touch points in all their possible variations and contingencies?
  • Have you documented touch points and service standards, policies, and procedures to ensure that they are taught consistently to each new employee and new generations of employees?
  • Do you have a means of measuring compliance with service standards, policies, and procedures?
  • Do you have a process to address service failures?
  • Do you have a process to make service failures right for your customers?
  • Do you have a process to discover underlying causes of service failures to ensure they don’t happen again?
  • Do you have a consistent process to educate employees about changes to standards, policies, and procedures to eliminate service failures?
  • Do you have a means of monitoring service failures to identify trends or spot problems?
  • Do your employees know that they can self-report their service failures without fear or repercussions?

If you’ve answered “no” to the majority of the questions above, you do not provide quality service.  What you do provide is a series of interactions between customers and employees that may or may not meet the expectations of customers or management.  The quality you provide is based purely on chance and, therefore, has an unacceptably high risk of service failures.

If the above describes your operation’s quality and service, there is much to work on to meet the promises you’ve made to customers/guests/members.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking hospitality managers throughout the country and around the world.

Hospitality Resources International – Management Resources for Hospitality Operators!

Detailing Your Club Operations

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

At root our business is about details – the specifics of the products and services we provide and the manner in which we provide them to meet the expectations of our members.  Given that private clubs entail a variety of distinct businesses based on the amenities provided, the tally of daily details easily runs into the thousands across the full spectrum of club operations.  And it’s the way a large number of employees consistently attend to and execute those details that create and sustain members’ perceptions of the value of their club experience.  So while it’s the big picture of strategy that sets the course and trajectory of the operation, it’s the daily attention to detail that creates the expected level of quality and service.

So who is responsible for delivering that quality and service?  Ultimately it’s the general manager, though for practicality sake, the authority to do so is delegated through the club’s department heads and managers to the employees who deliver the service.  But delivering a consistent level of service and quality requires that a vast amount of knowledge, information, guidance, and ongoing training be provided to employees by perhaps 15 to 20 supervisors and managers.  This can only happen if all employees are immersed in a well-defined and continually reinforced culture of service.

This is easily said, but far more difficult to create and sustain in the dynamic and fast-paced environment of club operations.  Clearly the solution is to build as much of the details of service as possible into the structure and routine of the organization.  Here are the necessities:

  • Understand the expectations of your members.  Without a basic understand of what they want and desire, you may miss the mark and all your efforts will be for naught.
  • Ensure consistent and unimpeded communication of organizational values and culture of service.  There is so much for service employees to know and understand that any impediments to the open flow of information will defeat your efforts from the get-go.
  • Identify, prioritize, and focus on the details of departmental touch points.  These are the logical starting point for all your efforts to improve quality and service.  As these are mastered, continue to uncover and address deeper levels of organizational detail.
  • Provide thorough and consistent training of all employees.  Understanding the touch points of your operation does little good if that understanding is not passed on consistently to each new employee and generations of employees.
  • Foster employee empowerment to deal with the unscripted moments and challenges of service.  Management can never foresee all the contingencies of service.  Employees, with the full backing and support of their supervisors, must be encouraged within the parameters of their training to use individual initiative to overcome any service challenges.
  • Utilize organizational structure to institutionalize consistent service delivery.  What we do ain’t easy!  Help yourself and your employees by structuring the routine to happen routinely.  This takes both the will and the organizational discipline to make it happen.  When 80% of the details happen routinely, everyone can focus on the 20% that will wow your members.
  • Institute a robust process of continual improvement to analyze and enhance service and service delivery, detail by detail, department by department.  As we say in Continual Process Improvement, “Given the many details associated with managing a quality club operation it is imperative that management commit to and promote a process of continual improvement in all areas of the operation.  This requires a positive emphasis on problem discovery, a discipline of constant review, and an understanding that in quality service operations, the devil is in the details.  As more and more areas of the operation become systematized and routine, management at all levels, with the commitment and assistance of their empowered employees, must continually ‘peel the onion’ to deeper and deeper layers of detail.  Further, no detail must be seen as too trivial to warrant management’s attention and the establishment of standards and procedures to ensure it is attended to by the staff.”

While many owners and managers will say their business success is dependent on location, location, location, in the demanding world of the private clubs, it’s how we handle the details that determine our level of service and success.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking hospitality managers throughout the country and around the world.

Hospitality Resources International – Management Resources for Hospitality Operators!

Principles of Service

Monday, April 21st, 2014

The following principles govern the quality of the service we wish to offer:

  1. SERVICE is our only product. We aim to provide the highest possible level of service to our customers/guests/members.
  2. Attitude and a sense of enthusiasm are important ingredients in providing high quality SERVICE.
  3. The first step in providing SERVICE is to anticipate the needs and desires of our customers. To do this we must examine every area of our operation in detail to determine how we can give more and better service and value.
  4. To provide high quality SERVICE, we must know what our customers want and expect. Therefore, we should constantly seek their comments, criticisms, and opinions about our operation.
  5. If a customer perceives a problem, there is a problem. It makes absolutely no difference whether we think there is a problem or not. Furthermore, the problem is ours, not the customer’s. The burden rests entirely with us to change the customer’s perception.
  6. We should never be defensive when a customer comes to us with a problem. He or she is doing us an immense favor by bringing the problem to our attention. We must listen carefully to make sure we understand the nature of the problem and take action to correct it.
  7. Every problem has a solution. Placing blame for problems is not our concern. Solving problems and analyzing them to ensure they don’t happen again is our only concern.
  8. The SERVICE profession is a demanding one, but one that offers many rewards. There is nothing more demanding or more satisfying than accepting the challenge of turning someone’s anger and unhappiness into a smile.
  9. A true SERVICE attitude involves sincerely caring for our fellow man. The good feeling we get from helping others is proof positive that when we give to others, we give to ourselves.
  10. A sincere smile is the smallest yet most important element of SERVICE. Though smiles are formed with the mouth, when sincerely given, they come from within. Smiles are more than just lip service.

The Principles of Service and what they mean should be second nature to every hospitality employee.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

 

The Value of a Super Service Employee

Monday, October 14th, 2013

For those of us who eat out with any regularity, we’ve all had the experience, unfortunately too rarely, of being waited on by what I call a “super server.”  From the moment she approaches the table we know we’re in for a treat.  Sparkling with personality, she overflows with knowledge about the food, beverages, and accompaniments.  She immediately sizes up our interest in engagement and calibrates her contacts accordingly.  She speaks with confidence and authority, questioning us regarding our preferences and without hesitation recommending what she thinks we’ll enjoy.  The best of the best can even unerringly take and serve orders without benefit of pen and dup pad – an ability that never ceases to amaze me.

Such extraordinary individuals are worth their weight in gold.  Not only do they serve with flair and expertise, but they sell, thereby increasing the average check, while making a distinctly favorable impression of competence and professionalism that brings diners back again and again.  This is true in restaurants as well as private clubs where members appreciate the recognition and special touches that a super server adds to the dining experience.

Far more frequently, we’ve experienced the norm of service – undertrained, inexperienced employees who may understand the basics of service, but little more.  Often lacking in knowledge, personality, and attitude, their service may meet minimum expectations but seldom inspire the diner to sample the extras – appetizers, desserts, wines, and specialty drinks – that the kitchen works so hard to create and which enhances the dining experience.  If truth be told, these employees are doing no service to their employers and in many cases are doing outright harm by driving customers away.

The often repeated maxim for employers “to hire for personality and train for technique and competence” encompasses a basic truth.  Attitude, personality, and engagement seem to be inborn skills and are difficult to teach.  While training can provide service skills and knowledge, thereby increasing a server’s confidence and maybe even engagement skills, the best service employees posses an indefinable quality that is difficult, if not impossible, to replicate.

Given the dearth of these extraordinary service employees, they should be recognized and compensated for the rare skills they possess.  Too often though, their presence on an employer’s staff is viewed as simple good fortune with little or no effort made to differentiate them from the common herd.  The result is that in short order they move on to greener pastures where their talents are more fully appreciated.  When this happens the loss to the establishment is often more than can be appreciated at the moment.  Not only has the employer lost a super server, but a money-maker, an ambassador, and an example for other less accomplished workers.

And everything said about food servers applies as much to super service employees in lodging, retail, recreation activities, golf, tennis, administration, and other areas of hospitality.

So why don’t we recognize and reward super service employees for their special abilities.  I suspect it’s a combination of cost consciousness, an unwillingness to go beyond the status quo, and a fear of exchanging known costs for unmeasured benefits.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking  hospitality managers throughout the country and around the world.

Hospitality Resources International – Management Resources for the Hospitality Industry!

 

The Foundation of Service

Monday, December 31st, 2012

We have spoken before of the price of poor service, but the question arises for those intent upon establishing a strong and consistent culture of service at their clubs, “What are the underlying necessities or foundation of service?”

In The Quest for Remarkable Service we made the following service comparisons:

  • Service is a state of mind, defined and reinforced by a Club’s culture.
  • Consistent Service is a state of mind plus thorough organization and systemic training.
  • Remarkable Service is a state of mind plus organization and systemic training, with well-hired, trained, and empowered employees responding to accountable, service-based leaders – all participating in a rigorous discipline of personalized service and continual product, service, and process improvement.

In this hierarchy of service quality are the following necessary foundational elements:

Leadership.  Nothing happens without strong, consistent club-wide leadership.  The mass of detail and nuanced complexities of providing service to a large group of members, each with their own expectations, can only be achieved by Service-Based Leaders who know they must provide all the tools, training, resources, as well as daily example, engagement, and support to the line employees who deliver the service.

Beyond this service commitment of the club’s leaders, it takes a strong and persistent “will to make it happen” from leaders at all levels.  Like pushing on the giant flywheel of Jim Collins’ good to great companies, “it takes a lot of effort to get the thing moving at all,” and requires “persistent pushing in a consistent direction over a long period of time” to build momentum and achieve breakthrough.  This persistence to push in a consistent direction can only come from the club’s leadership.

Values.  Recognizing that service is, first and foremost, an attitude or state of mind, it takes well-defined organizational values and a culture of service that is consistently and continually reinforced in both word and deed by the club’s leadership team.

But leaders must realize that the development of this culture is not some organic entity that arises on its own or from the inherent values of a diverse workforce.  To ensure it meets the needs and desires of the club’s membership, it must be defined and modeled by management.  When employees see their leaders living the values they preach and supporting the employees in their daily efforts, service becomes second nature to all.

Organization.  A major obstacle to providing service is poor organization.  Without ongoing efforts to set up the workplace for efficiency and to seek out and remove obstacles to the smooth functioning of all areas of the club, line employees quickly become frustrated and disheartened.  When unaddressed this frustration quickly turns to cynicism and bad attitudes – both of which defeat any efforts to provide service.

Poor organization is not found just in the physical layout of club facilities, but also includes misguided or ever changing policies and procedures, lack of standards and discipline in fellow workers, and weak or non-existent training.  To be efficient, management and staff must be constantly focused on how to do things better and with less effort and frustration.  This focus is commonly called Continual Process Improvement and should be an integral part of the club’s organizational values.

Training.  But having a club with strong leadership, a well-defined culture of service, and efficient organization is of limited value if those qualities cannot be consistently and continually passed on to the line employees who must deliver service on a daily basis.  This requires a well-planned and executed training system that delivers all essential values, knowledge, information, and service techniques to employees in manageable doses on a continuing basis.  Without thorough and consistent training, service execution is dependent upon oral history and the attitudes, abilities, and personalities of individual employees.  Some will do well, most won’t!

Personalized Service.  Once the foregoing foundational elements of service have been firmly established, everything is in place to take service to the next level – rendering personalized service to individual members.  While such service is often the stated intent of club managers, it’s unrealistic to expect that your service teams will be able to focus on such a detailed endeavor while struggling under weak leadership with poorly-defined values, disorganized operations, and lack of training.

Take Away.  Just as in the construction of a dramatically appealing clubhouse, the finished details are built upon the foundational elements of the structure.  The analogy for how to provide high levels of service could not be more appropriate – first you must build the foundation!

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Impediments to Quality and Service

Monday, October 29th, 2012

We frequently write about those steps that a club must take to promote excellence.  As an alternative let’s examine those things that act as impediments to quality and service.

Think about each of the following obstacles to a smooth-running operation where quality and service are paramount; then decide whose responsibility it is to remove the impediment:

  1. Lack of culture or failure to consistently reinforce the culture
  2. Lack of standards (stated expectations)
  3. Lack of communication
  4. Lack of leadership, leadership consistency, and example
  5. Lack of organization; toleration of a chaotic work environment
  6. Lack of disciplines to hire the best staff
  7. Lack of planning, operational review, and process improvement
  8. Failure to remove obstacles to efficiency
  9. Lack of training or training consistency
  10. Lack of teamwork, morale, and enthusiasm
  11. Lack of understanding about what members want/expect
  12. Lack of member relationship management plan
  13. Lack of employee empowerment
  14. Lack of accountability

If you have a true understanding of the responsibilities of leadership – that a leader is responsible for everything his or her unit does or fails to do – then correcting every one of these impediments is a function of management.

Intrinsically understanding this validates that W. Edwards Deming was right when he said, “The worker is not the problem.  The problem is at the top!  Management is the problem!” and “There is much talk about how to get employees involved with quality.  The big problem is how to get management involved.”

Understanding what causes a problem is the first step to correcting it.  So take the next step and read The Quest for Remarkable Service which provides an overarching plan for excellence in club operations.  Then begin implementing the processes and disciplines that will remove any and all impediments to quality and service.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Rules of Engagement – Just How Friendly Should Your Employees Be?

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Club managers are always on the lookout for those rare individuals with engaging personalities – those people who are naturally outgoing and friendly and who can connect effortlessly with members and guests.  And while we all would agree that such employees make service and service delivery a snap, it is also important to recognize that some employees need coaching on boundaries and the appropriateness of overly friendly service.

While many members appreciate and enjoy their interactions with service staff, even engaging in playful banter, chit-chat, and teasing with their favorite employees, there are also those members who expect a more formal and detached level of service.  It is also often the case where the member who likes to “play” with employees when in the bar after a round of golf, does not want the same level of engagement at Sunday brunch when family and friends are present.

The challenge then for any employee is to assess each service situation and gauge the member’s mood and interest in engagement.  Here are some of the factors involved:

T1me of Day and Day of Week:  The time of day can have a great deal to do with a member’s interest in engagement.  Some members are not morning people and don’t appreciate noise, exuberance, or conversation early in the morning.  If a member has his nose in the paper, he probably doesn’t want any more than polite and efficient service.  On the other hand, Friday and Saturday night cocktail hour is a time of conviviality and sociability and an employee could expect a more playful interaction.

Occasion:  Dr. and Mrs. Jones celebrating their anniversary will probably appreciate discreet service with as few interruptions as possible.  Service should still be prompt and attentive, but servers should take their cue from the intensity and privacy of the couple’s conversation.  Conversely, a group of ladies coming in for lunch after a morning of tennis are probably keyed up and looking forward to a fun time together.  The same group while entertaining their gardening club with a number of guests would expect a more distant and detached approach.  The businesswoman entertaining clients may want formal, correct, and efficient service with as few interruptions as possible so she can conduct her business in a manner that reflects well on herself and her club.

Members in the Party:  The makeup of a member’s party will have a lot to do with the level of engagement.  A group of members and guests just off the golf course are probably more ebullient, particularly if someone shot his low round, had an eagle, or sank a forty foot putt to win the match.  On the other hand, a member hosting his aged parents for Mother’s Day Brunch is not there to “play” with employees.  It is also possible that a member who comes in alone for a drink may interact with staff very differently than when he is with his wife and children.

Past Experience:  There is no better predictor of the future than past experience.  If a member has always been reserved and formal, with little or no personal engagement with staff, employees can expect that he will continue to be so.  John, the single junior member, is casual, relaxed and always enjoys playful repartee with the bar staff.  No doubt he will be that way when he stops in after work for a few drinks.  However, should John arrive with a date, he may not want the same level of engagement from the bartender.

As can be deduced from these examples, there is no hard and fast way of knowing how a member will act, react, or interact with the friendly engagement of employees.  Therefore, it’s up to the employee to assess the mood and manner of the member.  Most people have a good sense of when someone wants to interact with them.  Employees should always hold back until a member makes it clear by initiating a greater degree of contact.  When in doubt, an employee should go no further than being courteous, polite, and friendly.

Ultimately, though, it’s up to managers to train their employees that, “No matter how friendly members may be with you on any or all occasions, they are not your friends; they are your employer.”  Keeping this firmly in mind will help everybody from transgressing the Rules of Engagement.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Member Relations

Monday, July 9th, 2012

The term “Member Relations” encompasses the most difficult and challenging area in the club business.  It is difficult for the same reasons that managing employees is difficult – it involves people with all their needs, desires, agendas, and egos.  But a significant difference between member relations and employee relations is that managers have the means to control their employees’ behavior and attitude, while managers have only the ability to influence members’ perceptions.  It is also understood that all service employees, including managers, are in a subordinate position to members in that your jobs involve serving these people who are your ultimate bosses.

Given this recognition, it is imperative that all club managers, from general manager to department heads to supervisors, devote time and attention to the many challenges and pitfalls of member relations.

The following material is an effort to put member relations in the context of a manager’s overall responsibilities.  While there is no single managerial skill, ability, or attitude that will deal satisfactorily with all situations involving members, there are certain guidelines that should help in most situations.    Beyond that, managers will have to use their best judgment and discretion in dealing with the variety of situations that may arise.  Member relations is an art, not a science.  Judgment and discretion are paramount.  But as with any art form, practice and experience develops a skill set that can hopefully meet any challenge.

The Customer is Always Right!

“The customer is always right,” is an old adage often given as a guide to follow when dealing with angry or dissatisfied patrons.  But you must understand in the service business, all concepts of right and wrong are irrelevant.  There is only the member’s perception of a problem.  This is your only reality, and you have but one course of action – to positively influence that perception.  By disputing the perceived problem, you are only amplifying and reinforcing a member’s irritation.

First and foremost when dealing with a complaint, do not become defensive.  It’s not easy, but if you allow yourself to put up your defenses, you’ll send the wrong signals to the member and you will never hear what he or she is saying.  Try to mentally step back from the situation and realize that the member is not attacking you personally, though it may sometimes seem that way.

Whatever has happened up to the point of the complaint is unimportant compared with what you are about to do.  Take a deep breath if necessary.  Focus all your attention on the member to find out what he or she is really saying.  Do not assume you know what the complaint is.  Listen patiently and sincerely.  Ask questions to ensure you understand.  Be sympathetic.  The problem is yours, not the member’s, and you must do everything in your power to resolve the situation.

Offer to replace the item or correct the problem within the limitations of your responsibility.  In all cases, do not offer a negative answer to the member before you have consulted your supervisor.  No matter what has occurred your goal is to make certain that the member is satisfied.

Communicating with Members

Many problems with members can be avoided by good, ongoing communications.  When members understand the club rules and regulations, when uncertainties are clarified, when changes in policy and procedure are announced in advance, members are not confused or embarrassed by a lack of information.

Some communications are routine, as in the monthly club newsletter; some are formal, as in periodic letters from the general manager; but the greatest and most comfortable type of communication is from managers who are highly visible in the operation and interact with members on a daily basis.  This informal communication and contact will build the greatest level of trust and rapport with members and will assist management when unpleasant news, such as dues increases, must be communicated.

Further, this daily interaction with members will allow small problems to be defused before they become big issues.  A side benefit is that it permits you to “take the pulse” of the membership on an ongoing basis and keeps you from being “blindsided” by festering problems that suddenly blow up.

As with employee relations, the key to member relations is trust.  Members trust management that is visible, concerned, proactive, reliable, and easy to approach.  This trust is essential in any long term relationship.

Training Staff

While you as a manager may have an excellent understanding of member relations, it is also imperative that your employees are trained with the same understanding and skill set.  Just as you rely on them to accomplish the work of directly serving members, you must also rely on them to interact professionally and appropriately with members at all times.

To do this they must be well-trained.  This requires good initial training and ongoing reminders of the importance of your service standards.  As with all other training, member relationship training is the absolute responsibility of managers.  If any one of your employees renders less than outstanding service, you are the one ultimately responsible for this failure.  While the club may provide certain material to help you in this training responsibility, it is you who must make it happen.

Use this material and help your employees understand how it can help them do their jobs.  Your employees must do more than just read the material; they have to interact with it.  In other words, if someone is told to sit at a desk and read the training material, they may only remember 10% of what they read.  Role-play with them and have them treat you as if you were a member.  Have them perform the tasks that are taught in the training material.  This will help them remember what is expected of them.  A Chinese proverb summarizes this theory:  “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”  Show them the correct way of performing their tasks and then have them reinforce it by performing it for you.

While teaching employees the right way to do things, don’t ever miss an opportunity to learn from mistakes.  Without embarrassing the offending employee, discuss service failures with your employees and let everyone learn from the mistake.  Often such review and analysis will point to better ways of doing things or improvements to training materials.

Quality, full-service training (learning) for all employees who interact with members is paramount to the success of the club.  Take advantage of all the training resources at your disposal and encourage employees to search out ways to increase their knowledge of the business.  Reinforce their learning with praise and acknowledgement at every opportunity.  This praise will reinforce the positive things they do until they become habits.  Great habits make great employees!  Aristotle said:  “Excellence is an act won by training and habituation.  We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Setting the Example

While training employees is extremely important and prepares them for the challenges of members relations, nothing is as important as you setting the example for your staff.  Managers at all levels must “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk.”  If you preach one set of standards to the employees, but display another, they will not only lose respect for you, but they will follow you in all your bad habits or practices.

Recovering from a Bad Member Experience

Despite your best preparation, practices, and efforts, there will inevitably be an occasion when you or your staff fails to render the appropriate level of service.  It may or may not be directly or indirectly your fault, but a problem has been created nevertheless.  The key here is not what went wrong (though this should always be examined after the fact to avoid repetition), but how you recover.  In these cases, recovery is always the key!

Sincere apologies on the spot and attempts to rectify the situation are always the best solution, but are not always possible.  In some cases, the member has gone away mad.  When this happens, it is essential to follow up the next day or the first appropriate opportunity.  A phone call to the member or a letter expressing your sincere regret and giving some indication of how the problem will be fixed to avoid future incidents is appropriate.  In some instances, this type of follow up when the member has cooled down can be an opportunity to build a higher level of trust.  The key is to take personal responsibility to repair the damage.

Time is the most important element in making a recovery.  You must be willing to get involved in the moment and handle the crisis in a timely manner.  Making a recovery can provide you with the highest level of personal gratification.  If you are successful, you gain the member’s respect and you will foster a rewarding sense of self-worth.  Hopefully, the need to make a recovery with a member will be a rare occurrence, but you should hone this skill at every opportunity.  It will serve you well in any endeavor.

Bottom Line:  Understanding these key elements of member relations is a critical part of every manager’s skill set.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

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