Archive for the ‘service’ Category

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.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Improve Quality – Lower Costs

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Common wisdom tells us that quality costs more, but according to one of the foremost experts on quality this is not the case.

W. Edwards Deming, statistician, professor, author, consultant, lecturer, a man who made significant contributions to Japan’s reputation for high quality products and its rise to an economic power in the latter half of the 20th Century, wrote extensively about how a focus on quality and the use of statistical process control actually reduces costs while providing a number of other benefits. Convincingly, his ideas and methods were proven true by numerous success stories – most dramatically the rise of Japanese manufacturing to world class status after World War II.

On page 3 of his 1982 book, Out of the Crisis, written as he said with the aim of transforming American management, he provides a chart that shows the logic of his methods.

  • When you improve quality,
  • Your costs decrease because of less rework, fewer mistakes, fewer delays and snags, better use of time and materials.
  • This improves productivity,
  • Which drives increased market share with better quality and lower prices,
  • Which allows you to stay in business, and
  • Provide more and more jobs.

He also clearly states that quality is not the job of production (or line) workers, it is the job of management. To this end he stipulates the 14 Points for Management which he describes as the “basis for transformation of American industry.” They are:

  1. “Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service.
  2. “Adopt the new philosophy that comes with the new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.
  3. “Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.
  4. “End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price. Instead minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.
  5. “Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
  6. “Institute training on the job. Training must be totally reconstructed. Management needs training to learn about the company, all the way from incoming material to the customer.
  7. “Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.
  8. “Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.
  9. “Break down barriers between departments.
  10. “Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.
  11. “Eliminate work quotas. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.
  12. “Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride in workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality. Remove barriers that rob people in management of their right to pride in workmanship. This means abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.
  13. “Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
  14. “Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.”

While his life’s work was primarily with manufacturing industries, he categorically states that the principles of statistical process control that produce quality in manufacturing and “all that we learned about the 14 points and the diseases of management applies to service organizations.”

Deming goes on to compare and contrast the challenges of manufacturing a product and delivering a service. These are instructive to anyone in service who wants to improve quality. As an example he provides an observation contributed by William J. Latzko, a consultant who works with clients on quality and service:

“One finds in service organizations, as in manufacturing, absence of definite procedures. There is an unstated assumption in most service organizations that the procedures are fully defined and followed. This appears to be so obvious that authors avoid it. Yet in practice this condition is often not met. Few organizations have up-to-date procedures. Consider a manufacturer who has full specifications for making a product, but whose sales department does not have guidelines for how to enter an order. A control on error on placing orders would require procedures for the sales department. I have seen numerous service-oriented operations functioning without them.”

How does a company measure or quantify the cost of confusion, mishandled or incomplete information, time to investigate and correct errors, and customer dissatisfaction? Without well-defined procedures how can a company consistently train its workers to do quality work?

The bottom line is that poor quality and disorganization is a major driver of costs in manufacturing and service organizations. In the service industries an improvement in quality not only lowers costs but also improves service. The combination of lower cost and better service makes the business more competitive and successful in the marketplace – and isn’t this the very job that management is hired to do?

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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Teaching the Subtleties of Service

Monday, February 6th, 2012

High levels of service in a club environment are so much more than knowing service techniques, smiling, and greeting guests.  To do service well requires people who are sensitive to the needs and desires of others and who understand a wide range of the customs and courtesies of human interaction.  They need to recognize the subtleties of service.  But what do we mean by subtleties? defines subtlety as an “acuteness or penetration of mind; delicacy of discrimination; a finely-drawn distinction.” A synonym is nuance which means “a subtle difference or distinction in expression, response, etc.” In other words, subtlety is the awareness and ability to make fine distinctions in how one engages with others or a well-calibrated sense of how to respond to a particular person in a particular situation.

In short, it’s the sense to recognize and understand how to appropriately engage others in a variety of situations and scenarios.

So, as leaders how do we go about teaching our employees the subtleties of service?  It certainly takes more than telling them to smile and be nice to members.  They need to have a basic understanding of the underlying customs and practices of service, manners, and gracious behaviors, as well as an awareness of the signs and signals of unspoken needs.  Not only do they need to know what to do, but they need to have the sensitivity and perceptiveness to recognize members’ needs even before these are expressed.

Such sensitivities improve with knowledge and experience, but unless a new hire naturally possesses these abilities (which experience has shown that few do), club managers have to start somewhere in training employees in the subtleties of service.  Here’s my list of requirements:

  • The club must have well-defined organizational values and a constantly reinforced culture of service.  When employees are immersed in such a culture, service becomes second nature to all.
  • Daily engagement and consistent example of service-based leaders.  Without a appropriate examples of the subtleties of service from club leaders (i.e., all managers), don’t expect employees to possess and provide it.
  • Empowerment training that spells out the limits of employee initiative and discretion in resolving issues and problems.
  • Club etiquette training – employees must understand the appropriate behaviors expected in a club setting.
  • Dining etiquette for servers – the same applies to servers understanding the basic manners and service behaviors expected during dining.
  • Making employees aware of the rules of engagement.  Different members will want to engage differently with employees at different times and in different settings.  Understanding the issues of engagement are critical to service and service delivery.
  • Ensure that all staff are aware of the mental environments for each area of the club.  Different areas have different mental environments at different times of the day.  Being aware of the concept of mental environment and recognizing member moods and desires is an important part of providing appropriate levels of engagement.
  • Teach service recovery and how to apologize.  This is so basic it hardly needs stating, but experience has shown that a consistent approach must be taught to ensure club employees understand the importance of recovering from bad situations and the need for a sincere “we accept all responsibility” apology.
  • Make sure employees understand the importance of the Three A’s of Service – that is:  “Be Alert, Aware and Anticipate member needs.”

As with everything else demanding quality, service behaviors and delivery must be defined and taught consistently to all employees . . . otherwise how would they know what you and your members expect?

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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Does Service Training Founder on the Shoals of Management Indifference?

Monday, December 26th, 2011

I recently read an internet-posted news article entitled, “Disney Offers Customer Service Training.”  The article written by Adrian Sainz talked about Miami International Airport employees taking customer service training from the Disney Institute, a division of Walt Disney Company set up to teach its principles and practices to other companies.  Here’s where we’ll pick up the story . . .

“Now the Institute has taken another client: Miami International Airport, which many travelers will tell you needs customer service training like an airplane needs wings.  Surveys rank its service among the nation’s worst.  The airport’s terminal operations employees are taking classes taught by Institute instructors, learning leadership practices, team building, staff relations and communication skills – many formulated by Walt Disney himself.

“Part of Disney’s lure is the feelings generated by its films and theme parks – magic and wonderment for children, escapism for adults.  Disney takes great pride in ensuring a fun time and repeat business, mainly by emphasizing customer service and attention to detail while trying not to appear too sterile or robotic.

“Miami International Airport is a gateway to and from the Caribbean and Latin America.  About 32.5 million passengers passed through the airport in 2006, including more than 14 million international passengers.  But among 18 U.S. airports with 30 million or more passengers per year, only three airports performed worse in J.D. Power and Associates’ 2007 North America Airport Satisfaction Study.  Miami received below average scores in accessibility, check-in, security check, baggage claim and overall satisfaction; average scores in terminal facilities and food and beverage; and above average in retail services.

“Early in the training, a handful of Miami airport managers visited the Magic Kingdom, where they were shown examples on how paying attention to detail and removing barriers were integral in making guests happy and keeping them informed.”

The article went on discussing various techniques used by Disney to enhance customer service.  While I found the article somewhat interesting, it was the three reader comments posted below the article that caught my attention.  Here they are:

  1. “I worked for a medical practice in Georgia that sends a few of their employees to Disney for training each year.  Our patients (guests) really responded well to our new customer service guidelines.  However, management really needed to attend the training as well as the regular employee.  They became complacent in their ‘ivory tower’ and expected all of us to treat the patients well (and of course we did); however, management needed to extend the same courtesy and good manners to their employees.  In the past 3 months the company has had record turnover and still harbors a large disgruntled employee pool.  No idle words . . . ‘Treat others the way you would want to be treated.'”
  2. “When we returned, all 1st level management (the ones dealing with the customers) were asked to implement the Disney experience to our daily activities.  To this day we have weekly meetings with our senior management to report how our teams are embracing the changes.  Unfortunately many of the associates treat it as ‘the flavor of the month’ program to improve customer satisfaction.  We are still trying to make a culture change with our staff.   The most unfortunate part of the Disney experience was that although our senior management went along the trip I am yet to witness the impact it had on them when dealing with us 1st level managers.”
  3. “I agree with the posters (above) who feel that senior management should lead by example and treat their subordinates with dignity and respect.  It just seems like common sense, that when employees are happy and feel well treated, this will filter down to the way they treat the customers.  Everyone in an organization deserves to be treated well and this makes for optimum performance.”

Three of the four postings by readers made the same point about management.  This would seem to suggest the obvious:  that without the active involvement and example of leadership (and service-based leadership at that), improvements in customer service will not happen.

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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The Service Profession

Monday, August 1st, 2011

One of my first line supervisors was a banquet manager at a large metropolitan hotel.  Ben was older, had a large family, and was a proud and loving father.  Despite his busy life, he always had time for his guests and his large banquet staff, whom he treated like family.

Though he supervised over fifty people, he not only knew us all by name, but he was aware of our individual circumstances – if we were students, where we lived, what we did in our spare time.  By taking the time to know each of us as individuals, he was able to connect with us in ways few other managers could.

For over a year, I watched him deal with guests, hotel management, and a large, boisterous, and diverse staff.  He made those of us who worked for him understand that service is not just a part-time pursuit – it’s a way of life.  It was obvious that Ben was universally respected by all who knew him.  I had seen him greet many dignitaries and celebrities by name and was even amazed to see a U.S. Senator stop by to say hello to him.

When Ben died a couple of years ago, more than three hundred people attended his funeral.  He was eulogized with warmth, humor, and emotion.  The clear lesson I learned from this great man was that the love he put into service was returned to him a hundred-fold.

In today’s society many of the conventions that marked social intercourse in the past are seen as outmoded.  Yet civility, good manners, and a desire to be of service to others remain important qualities of life.  This is particularly so in situations where you are seeking the goodwill of others.

The need to attract and retain customers has given rise to the term “service profession” to classify those who work in jobs whose primary purpose is to serve customers.  But what does it mean to be in the “service profession”?  A traditional approach would be to consider those who work in a service profession as servants.  For the time they are being served, customers are temporarily one’s superiors and should be deferred to as a sign of respect.

While this approach is technically correct, the word “servant” does not sit well with many.  Other titles such as “associate,” “server,” “wait staff,” “host,” and “assistant” are widely used to denote service employees.  Whether these titles convey the appropriate attitude required for quality service is open to debate, and ultimately that debate is immaterial.

Service employees are people who choose to serve other people as a means of earning a living.  What they are called is unimportant as long as they are not offended by it and they are imbued with a strong service ethic – the desire to help and to serve.

Establishing and maintaining this ethic is the shared responsibility of the club and the supervisor.  The club establishes its standards of service, but it is up to the supervisor to teach employees what is expected and to hold them accountable for their performance and behavior.

Service standards are much more than just the technical aspects of delivering service; they encompass employees’ attitudes and sensitivity to the needs and desires of members.  Teaching these more abstract and nuanced standards to employees is at the heart of establishing a strong service ethic.

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 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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