What Businesses Can Learn From The Fitness Industry About Customer Service
The Academy of Fitness Professionals do more than teach would-be personal trainers the difference between a burpee and a squat. They also instruct students on how to provide exceptional customer service. Peter Lemon shares his secrets for customer service success.
‘Personal trainer’ might not be the first thing that springs to mind when we consider excellence in customer service, but there are few professions that blur the line between personal and professional relationship to such a degree. Sometimes a client will want their personal trainer to embody a traditional drill sergeant, others want a fitness buddy, and others want a role model that they can aspire to.
According to Selling the Invisible, a best-seller by Harry Beckwith, customer service is based on selling a relationship. It is up to the trainer to decipher what the client wants and what will be in their best interests. The ability to gauge what kind of relationship to ‘sell’ each client is what distinguishes an average customer service from great customer service, and what makes the difference between ordinary and excellent client retention.
Provide clear and open channels of communication
Personal trainers usually only see their clients two or three times a week, but as everyone who has ever tried to get into shape knows, it takes daily effort to get results. Personal trainers need to be in contact with their clients throughout the week, by email, phone, or whatever is most appropriate, in order to provide motivational support and advise clients on their progress. This has a couple of positive outcomes as far as customer service goes:
- Clients have clear and open channels of communications for voicing any concerns – which helps with keeping them happy and prevents of complaints.
- Communication enables personal trainers to take feedback on board and tailor their service accordingly.
- Clients know that the trainer cares about their progress, even outside of paid sessions, building a win-win relationship.
Struggling to think of what to say to your client? Send them links to relevant health and fitness articles, or share a funny story that you heard earlier that day. This is also the time to recognise birthdays or other special dates. Across the customer service industries, keeping lines of communication with your clients open, and not always strictly for business, is essential for fostering a long-term relationship with your client.
The same tactic holds true in other customer service industries as well. By maintaining contact, without being annoying, you are reminding your customers that you are working for them whether they are face-to-face with you or not, which reassures them that their money is not being wasted.
Provide personal solutions to problems.
The old joke about the IT department – that no matter what the problem their advice is turning your computer off and on or making sure that it is plugged in – should not be true for your personal training business. Everybody has different needs and what works for one person might end up being a complete disaster for another. Take the time to listen to your clients concerns and try to provide a solution that is tailor-made for their particular problem.
In business more generally, clients are likely to leave a business relationship when they think that their goals are not being met due to indifference on the part of the service provider. By listening and offering sound advice based on your client’s individual needs, you show that you appreciate their particular problems and can offer unique solutions. In treating them as a person and not just as a business partner, you reduce the likelihood that they will sever ties with you.
Be flexible with your clients
Having a client cancel on you at the last minute is one of those irritating things that a personal trainer will have to deal with in their career, but we have to accept that meetings will run late, people will get sick and tyres will go flat on occasion. Incidentally, you should have your cancellation policy visible so that clients have read it at least once before they have to cancel. However, charging your clients £50 for a cancelled lesson, even if they do notify you late, could quickly destroy any personal bonds that you had been developing with them. You shouldn’t set the standard that missed sessions are always free, but making an extra effort even if your client is ‘in the wrong’ exemplifies true professionalism.
It’s important for all businesses to remember that it costs roughly four to five times more to attract a new customer as opposed to retaining an old one, so losing a client due to inflexibility should be avoided at all costs. The reason that you have clear policies in place, such as a cancellation policy, is to protect both you and your clients from unforeseen circumstances. In general it is useful to maintain these policies, but if you can bend the rules from time to time in a way that is beneficial to both parties, your clients will forever be grateful.
As a personal trainer, you are not selling a product, but a service. In this case, the service comes in the form of a ‘promise’ – a promise that the client will feel better about themselves with improved fitness and a toned physique. This promise is intangible in the short-term (aside from aching muscles), so you’ll need to spend time talking up the future. Be sure to remind your client that they’ll be able to tear up the football field after your cardio sessions, or talk about how good they’ll be feeling on the beach in their summer holidays.
This tactic is part sales strategy and part customer service, but remember that over 80% of customers are willing to pay more for superior service. This has the advantage of keeping things fresh in your client’s mind, and showing them that you have a plan for their long-term success. It could also be thought of as a subtle form of advertising. By building excitement in the client’s mind for the future release of a service, you are also sending out the message that you are a dynamic company always scouting for the latest innovations in your field.
Go above and beyond your client’s expectations
Delivering the value that your client expects is one thing, but in order to forge a lasting and trusting relationship and get real gratitude, it’s essential to deliver more value than your clients ever expected. By picking up the phone and giving advice on at least one occasion outside your schedule in the week you can give them more than they thought they were buying. Once more, this plays into a theme that we have developed time and time again: showing your clients that you value them as people and not just business partners.
About the Author: Peter Lemon is the founder of The Academy of Fitness Professionals – a specialist training academy offering certified, industry recognised fitness courses in the UK. He is an expert personal trainer himself with over fifteen years of industry experience. Peter’s fitness advice has been featured in the Daily Mirror, Women’s Running and BBC2.