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Chalk Dust: Mitigation & Source Control

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, June 10, 2019
Youth Climbing Team Athlete

Dealing with chalk dust is something that climbing gyms are entirely too familiar with; everywhere there are climbers, there’s chalk. Most gyms implement chalk mitigation strategies, whether it’s a never-ending cleaning and vacuuming circuit, installing a chalk eater, or a state of the art HVAC system.

 

The father of modern bouldering, John Gill, who had a background in gymnastics, is credited with introducing chalk to climbers at Stone Mountain, Georgia, in 1954. While its effectiveness at increasing friction was immediately apparent, climbing purists objected to chalk and considered it an ethical dilemma. Not only was the use of chalk to improve grip and keep hands dry considered to be a questionable ethical advantage, it, additionally, builds up on holds and permanently discolors the rock.

 

While today the use of chalk is considered par for the course, in climbing gyms, chalk presents issues as it gets onto practically every available surface and the airborne particles affect air quality. The standard acceptance of chalk use places gym owners and managers in constant reactive mode, which means that in order to implement a successful mitigation strategy, the gym has to stop being reactive and become proactive. This is easier said than done.

 

What is Chalk?

The main ingredient in chalk is magnesium carbonate, also known as MgCO3· nH2O, it’s an odorless, dry fine or bulky powder. In addition to being used for climbing and other sports, magnesium carbonate is widely used as an antacid, an anti-caking agent in food and in personal care products. Pub Chem notes that magnesium carbonate is listed as a safer chemical by the EPA. It is known as a green circle chemical and has, “…been verified to be of low concern based on experimental and modeled data.” Pub Chem also notes that it has been reported to cause eye and skin irritation, with exposure routes topically on the skin or eyes and through inhalation, with recommendations to wash or rinse the skin or eyes with fresh water, or to breathe fresh air. As an inhalation it is noted that a “nuisance-causing concentration of airborne particles can be reached quickly when dispersed.” Which gym owners and staff know, as the air in gyms can appear hazy at peak times. Which leads to many questions about how chalk dust affects indoor air quality.

 

Indoor Air Quality

With HVAC systems running into the tens of thousands and chalk eaters cost nearly $2000 to clean 5000 square feet of gym space, understanding the basic of chalk particles and air quality is necessary to making good decisions on how to mitigate chalk in your gym. Airborne particles of chalk are known as particulate matter (PM). Understanding how air borne chalk particles affect air quality means understanding some basics of indoor air quality (IAQ). The EPA defines indoor air quality as, “the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants.”

 

The primary causes of poor indoor air quality are:

  • Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles, such as VOC’s.
  • Outdoor chemical contaminants: Vehicle or building exhaust, plumbing vents
  • Biological contaminants: Bacteria, molds, pollen, insects, bird droppings and viruses.
  • Physical contaminants: Particulate matter (PM) is a complex mixture of solid and/or liquid particles suspended in the air (which can include soil, dust, metals, organic chemicals, sulfates and nitrates).
  • Inadequate ventilation: Indoor pollutant levels can be increased by not bringing in enough outdoor air and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the building.
  • High temperature and humidity levels: High temperature and humidity are related to increased concentrations of some pollutants.

 

Size Matters

Visible dust on the floor, or surfaces of the gym is unsightly and messy, but unless it’s disturbed it’s not creating problems for air quality. Gym members can and will complain about chalk covered surfaces and greasy holds that have a build-up of chalk, sweat and skin oil. When you see chalk dust on the floor or on a surface it’s very fine, like talc, what you are seeing is a bunch of sub-micron particles lumped together to make a larger particle. It’s the smaller particles of chalk, the ones you don’t see or recognize that affect air quality.

 

The EPA is concerned about particles 10 micron or smaller because these particles are inhalable. These particles once inhaled can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects. But it’s important to note that the EPA concerns are based on outdoor PM levels, which are well studied and documented. Outdoor PM effects on human health are well-established and are used to set health-based standards for outdoor air. However, less is known about the specific impacts of indoor PM on health. PM is found in all indoor environments.

 

Due to poor ventilation and other contributing factors, indoor PM levels have the potential to exceed outdoor PM levels, indoor levels can be gauged by MERV rating. MERV means Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value this rating was developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioner Engineers - ASHRAE. MERV values run on a scale from 1 to 16 and gauge the effectiveness of the HVAC system in a building or indoor space. For instance, if your HVAC system has a high MERV rating, it is more efficient, meaning that the filter will trap more airborne particles. But filters alone don’t make for effective air cleaners: you have to figure in air flow through the HVAC system and how clean the air filters are. A dirty or clogged air filter or using a filter that is too restrictive may result in low air flow and could cause the system to malfunction.

 

90% of chalk dust is estimated to be 5 microns or less, it’s very very small. A "micron" is a unit of measurement and is an abbreviation of the term "micrometer". One micron is a millionth of a meter (1/1,000,000 meters) or about .00004 inches. Steve Smith with Camfil USA, a company that develops and produces air filters and clean air solutions, has extensively studied, how chalk particles fall. On average Smith says, in a controlled environment it takes 5.7 seconds for a 6 micron and bigger chalk particle to fall 10 feet. But, Smith says, chalk particles 5 microns and smaller are so small that gravity doesn’t have an immediate effect on them and it can take up to 33 days for them to fall down out of the air, but in areas that have air flow, the particles are constantly being moved and lifted. Chalk particles of 1 micron or less become permanent dust as gravity has no effect on particles of that nano size.

 

The physics of air flow creates a challenge when it comes to getting chalk dust out of the air. It’s difficult to generate a sucking air flow that is strong enough to pull the particles out of the air, so particles are removed by blowing particles through the air from one air cleaner to the next to collect all the sub atomic particles.

 

There are three basic strategies to improve indoor air quality:

  • Source Control: Usually the most effective way to improve indoor air quality is to eliminate individual sources of PM or pollution or to reduce their emissions.
  • Ventilation Improvements: Ventilation also helps remove or dilute indoor airborne pollutants coming from indoor sources. This reduces the level of contaminants and improves indoor air quality (IAQ).
  • Air Cleaners: An effective air cleaner is an efficient collector of PM and has high air-circulation rate.

 

When athletes and climbers are engaged in physical activity, they have an increase in respiratory minute ventilation which has a proportional effect on increasing the quantity of PM that is inhaled. Additionally, an increase in airflow velocity can deliver PM deeper into the respiratory tract. It is known that PM of 5 microns and smaller can enter the lungs and bloodstream where they can build up and cause health problems.

 

What is known about people who are exposed to poor IAQ is that they can experience health effects at the time of exposure or even years after breathing it. Symptoms can include: eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, skin irritation, headache, fatigue, dizziness and nausea.

 

Are There Effects of Breathing Chalk Particles?

There is no known research on the effects of humans breathing in chalk dust. Dr. Cheryl Pirozzi, a Pulmonary Physician with the University Of Utah Hospitals And Clinics and a climber herself, does research on the effects of outdoor pollution. The effects of breathing in climbing chalk is a topic that she has spent quite a lot of time thinking about. Dr. Pirozzi notes that to her knowledge there is no published data on the specific health effects of humans breathing in magnesium carbonate and that it isn’t known what the PM 10 or PM 2.5 concentrations in indoor climbing gyms are, “these are two big research questions that we need information on,” says Dr. Pirozzi.

 

Higher occupancy rates and the type of activity developing in the gym effects indoor air quality as athletes and climbers increase CO2, while high occupancy also influences PM concentrations. Dr. Pirozzi says that, “concentrations of PM 2.5 and PM 10 are going to vary quite a bit due to building characteristics, the filter, MERV rating, climbing traffic and time of day.” Generally speaking, Dr. Pirozzi can talk about the health effects of particulate pollution, but she thinks it is unknown how much particulate pollution climbers are exposed to in gyms.

 

A 2008 study and a 2012 study on chalk dust concentrations and reduction strategies both measured very high levels of particulate matter during busy hours. Dr. Pirozzi says, “This shows that climbing gyms may have very elevated levels of particulate matter, but there are likely many factors that would influence those levels. It would be interesting to evaluate with the newer filter systems.”

 

OSHA has standards of permissible exposure limits for magnesium carbonate that consider both the concentrations of magnesium carbonate in the air and length of exposure, however without specific data from gyms, there is no way to determine the air quality and how much , if any, magnesium carbonate indoor climbers are exposed to. The question Dr. Pirozzi wants to know the answer to is; are there different health effects from exposure to magnesium carbonate compared with other PM? The answer to this question, she acknowledges lies in study and research.

 

Source Control

The simplest approach is to implement reduction strategies, to reduce the amount of chalk dust in the gym and you’ll reduce the amount of dust in the air and on surfaces. Considering the ritual most climbers have regarding around the way they chalk up before a climb, or can obsessively chalk up while on a route, it’s not realistic to ban chalk. But there are strategies between all or nothing that can be implemented.

 

Specify the Type of Chalk and the Delivery Method Members Use

Many gyms ask members to not use loose chalk, asking members to use chalk balls or liquid chalk instead. A 2012 study on the air borne concentrations of multiple types of chalk using chalk balls, pressed chalk and powdered chalk. The study determined that with the exception of liquid chalk; chalk balls, pressed and powdered chalk leads to airborne chalk particles, the concentration of which is determined by traffic in the gym. While chalk in a chalk ball does not lead to a significant reduction in airborne particles compared to regular block chalk, it is worth noting that the chalk ball does prevent spills. But the study is clear in stating that chalk balls did not lead to a reduction of airborne particles. In comparison ethanol based (liquid chalk) led to the same low mass concentrations of airborne chalk particle as banning chalk entirely.

 

Educate New and Existing Members on How to Chalk Up

In general climbers use too much chalk, says Kevin Brown of FrictionLabs. A climber for over 20 years, Brown says it all too common for climbers to use too much chalk and cake it on their hands and fingers. Too much chalk he explains actually acts like a dry lubricant, and he notes that generic chalk contributes to the problem, as climbers tend to use more of it and it gets spilled. FrictionLabs recommends that climbers use less chalk and employ a layering strategy: apply a base layer of liquid chalk then reapply small amounts of loose chalk as needed, the liquid chalk base will reduce the total amount of chalk the climber uses in a session. Brown states, “just like there is a belay test and safety talks about the skills that climbers need, climbers need to know about chalk. Chalk creates a huge mess in the gym and no one really talks about how you should use chalk.” When you put chalk on your hands initially, Brown says, instead of reaching down into your chalk bag repeatedly for more chalk, you can move it from one hand to the other, distributing it from your palms to your fingertips. Layering with liquid chalk works by filling in all the nooks and crannies, and creates a good base layer climbers will need less additional chalk as they climb. Climbers don’t need a completely chalky hand to have a good grip, Brown notes that there’s a real opportunity for climbers to use chalk smarter.

 

Putting It All Together

Installing HVAC systems, chalk eaters, or implementing cleaning protocols impacts your bottom line either in major capital expenses or ongoing increased labor, this is considered a reactive approach, cleaning up after the fact. It’s nearly unimaginable that gyms could or would ever ban all types of powdered chalk, but implementing education about how to apply and use chalk is definitely a step in the right direction.

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  chalk dust  customer experience  operations  OSHA  risk management 

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6 Ways to Retain Your Members

Posted By Emma Walker, Monday, May 6, 2019
Climbing Gym Member Retention

You’ve gotten new members in the door, and now there’s a new challenge: keeping them engaged so they become loyal, long-term members. Conventional fitness clubs track their membership trends closely – it’s well-established that membership spikes significantly right after the holidays, then drops off a few months into the new year. With a niche climbing audience, though, retention is more nuanced.

 

We chatted with a few managers at gyms who are successfully retaining members, even when the slower months hit. Here are their secrets.

 

1. Build a community

There isn’t just one magic incentive or trick you can use to retain membership. “It has be a core value that is applied across all aspects of the gym’s facilities, operations, services, etc.” says Rich Breuner, Director of Operations at Bend Rock Gym. The gym’s #1 goal, he says, is to support and facilitate an amazing community experience. “That translates to people wanting to become and stay members,” he explains. It’s working. BRG has seen member attrition rates drop significantly since 2016, when they began examining programs gym-wide and implementing adjustments with member retention in mind.

 

2. Quality walls, quality routes

Members want to climb at gyms with excellent routes. Bend Rock Gym’s commitment to quality begins with the most basic element: its walls. “They’re built well, they’re maintained well, the routes and volumes are always changing,” says Breuner, who compares setters to the cooks in a kitchen. The ingredients, or holds, might be similar to what you’d find anywhere, but a chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant can really make you want to come back. Their routesetting, he says, is a key differentiator and major factor in keeping members coming back for more.

 

3. Education isn’t just for kids

Anchorage’s Alaska Rock Gym offers adult programming free with monthly membership, says Operations Manager Eric Wickenheiser. At some point, Wickenheiser says, “new climbers hit a plateau. After a few months, people think, ‘Hey, how can I climb 5.12?’” ARG’s Climbing 101, 201, and 301 classes, plus lead clinics and women’s-specific programming, keeps members engaged when they might otherwise burn out and let their memberships lapse.

 

4. Invest in customer service

This begins at the front door, but it’s key for staff to get out on the floor and get to know members, too, says Breuner. BRG expects all-star customer service from its staff. “We’re flexible and adapt our customer service experience with the needs of our membership,” he explains. “People come in and they don’t feel like they’re going to war with the staff—they see friendly faces and people who are getting to know them on a personal level.” BRG makes a concerted effort to get desk staff onto the floor to help with waivers and answer questions, which creates a fun, accessible culture for climbing.

 

5. Find the right instructors

When it comes to programming, “the instructor makes or breaks a class,” says Wickenheiser. One of ARG’s most popular yoga classes is at 4:30 p.m., when members are ostensibly at work or in traffic. “The teacher is incredible, so people come anyway. The class is always full.” Wickenhesier adds that when local celebrities (guidebook authors, pro climbers) teach a fitness class or give a talk, it tends to be full.

 

6. Keep track of the trends

“We’re a little isolated here in Alaska,” Wickenheiser laughs, “But we try to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry.” Lots of ARG’s members have climbed at big-name Seattle gyms (most flights in and out of Anchorage go through Seattle), where they see the most cutting-edge gym developments. Members want those amenities at their home gym, too. Heading to the CWA Summit each year, he says, is the best way to keep an eye on industry trends and make sure ARG is up to speed.

 

“The bottom line in member retention is not treating members like a number,” Wickenheiser says. ARG has recently moved to a brand-new facility, but it’s been open for 25 years – Wickenheiser attributes that success to little things like taking the time to remember members’ stories and treating them like the important part of the climbing community they are.

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  leadership  management  marketing  member retention  operations  staff training 

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The Keys to Cultural Leadership

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Monday, April 8, 2019
Climbing Gym Customer Experience

While there are many definitions of leadership, I recently came across one that I thought stood out from the rest. Leadership expert, Warren Bennis, explains, "Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality." Accordingly, a company has a vision that it wants to execute; the leader is the one who does that. So, how does a leader turn a vision into reality?

 

Successful leaders use various methods to ingrain the company vision with every member of the team: leading by example, effective communication skills, and tangible tactics and strategies.

 

Leading by example is the most important piece. There is no quicker way to destroy a culture than by saying it is one thing but then doing something different. As a leader, you are always on “stage.” Team members are always watching. If they are told something is important, and a leader behaves in a way that shows it isn’t, not only will team members not buy in, there will be trust issues, and possibly a loss of respect. There is no more important role for a leader than leading by example.

 

Communication skills are also extremely critical to successful leadership. Ironically, great communication skills start with being a great listener. Active listening involves truly hearing other people’s thoughts and opinions, asking clarifying questions, and sometimes rephrasing things to develop a better understanding. Successful leaders also communicate openly, honestly, and with compassion. Be concise and direct when delivering feedback, but be kind. Team members will appreciate that. Another thing imperative to effective communication is an awareness of your body language. The way you carry yourself conveys strong conscious and subconscious messages. Try to stay relaxed, open, and maintain eye contact. This creates a comfortable environment for everyone involved in the conversation. Finally, it is essential to stay open-minded and be willing to accept feedback from others. The willingness to ask for and accept feedback is a great way to develop trust, strengthen relationships, and nurture an environment where team members are more willing to share and communicate openly. Leaders that foster environments that promote safe, open, and honest communication are the most successful.

 

Beyond leading by example and excellent communication skills, successful leaders use tangible strategies to turn vision into reality. One way to do this is to market the vision internally to the team. Post your vision, core purpose, mission statement, and core values on the wall in your office or employee break room. Incorporate them into every team meeting. Create “core cards” that your team members carry in their pockets while they are on shift. Hire, fire, express gratitude, and evaluate based on the vision. Keep cheat sheets behind the front desk. Do everything possible to keep the vision at the forefront of every team member’s mind. As a side note, I believe you should also share your vision and values with your members. It is a great way to let them know what you stand for and helps bond them to your brand. Once the vision is ingrained in every team member’s brain, great leaders define specific roles and responsibilities for team members to execute in order to carry out the vision. Successful leaders then provide all of the training, tools, coaching, and support needed for team members to carry out those roles and responsibilities.

 

Simply summarized, successful leaders bring a vision to reality. This is done through leading by example, communicating effectively, and by giving the team the inspiration, as well as the tools and support, they need to execute. I call this cultural leadership.

 

Are you interested in becoming the most effective leader you can be? If so, attend my conference session at the CWA Summit! For an even more in-depth exploration of leadership strategies, please attend my workshop “Cultural Leadership: The Key to Employee Engagement and Motivation”. I would love to see you there!

 

Here are the details for the workshop:

 

Date: Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Time: 1:30 pm - 4:30 pm
Cost: $150 for conference attendees
Location: Big Thompson Room, Embassy Suites Conference Center

Description: Excellence comes from an engaged and motivated team. One way to accomplish that is through cultural leadership. In this interactive session, learn how to lead by infusing a culture that inspires and motivates your team to be the best they can be! Explore strategies that dramatically increase your level of team member engagement. Attendees will leave with tangible tips and tools that will make an immediate impact and are easy to implement.

 

LEARN MORE

 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

Chris Stevenson is the owner of Stevenson Fitness, a full-service health club in Oak Park, California. The club’s success is based on providing an unparalleled member experience, which centers on proper staffing, systematic operations, and world-class leadership. This success is reflected in the club’s Net Promoter Score, which is consistently in the high 80s (industry average is in the 40s). Chris is an international speaker who presents viable, applicable lectures that resonate with every audience.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer experience  customer service  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  staff retention  staff training 

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Seven of the Best Citizen Climbing Comps in the US

Posted By Emma Walker, Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Best Climbing Competitions

Every year, more members are looking to test their skills as gym climbing grows in popularity. And for those with a competitive streak, there’s no better (or more fun) way to gauge progression than a competition at their local gym. Rallies and meetups at iconic climbing areas are all the rage—just look at the Hueco Rock Rodeo and 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, for example—but why should outdoor crags have all the fun? If you’re looking to start a comp at your gym, look to these seven citizen comps for inspiration.

 

Portland Boulder Rally

The Portland Boulder Rally, held at The Circuit, is among the country’s most beloved climbing events. With a $10,000 cash purse (and tons of raffle prizes and swag being handed out), it’s an aspirational event—and a chance for local boulderers to rub elbows with some of the top athletes in the game.

 

Yank-n-Yard

Albuquerque’s Stone Age Climbing Gym hosts the annual Yank-n-Yard, a major event for the Southwestern climbing community. In addition to the youth comp and competitive categories, there’s an affordable citizen comp—not to mention a beer garden, live music, and awesome after-party, complete with a dyno comp and slacklining.

 

Back2Plastic

Momentum’s Lehi, Utah location looks forward to the Back2Plastic citizen comp every year. The low-key redpoint format, along with four ability-based categories and a masters division, make Back2Plastic a super-approachable comp for members of all ability levels. Momentum Lehi makes the most of its comp night by hosting a “mega demo” and sale on tons of shoes and gear.

 

BKBDay

Brooklyn Boulders throws itself an annual birthday party in Chicago, and it’s not your average climbing comp. BKBDay pulls out all the stops and puts on circus and acroyoga performances, a highline, and sponsored food and drink. The party kicks off with a Do-or-Dyno competition and gives half the proceeds from comp t-shirt sales to the Access Fund.

 

Deadpoint

Salt Lake City’s The Front knows how to throw a Halloween party. Their annual, cleverly-named Deadpoint comp takes place at the end of October, and although there’s a “monster” cash purse, the most coveted prize is the Best Costume honor. (You’d be amazed at the intricate costumes people can boulder in—Disney characters, the Hulk, you name it.)

 

Touchstone Climbing Series

The gym that serves America’s most populated state has community climbing comps down to a science. The Touchstone Climbing Series runs for nine months of the year, and holds events for a wide array of skill levels, both on boulders and ropes. Each gym hosts its own self-scored comp throughout the series, complete with pizza and beer. Events are free for members of its gyms—and just $25 otherwise: a great way to draw in non-members.

 

Iron Maiden

As women’s climbing events and festivals become more popular, there’s increasing demand for women-only competitions, too, and the Iron Maiden delivers. An offshoot of MetroRock’s successful Dark Horse Bouldering Series, Iron Maiden offers team and individual competition. The all-ladies comps (and the fact that the gym has historically donated proceeds to a nonprofit organization) have generated great PR for MetroRock.

 

With the hundreds of climbing facilities now operating in the US and Canada, there’s no shortage of amazing programming and citizen comps out there! What other comps stand out to you? Leave us a comment below to share your thoughts!

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  competitions  customer experience  customer service  marketing  programming  women 

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The Two Keys to a Great Customer Experience

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Monday, January 14, 2019
Climbing Gym Customer Experience

A few months ago, I was in Lisbon, Portugal, presenting to more than 1,000 club owners on membership sales. The presentation was about experiential sales and the concept of serving instead of selling. (This great concept will be a future blog topic.)

 

The event was held at the Epic Sana Hotel Lisboa. The hotel completely lived up to its name, delivering an absolutely unparalleled customer experience. I travel a ton, both personally and professionally, and this was by far one of the best hotel experiences I have ever had. The Epic Sana Hotel Lisboa nailed the two fundamental components to a great customer experience: A product or service that efficiently and effectively meets all of your needs, and a product or service that finds opportunities to surprise and delight.

 

Key #1: All of my needs were met efficiently and effectively. I arrived in the morning and my room was ready. Having flown on a redeye for over 14 hours, this was important to me. The reception staff was proactive about informing me of all of the amenities and things to do in the area. The few questions that I did have were answered by the first person with whom I interacted. There was no escalation, the person I spoke to was well-equipped and well-informed. (As a side note, one of the most common complaints from consumers is escalation – wherein a staffer needs the assistance of someone else in order to respond to an inquiry – so make sure you minimize that at your facility through your training program.) My room was cleaned every day as soon as I left it. There were complimentary waters in my room every day. The entire staff was bilingual, so I never had any issues communicating with anyone. Everything that one would expect from a hotel was in order, efficiently and effectively meeting all of my needs.

 

Key #2: The Epic Sana Hotel Lisboa also excelled at finding ways to surprise and delight me. There was literally a surprise and delight around every corner. The TV in my room said, “Welcome Mr. Stevenson,” when I arrived. The room was automated based on my behavior, so when I returned, the room automatically went back to the way I left it. The lights I wanted on, came on; the curtains I wanted open, opened; and the TV turned back on to the station that I left it on, at the volume I had set. The bartender comped me a few drinks over the course of my stay. The housekeeping staff turned down sheets every night and placed a piece of chocolate on the nightstand. To top it off, when I forgot my outlet converter, the hotel staff went and purchased it for me at no charge and delivered it to my room.

 

With all of the traveling that I do, this was one of the best experiences I have ever had at a hotel. All of my basic needs were not only met, they were exceeded, and I was consistently surprised and delighted. I had a great customer experience.

 

Take a few minutes right now and think about your facility. Are you hitting the two fundamental components of a great customer experience? Is it easy and welcoming for your customers to park, enter your facility, buy a membership, climb the way they want to, etc.? Are you doing things like recognizing birthdays and membership anniversaries, memorizing names, anticipating needs, and finding other creative ways to surprise and delight your customers on a regular basis? If not, start brainstorming how you can. If you believe you’re already nailing both of those fundamental keys, brainstorm how you can be even better. As the climbing industry continues to become even more competitive, a great customer experience becomes even more essential.

 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

Chris Stevenson is the owner of Stevenson Fitness, a full-service health club in Oak Park, California. The club’s success is based on providing an unparalleled member experience, which centers on proper staffing, systematic operations, and world-class leadership. This success is reflected in the club’s Net Promoter Score, which is consistently in the high 80s (industry average is in the 40s). Chris is an international speaker who presents viable, applicable lectures that resonate with every audience.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  management  staff training 

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If Customer Experience Is Important, Why Aren’t We Good at It?

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Climbing Gym Customer Experience

The Customer Engagement Academy (CEA) recently released its Member Engagement in the Global Health and Fitness Industry Survey Report for 2018. It was full of great research and data, but there was one thing that stuck out to me. Based on the survey results, while a majority of clubs felt that member engagement is really important, not very many clubs felt that they were doing a good job at it. Given all of the parallels between the fitness industry and the indoor climbing world, I would venture to guess that some climbing facilities feel the same way. With the increase in the number of climbing facilities and competition, member experience is going to become a huge competitive advantage, if not the most important one. Create a great climbing experience, focusing on the entire customer journey, and you will win. Don’t, and you will lose.

 

So how do we do this? Let’s allow the data to guide us. According to the study, the top three reasons clubs felt they were falling short were lack of human resources, other priorities were taking precedence, and lack of understanding of what needs to be done. Let's break those three things down and talk about how we deal with those challenges.

 

1. Lack of human resources. The best way to deal with this is to simply make sure that all of your staff members, regardless of position, are trained on member engagement. If your entire team is armed with engagement skills, you will dramatically increase your resources. Any time we hire a new team member at Stevenson Fitness, we start the onboarding process with our company story and member experience training. We cover, in-depth, all strategies that enhance the member experience. This includes things like name recognition techniques, body language, luxury language, proper policy enforcement, warm welcomes, fond farewells, and more. We use a combination of lecture, videos, books, articles, power points, and role play to make sure nothing is missed. We also use quizzes to make sure that the information is retained.

 

2. Other priorities taking precedence. If clubs believe that engagement is essential, and the report says they do, you simply have to prioritize it. This isn’t always easy. We tend to let the technical duties of our roles as well as putting out fires get ahead of actively creating a great experience at all times. Members have to come first. The world stops when a member is present. Technical aspects of jobs take a backseat to opportunities for engagement. Communicate that consistently to your team, recognize when they do it well, and evaluate their performance on it. Create a customer-centric culture.

 

3. Lack of understanding of what needs to be done. This is perhaps the easiest challenge to conquer. Go to events like the CWA Summit every year. Attend experience, retention, and engagement-themed presentations. Find an event or two outside of the indoor climbing industry to learn creative approaches you can bring to your business and your industry. Listen to podcasts, read appropriate books, and subscribe to blogs. There are plenty of great resources to show you exactly what needs to be done. Utilize them!

 

Success comes when our behaviors match our priorities. Prioritize member engagement and establish behaviors that support it! Your members will notice, and it won’t take long for your business to see the benefits.

 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

Chris Stevenson is the owner of Stevenson Fitness, a full-service health club in Oak Park, California. The club’s success is based on providing an unparalleled member experience, which centers on proper staffing, systematic operations, and world-class leadership. This success is reflected in the club’s Net Promoter Score, which is consistently in the high 80s (industry average is in the 40s). Chris is an international speaker who presents viable, applicable lectures that resonate with every audience.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  human resources  leadership  management  staff training 

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5 Programs Your Members Wish You'd Offer

Posted By Emma Walker, Monday, December 10, 2018
Climbing Gym Programming

Member engagement is critical in retaining customers, so it makes sense that climbing gyms offer a huge variety of programming to keep their members happy. Some of these programs are climbing-related, while others are focused on cross-training or building community. These five program types have had widespread success at climbing gyms across the country:

 

1. Gym-to-Crag Education

 

If members at Earth Treks Golden want a spot in one of the gym’s Sport Climbing Outside or Self-Rescue classes, they’d better sign up early – these multi-part clinics fill up fast. As more climbers begin venturing outside, educating them about the basics of crag safety (and etiquette) is increasingly important. After members complete a Lead Climbing 101 course (or have equivalent lead climbing and belaying experience), they’re ready to learn the basics from a qualified instructor in a safe environment. Bonus: Monthly members are offered a discount on their class fees.

 

2. Technical Instruction

 

As climbers become more proficient, they continue to need mentorship – and what better place to turn than their local gym, where many of them meet their partners? Bend Rock Gym offers Anchor Building 101 and 102 classes. These sessions are specifically tailored to the conditions climbers will encounter at nearby Smith Rock, but the gym notes that once climbers have learned to set up anchors on bolted climbs at Smith, they can apply that knowledge wherever they climb.

 

3. Speakers and Slideshows

 

Your members might have joined the climbing gym to move around, but if the topic is interesting enough, they’ll sit still for an hour or so. Just ask Eric Wickenheiser, Alaska Rock Gym’s Operations Manager. ARG often hosts local climbers to give talks to the tight-knit Anchorage climbing community on their latest adventures, and even did a live recording of the popular podcast The Firn Line with hometown hero Roman Dial. Events like this are fairly inexpensive to put on, and climbers will remember that your gym is supportive and in tune with the greater climbing community.

 

4. Fitness Beyond Yoga

 

Many gyms offer a variety of yoga classes these days, and at lots of facilities, those classes are packed every day of the week – it makes sense, since yoga is a great supplement to climbing. It follows that members jump at the opportunity to increase their fitness or cross-train in other ways, like Earth Treks’ Mountain Prep: Ski + Snowboard Class, its popular 30-minute “The Burn” and “Core Burn” classes, or Milwaukee-based Adventure Rock’s Olympic Lifting and Partner Yoga classes.

 

5. Adult Climbing Leagues

 

Tons of gyms offer coaching, climbing leagues, and comps for kids up to age 18, but for folks who don’t get into climbing until adulthood, it can be tough to learn the ropes without an experienced friend or mentor. Climbing teams for adults go beyond the two-hour Movement 101 classes many facilities offer and give newbie climbers a chance to meet climbing partners and build community. “It’s a group [members] really get into, and our coaches take the training seriously,” says Boston Rock Gym owner Chris O’Connell, whose members often climb together outside the league. “People love it.”

 

As you evaluate your own program lineup, use these examples to spark new ideas that can be implemented at your organization. The key to success is engaging your membership and customers with experiences that will delight and inspire them!

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  community development  customer experience  customer satisfaction  programming 

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Making Lemons Into Lemonade: A Step-by-Step Guide to Handling Mistakes in Your Organization

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Monday, November 5, 2018
Handle Organizational Mistakes

Mistakes will happen. Nobody is perfect. No matter how hard we try, and how well our companies operate, there will be a time when something goes wrong and we need to take steps to turn lemons into lemonade. And we’re not alone; even the best brands and the most efficient companies occasionally drop the ball. To maintain good standing with our customers, we need to take swift and specific action.

 

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I have two examples of customer service experiences I’ve had on recent business trips, one good, one bad.

 

I recently flew to Japan on… let’s call them Airline X. Upon my arrival to this foreign country, after an extremely long plane ride and faced with a major language barrier, I learned that Airline X had lost my luggage. I was to present (ironically on customer experience) in less than 24 hours, and I had no clothes or toiletries. When I called the airline, I was reassured that my luggage would be delivered the next day, that I would be reimbursed for any purchases I had to make, and that my frequent flyer account would be credited for the trip. Though it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience on the phone, my expectations were set for the situation to be handled reasonably well.

 

In the end, my luggage came late and I was never sent the claims form for reimbursement. While I tried following up a few more times, I was stonewalled and eventually gave up. It seemed like the airline made it intentionally difficult for me to get reimbursed, and to top it off, they never credited my frequent flyer account with the flight miles. They set specific expectations for how the situation would be handled but did not meet those expectations, and then failed to be responsive or follow up. Airline X dropped the ball.

 

A few weeks after that, I flew Airline Y. I had a connection in Detroit and the connecting flight was late. I was bummed but I understood – delays happen. Airline Y, however, did a few things right away. They over-communicated the delay via text and email, keeping me up-to-date. They also apologized several times at the gate, making me feel like they truly understood the inconvenience and took it seriously. Finally, they brought out free beverages and snacks for all of the people who were disrupted by the delay. While a small gesture, it was thoughtful and appreciated. Airline Y did not drop the ball.

 

To keep customers happy, handling shortcomings effectively and efficiently is key. So when the unavoidable happens, there are a few keys to handling mishaps externally and internally.

 

When your company makes a mistake or fails to meet your customers' expectations, follow these steps to communicate with the customer:

  1. Sincerely apologize. Customers will feel heard and appreciated.
  2. Over-communicate. Keep customers in the loop as much as possible. Let them know why the shortcoming happened, what you are doing to remedy it, and what steps you will take to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Providing too much information is NEVER a mistake.
  3. Don't over promise. Make sure you fully deliver on whatever you intend to do to fix the situation. The worst you can do is to fall short on your action plan.

After dealing with the situation externally, you need to take a few steps internally. There is no worse experience for customers than having to deal with the same mistakes over and over again. Here are three things that we do at our facility when we fall short:

  1. Forgive ourselves. It is important to recognize the mistake, but it is unhealthy to dwell on it. Great organizations focus more on the present and the future than dwelling on the past.
  2. Talk through the situation. Look at it from the customer’s perspective. Figure out why it happened and how it happened. Brainstorm ways to prevent it from happening again.
  3. Implement new systems or procedures. Once you’ve collaborated with your team to brainstorm solutions, make a plan to implement them. Provide staff training to prevent the same mistake and similar mistakes from happening in the future.

When your company falls short, and it will happen even to the best of us, take action externally and internally. While no company is perfect, companies that handle mistakes well are healthier inside and out. The best way forward for yourself, your staff, and your customers is always to make lemons into lemonade!

 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

Chris Stevenson is the owner of Stevenson Fitness, a full-service health club in Oak Park, California. The club’s success is based on providing an unparalleled member experience, which centers on proper staffing, systematic operations, and world-class leadership. This success is reflected in the club’s Net Promoter Score, which is consistently in the high 80s (industry average is in the 40s). Chris is an international speaker who presents viable, applicable lectures that resonate with every audience.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  staff training 

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The Powerful Potential of a Positive Culture

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2018
Positive Company Culture

Employee engagement is tough to achieve, yet essential for success. There are three levels of employee engagement: engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged. As you can imagine, engaged employees are the ones on your team doing a great job. They represent your vision, mission and culture. They help you create the customer experience you are seeking. However, according to Gallup's State of the Global Workplace report, on average, only 15% of employees are actually engaged. The rest of your team are either disengaged or, even worse, actively disengaged. Disengaged employees are barely getting by and not meeting your company standards. Actively disengaged employees are not only failing to meet expectations, but bringing down other employees. And remember, disengaged and actively disengaged comprise 85% of your staff! So how do we change this staggering number? The answer is creating and maintaining a positive company culture.

 

There are five keys to creating a positive company culture: inspiration, communication, participation, appreciation and evaluation. When you focus on all of these areas you create an environment that fosters a high level of employee engagement. This will inevitably invite an outstanding customer experience.

 

Inspiration

It all starts with inspiration. Inspiration involves creating and infusing a meaningful core purpose, mission statement and core values into your company culture. These essential tools illustrate that what the company does--and more importantly what the employees do--has real value. Effective core purpose, mission statement and core values should be the center of every decision made on behalf of company growth and member satisfaction. It is a leader’s job to create these and then make every employee aware of them and their importance.

 

Communication

The second step is communication. Make sure employees are always in the loop with what is going on with your company. In addition to keeping employees informed, it’s important to thoroughly and continuously communicate your expectations of your staff. Employees that are enlightened with communication are far more likely to stay engaged. Always over-communicate!

 

Participation

The third step is participation. The more employees feel that they contribute to the development and execution of the company’s goals, the more they engage. In practice, this can take many forms, including employee engagement surveys, development programs, and meeting effectiveness surveys. A specific example of an effective participation strategy that we use on a regular basis is a “start, stop and continue” survey. We ask our employees to tell us what we need to start doing, stop doing and continue doing. With that, employees can voice their opinions and truly impact the way our company operates. Participating employees are engaged employees.

 

Appreciation

The forth component is appreciation. While recognition and gratitude may seem a little fluffy, research demonstrates that they have a huge impact on employee engagement. Gratitude should be expressed specifically, on a timely basis, and frequently. It should be expressed in face-to-face conversations, made public in meetings, group emails, and on social media. Gratitude should always refer back to the core purpose, mission statement and core values. Expressing gratitude shows that what your employees do has meaning and is appreciated. Gallup studies have shown that to stay engaged, employees should be shown some sort of appreciation or gratitude at least once every seven days.

 

Evaluation

The last engagement piece is evaluation. Employees should be coached daily, causally evaluated quarterly, and formally evaluated annually. Just like appreciation, all of those methods of evaluation should refer back to the core purpose, mission statement and values. Evaluations should also include goal setting. When structured this way, employees know how their work meaningfully supports your company culture, and demonstrates your investment into their growth as human beings. Employees that know that they are growing and performing work that has real meaning stayed engaged. Take time to carefully and strategically craft your different forms of evaluations.

 

An Outstanding Member Experience Starts with Your Employees

Engaged employees make you; disengaged and actively disengaged employees break you. Start inspiring. Communicate openly and honestly. Give employees various ways to communicate and participate in decision-making. Make sure you are showing appreciation to your employees at all times. Lastly, make sure you are giving culture-driven evaluations that express appreciation and promote growth. Those five areas are keys to keeping your employees engaged, and engaged employees will generate an outstanding member experience.

 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

Chris Stevenson is the owner of Stevenson Fitness, a full-service health club in Oak Park, California. The club’s success is based on providing an unparalleled member experience, which centers on proper staffing, systematic operations, and world-class leadership. This success is reflected in the club’s Net Promoter Score, which is consistently in the high 80s (industry average is in the 40s). Chris is an international speaker who presents viable, applicable lectures that resonate with every audience.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer experience  customer service  employee engagement  human resources 

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