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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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Where to Begin with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

Posted By Emma Walker, Friday, January 4, 2019
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Puzzle

There’s a lot of talk in the climbing industry lately about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI): What will it take to get more people tied in? How can we make climbing more accessible to a larger, more diverse audience? If you know where to begin, incorporating DEI initiatives into your gym’s practices is more approachable than you might think.

 

Offer basic instruction

“When I first walked into a gym,” says Kriste Peoples, “it looked like everybody else automatically knew what they were doing. I never saw any kind of promotion that said, ‘If you’re new to climbing, we’ll show you the ropes!’ That feeds this notion that climbing is really exclusive.” Peoples instructs Women’s Wilderness’ Girls Lead for Life program, a weekly after-school climbing and leadership program for girls. When Peoples started climbing, she didn’t know much about what gear she needed or to how to tie a figure-eight, and she felt intimidated by the lack of information available for newbies. Offering a short class—even a free community night—on how to tie in would have gone a long way. “In my opinion, this is just good business,” Peoples laughs.

 

Partner with Local Organizations

Representation matters. That’s why climbing organizations like Brown Girls Climb (BGC) and Brothers of Climbing were created: so climbers of color would have opportunities to climb in safe spaces. Monserrat Matehuala, a member of the BGC national leadership team (and co-founder of the group’s Colorado chapter), recently helped run a DEI training for Earth Treks in Golden. “Gyms are gatekeepers for the rock climbing community,” she says, lauding Earth Treks for its commitment to DEI. “They’re often the first contact new climbers have with the community, so it matters that they feel welcome there.” Facilities who reach out to the local chapters of these organizations and create space for them—hosting nights when members of those groups have free or reduced-cost gym entry, for example—tells climbers of color they’re welcome all the time.

 

Watch Your Language

Using inclusive language, says Matehuala, is one easy way to make all your members feel welcome. “There’s a difference between being welcoming and being inclusive,” she explains, using greeting language as an example. Matehuala suggests using a non-gendered greeting—“Hello! How’s your day going?”—rather than one that assumes a member’s gender, like “Hey man!” or “Thanks, sir!” She cites the often-used shortening for the word carabiner (many climbers say “biner”) as an example: it may sound innocuous, but that shortening sounds exactly like an ethnic slur. “It’s hard to break a habit, but as educators, it’s really important,” Matehuala explains. Many gyms are choosing to incorporate that change into their learn-to-climb curricula, she says, which has the added benefit of minimizing the jargon new climbers must learn. Another quick step: Take a look at the imagery around your gym, including ads for upcoming clinics and posters of climbers on picturesque routes. If all the photos you see are of white climbers, it’s time for an overhaul.

 

Train Yourself and Your Staff

Ready to take the plunge? Consider hosting a DEI training for your staff facilitated by someone like BGC or the Avarna Group. If it’s not feasible to bring a facilitator to you, the Avarna Group and others are offering some excellent DEI workshops and conference sessions at the 2019 CWA Summit!

 

It's also important to make professional development resources available to your staff, model inclusivity, and have regular conversations about the importance of DEI. BGC has a number of resources available on their website, and James Edward Mills’ The Adventure Gap and Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces are excellent primers on the importance and value of DEI in the outdoors.

 

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  diversity  leadership  management  staff training  workplace diversity 

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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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Retention Strategies to Reduce Employee Turnover

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, November 19, 2018
How to Reduce Employee Turnover

This month, the US Bureau for Labor and Statistics reported that 3.6 million employees voluntarily quit their jobs in September 2018. Every employee that voluntarily quits costs an employer, on average, 16% of their annual wage. And to make matters worse, high turnover rates come with high replacement and training costs, decreased efficiency of all employees, and ultimately decreased profit. When turnover happens, businesses lose experienced staff and endure negative impacts to the bottom line. This could mean bad news for you and your business.

 

These statistics indicate that the issue of employee turnover is a challenge that many businesses face. As a result, turnover is widely researched and studied, which means that you don’t have to guess why your employees are quitting. You can focus instead on implementing new workplace strategies and policies to avoid the most common turnover pitfalls and retain your most valuable staff.

 

Define and Share Your Culture

When considering the culture of your gym, you should ask yourself, “What does my gym stand for and how does our leadership and staff treat our customers and each other? In a business context, culture is defined as the values and principles that support the management structure. How you manage your gym determines the behaviors and actions of the daily work practices of the staff. In short, culture is your gym’s personality.

 

Columbia University research shows that a culture of productivity, respect, pride, and trust is an important indicator of job satisfaction and reduced turnover. If you haven’t defined your gym’s culture, work together with your staff to create one, but don’t roll out a list of changes and expect your culture to change overnight. Create values and implement small changes over time that support the vision you have for your gym and brand.

 

Hire Smart

Retention starts before employees are hired or ever pull a shift. An article published by the American Economic Association says that how prospective employees find the jobs you have available depends on the economic climate, current job market, geographic concentration, and the wages your gym offers. In a competitive job market, it can feel impossible to find qualified staff, but how you hire can have a profound impact on reducing turnover.

 

During the interview process, you can determine who is the best match for your business. Traditionally the interview process gives employers a chance to learn about a prospective employee’s personality, skills, and abilities, and that’s a good place to start. But the interview is also the time to be transparent about your culture, what the job duties are, and learn about the prospect’s goals and expectations.

 

Hiring and Interviewing Checklist

  • When you are hiring new employees, you should have a written job description that outlines the duties and expectations of the position you are hiring for. Be sure the job description is readily available for posting and sharing to the appropriate job boards, email lists, and professional networks.
  • Define your interview process from start to finish. For instance, what is the format and sequence of the interview process? Do you check references? (You should.) Do you have a standard set of questions you ask? (You should.) Ensure all staff members involved in the interview process are aware of their role, the hiring timeline, and the expectations for the new employee before kicking off interviews with potential new staff.
  • Ensure the content of the interview clearly states the requirements of the job to the prospective employee, such as: “In a four hour shift; you will spend an hour sanitizing rental shoes, and two hours vacuuming chalk dust off of the floor.” Consider offering prospects the opportunity to shadow an employee in their expected role so they will have a realistic expectation of the type of work they will be doing.
  • Communicate your gym’s culture during the interview. High quality applicants will seek out high quality employers, and having a well-defined culture is a large contributor to their decision-making process.
  • Ask prospective employees about their specific goals and timelines during the interview. Answers to questions like, “Where do you see yourself in 6 months?” will give you more information about your new hires than asking where they see themselves in 5 years.

Developing a standard operating procedure for hiring will require an up-front time investment, but these efforts will help offset the potentially devastating costs of turnover by making the hiring process more efficient and effective.

 

Train, Train, Train

Just the same way that you progressively and consistently train your gym clients, you should also be training your new employees. Never assume that your employees know how to perform their job duties until they’ve been trained on how to do their job, you have checked off the skills they’ve learned, and you have asked if they have any questions. Having a training protocol in place is an important part of building a strong team in your gym, as research shows that untrained workers change jobs more frequently. When staff are trained properly they are not only more productive in their role, they also have an increased expectation of their role over time, meaning they are more engaged in their work, more cooperative, deliver better service to customers, and are less likely to quit.

 

Meet Basic Employee Needs

When you say it out loud, it sounds pretty obvious, but meeting basic employee needs takes thought and planning. Basic employee needs include offering competitive wages and a schedule that works for your employees.

 

Paying a competitive wage shows your employees that you value and appreciate the work they do. Follow these guidelines to manage your employees:

  1. Provide clear parameters and a consistent schedule for wage raises. Communicate this information to new hires, and work with them to set goals and expectations for the first evaluation cycle. You should incentivize good performance with rewards such as raises, more hours, or growth pathways, and deter poor performance with negative consequences, such as reduced hours, probation, or termination.
  2. When you near the end of the first evaluation cycle, remind your employees to prepare for their first evaluation meeting.
  3. When you reach the end of the first evaluation cycle, sit down with your staff one-on-one to discuss their performance. Revisit the goals and expectations that were set at the start of the evaluation cycle. Follow through on the commitments made with the rewards/consequences established at the start of hire. Don’t be afraid to ask for their feedback on your performance as a manager and their experiences working for your company.
  4. Set expectations and goals for the next evaluation cycle and update the rewards/consequences accordingly.

If you tell a new hire that in six months you will review their pay and consider a raise, make sure you follow through. Working a job without a pay raise can leave employees feeling as though they are working a dead-end job with no growth, and no one wants to work a dead-end job.

 

Implementing a schedule that works for staff can be a great benefit and can be good for your business. Cornell University research shows that when flexible schedules are implemented in businesses; retention goes up and absenteeism goes down. Flexible scheduling can take many different forms depending on the roles your staff have at the gym: split-shifts, compressed work week or a results-only work environment. If you still publish a rotating schedule, your goal should be to have it forecasted at least 2-3 weeks out.

 

Have Clearly Defined Career Paths

Just as you probably have a strategic growth plan for your business, you should be able to define opportunities that you can offer your employees. A career path is an opportunity for employees to develop their skills and advance in your business. Offering your employees a career path shows employees that as you are growing your business, you are also investing in them and in their success. There may not be many employees that want to make a career out of scanning member cards at the front desk, but they may be interested in routesetting, operations, marketing, event management, business development, coaching, or program management. Columbia University reports that businesses that promote from within benefit from lower turnover and more productive employees. When outlining career paths, remember that your business will benefit from committed employees who are given opportunities to develop their own careers.

 

Putting It All Together (PIAT)

Hiring and keeping great employees takes preparation and planning. If you haven’t already created a human resources department you might feel at a disadvantage, but you can still re-evaluate hiring practices. As smaller businesses pay a higher cost for turnover, it’s worth the time and investment to develop a plan for how you want to manage your human resources. Putting it all together can be a challenge, but the investment will be worth the payback of retaining employees who not only represent your brand but help to grow your business. Make this process manageable by tackling one task at a time:

  • Define your culture and outline values and principles.
  • Standardize your interview process and create written job descriptions.
  • Evaluate and incentivize employee’s performance consistently and regularly.
  • Schedule regular trainings to keep staff engaged.
  • Implement pay increases and offer flex scheduling.
  • Develop career opportunities as your business grows and your employees develop skills.

 

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:  company culture  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  staff retention  staff training 

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What Makes a Great Manager?

Posted By Emma Walker, Thursday, October 18, 2018
How to be a Great Manager

An excellent manager makes any job seem worth doing. This rings true across all industries, from retail to finance to your local climbing gym. The opposite is true, too: poor management can wreck morale and drive great employees away.

 

Running a climbing gym means managing in tons of different capacities. On a given day, a gym manager might run interference in a customer service setting, help instructors manage groups of kids, and even operate a small retail store, not to mention the responsibility of risk management.

 

While it may be challenging, great management means less turnover, happier climbers, and a thriving gym. Here’s what employees at gyms across the country had to say about the qualities they love about their favorite managers—and one thing they could do without.

 

DO role model a positive attitude

Employees find it demoralizing when their bosses lack enthusiasm. A positive attitude is infectious and makes even those slow weekday shifts fly by.

 

“I don’t mean relentlessly cheerful,” says Tom*, a gym employee in Colorado, who notes that he once had a manager whose at-work moods were unpredictable. “It’s just nice to know my manager will always be professional and positive at work.”

 

DO lead by example

“I’ve seen my manager do everything from retail inventory to a belay check to replacing soap in the bathroom,” says Amy*, who works at a gym in Milwaukee. Sometimes, managing means being a Jack or Jill of all trades. That’s not to say managers always have to take the jobs nobody wants—but when employees see you stepping up when the need arises, they’re more likely to rise to the occasion next time, too.

 

DO set clear expectations

“I never have to wonder what I’m supposed to be doing, even when things are slow,” says John*, who works a Pacific Northwest climbing gym. His manager knows there’s always something to do at a climbing gym, from stocking retail shelves to checking ropes and harnesses to dozens of other daily and weekly tasks. He keeps a running to-do list in a place where employees will see it when they begin their shifts, so there’s plenty to keep staff from twiddling their thumbs when there’s not much traffic.

 

DO give regular feedback

Even well-intentioned employees can’t improve if they don’t have guidance. Sometimes it’s just a nudge (”Don’t forget to greet every person who walks in!”). Other times, it means a tougher, more specific conversation, like the one Tom’s manager had with him when he struggled to keep a group of kids under control. “My manager watched me a few times and gave me some really specific pointers to improve my group management,” he remembers. “I’ve used them ever since!”

 

DON’T micromanage

It’s hard to build trust within your team when they sense they are being micromanaged. “One manager I had would constantly correct even the littlest things, like how I arranged the pens on the desk,” recalls Amy. It’s demoralizing for employees to feel like they’re always being criticized, especially when they’re putting in effort to do a good job. When you do ask for an adjustment in behavior or protocol, explain the reason behind the change. It’ll stick.

 

Looking for more tips on how to take your management to the next level? The Washington Post recommends 10 great books on leadership, including Tommy Caldwell’s The Push.

 

*names have been changed

 

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:  company culture  human resources  leadership  management 

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